Back in Blackberry

Motorola Atrix. From … Motorola.

Phase Atrix

About 15 months ago I dumped my (small, well-formed but anemic) Blackberry Bold 9700 for the sexy, dual-core world of Android – namely the Motorola Atrix. The Atrix was the most powerful smartphone at the time – two big fat cores (which means it goes fast), lots of RAM, a slick four inch touchscreen, front and back cameras, HSPA+ connection (fake 4G), a finger-print unlock technology (really) and an interesting but expensive “webdock” that allowed you to plug in to a dumb terminal and use as a laptop.

It was hard not to be drawn to all the pizzazz. Android, after all, had an app for everything. And here it was, presented in slick Technicolor and multi-touch. But the love quickly faded as I realised that the handset just did not have any personality. It was to Blackberry what the IBM-compatible was to the Commodore Amiga.

At the same time, I saw the new Blackberry Bold 9900 in the works. It was a throwback to the breakthrough Bold 9000 which meant more screen and physical button real estate. But, in their infernal wisdom, RIM decided to price it high instead of taking what was to become the Microsoft/Nokia approach of almost giving away the Lumia to drive adoption. At $299 on a two-year contract or the usual $600 unlocked, it just wasn’t very compelling.

Windows Phone. Nice but not nice enough.

Windows – A Brief Encounter

In a fit of pique I took a brief jump to Windows Phone as Dell started selling off their Venue Pro handset for $250 unlocked. Impressed and all as i was with the phone – durable, good physical keyboard and surprisingly good virtual one, vibrant screen, fluid OS – the under-developed operating system had too many limitations and half-baked ideas to be ready for prime-time. It did a fair bit but didn’t really excel at anything.

Take Note

Then the Android-powered Galaxy Note hit Europe in late 2011. I imported the 5.3″ behemoth. It was a champion – is a champion. With all things considered, it’s probably the best phone I’ve ever used. Even taking in to account the annoying lag that Android (pre-Jelly Bean) has trademarked, the usability of what was basically a phone-cum-tablet meant it was useful for just about everything. And I’ve happily used it for nine months.

But over the last while I’ve started to assess what I do with my phone versus what I need it to do. I’ve long watched iPad adverts, bemused by the flashy, energetic slide show of tasks that the hardware can do: it can make pie charts, it can read books, watch movies, play games, let you pinch and zoom in on Uranus. But I imagine only a small percentage of people do more than surf and watch the odd film. Indeed, Business Insider’s 2011 survey indicated as much.

A massive Note.

Similarly, I owned a phone that was a mini iPad, albeit one running Android. And it had a surprisingly good little stylus that seamlessly slid in to the bottom of the device. But did I really need all that power and choice in my pocket? Did I need Netflix and Hulu Plus, MyFitnessPal for entering my calories during the day, turn-by-turn navigation, retailer-specific apps, 3D games, Google Earth? Did I need 10-12 different browsers or 100s of themes to make my phone feel unique?

I used them, sure.  But did I need them?

It’s nice to have these options and apps available but not at the expense of what a phone really should be – a solid communication and messaging device. And that’s something that Blackberry does very well without bells and whistles.

After all I’m the guy who owned a Nook Color but “downgraded” to an e-ink Nook Simple Touch because the Color was way too distracting from what it really should be – an e-reader. To coin a cliche, sometimes less is more.

Back in Blackberry

And it was with that context that a Craigslist ad finally brought me together with, not just the Blackberry Bold 9900, but a white one!  And while the Blackberry is “less” in terms of its reach and functionality, I just feel I get a better all round communication solution that still does the essentials.

I’ve got excellent email service, more than adequate Facebook and Twitter apps, Google Voice for international calling, Viber (albeit without calls yet) and WhatsApp for messaging, TuneIn Radio and podcast apps, Google Maps to show me where I am, WordPress for blogging, Starbucks card (still works in spite of the company stopping support) for my caffeine fix, GasBuddy for finding the cheapest petrol, apps to read my RSS feeds and so on.  Beyond that pretty much everything else is a luxury.

The shortcomings are there in the sense that the camera and camcorder are not as advanced as what’s out there and turn-by-turn navigation is not included in Maps. But then again, if I’m in my car then I’ve got my Garmin (which is better than the, frankly, sometimes-mental Google navigation).  The Internet is harder to use on the smaller screen but the browser works well enough. Even on the Galaxy Note, some websites were just annoying to try to navigate so I mainly did simple surfing which the Bold is capable of.

And then there’s the three big home runs.  Firstly, the physical keyboard. A lot of people like touch screen but not me – not until they make touch screens tactile will I feel comfortable on one.  Even with Swype – the best touchscreen keyboard – I still ended up effing up half the stuff I typed.

Secondly, battery life.  After fairly heavy use of the 9900, I’d still go to bed with about 20-30% battery.  My Note was usually down in the single digits if I had the screen on regularly or used GPS for a small amount of time.  Thirdly, it’s a damn good phone with great voice quality.

Sometimes you got to compromise and the Blackberry is a good compromise.

Post-modern

The reaction has been raised eyebrows and exclamations of “Blackberry!?”. And that’s been the fun part.  I’d gladly have the debate with anyone about why the Blackberry does pretty much everything they truly need.

And now I almost feel that moving back to Blackberry is a kind of post-modern thing to do – you know, like vinyl, Atari and Def Leppard.

From Atrix to Dell to Note to Bold
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17 thoughts on “Back in Blackberry

  1. I actually am in the same boat: I switched from a BB Tour 9630 to a Galaxy Note, but am tempted to go back to BB. While waiting to see what BB10 and WP8 would offer, I figured I’d give the ‘competition’ a try in the meantime. The Note is a great phone, a phone that has some ‘personality’ in a sea of undifferentiated Android phones. Do I use the apps and functionality, yes. But like you said, do I *need* them? My Note mostly sits on my desk for several hours out of the day because, despite how massive the Note is, I’d always prefer using my computer if I’m near it.

    For me, the phone is predominately a communications tool, a text-based communications tool at that. The Note’s screen is great for reading emails, but responding is an exercise that tests one’s patience. I miss trackpad/trackball navigation, but more importantly, I just don’t really like virtual keyboards. I agree that Swype is brilliant and is pretty much what made virtual keyboards tolerable for a while. But the constant swype-lift-swype-lift gesturing can be inconvenient at times and can slow you down. So lately I’ve been using SwiftKey, which I highly recommend you try. It’s predictive text is really good and definitely saves a lot of keystrokes. At first I ended up going back to Swype, but then gave it another shot. You have to give it a week or two.

    So how are you adjusting to the smaller screen? I checked out the Bold 9900 at an electronics store and almost laughed when putting it up against my Note since it seemed so diminutive. I worry that it will be hard to go to anything much smaller now as you definitely get used to the screen real estate and not having to zoom in and out…

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. I’m typing this reply on the Bold – not something I would have attempted on a touchscreen!

      I did have SwiftKey and it was very good I still preferred Swype but don’t know if it was any more accurate than SK. I do know that the physical keyboard is unparalelled for me though and virtuals are not at the point where they give me sufficient tactile feedback. However best virtual I used was the Dell Venue Pro with great accuracy, “clackity-clack” and curved screen for feel. Irony was that the DVP had a decent physical kb too.

      I have no truck with the Note. Its a fantastic phone only really let down by the lag. As you say, it has personality and everyone who sees it is bowled over. The press were a little snobbish about it and they were dead wrong because it sold loads and people love it. And I will say that – while not quite a killer app – the stylus is great.

      I’m two weeks with the Bold 9900 now and outside of the well documented BB limitations, I’m enjoying it. It does seem bizarre at the start going from huge screen to 2.8″ but the touch screen is a huge improvement over the 9700 and its great to have the trackpad and physical buttons still there.

      The Note and Atrix were always a bit of a chore to use but the Bold is a real “pick up and go phone”. You get used to reduced real estate (or at least I do) and I have not been worried about battery life since I got it (my Note charged in a cradle all day in work – don’t even bother with the Bold).

      Honestly, I used to think I could never go back to a sub 5 inch screen once I started using the Note but the Bold is a completely different beast and has a lot of upside for me. If you can afford it, go in parallel for a while and see if you feel the love again. I was a huge Commodore Amiga fan in the early to mid 90s and have never used a computer since that came close to the engagement that I felt with it. The Blackberry is the same.

      1. Yeah, I’ve thought about wielding dual phones…maybe using the Note as a wi-fi-only device… I like the stylus, too, and want to love it…but, like you said, it’s just not quite a killer app–yet. I applaud Samsung’s stylus integration efforts, though, and give them even more credit for being brave enough to implement something that had become almost taboo in the smartphone world. I just wonder if it would really click with the 10″ Note tab they’re working on. A BB + 10″ Note tab could be a nice combo, though part of the appeal of the G Note that you don’t need 2 devices…

        But for now, I might follow your suggestion about a dual-phone-strategy. And you have a good point about engagement…I think that’s a point that’s been lost amid the gadget-of-the-week hysteria…

    1. I’m not sure if WP7 is overrated because reviews have been lukewarm – which i think is about right. I enjoyed using it, nice and fast and all that. But I think the large tile interface was a bit restrictive. I loved WM6 and I’ve been using a Zune for about four years so no anti-MS here!

  2. If you can actually go back to using OS7 from a Galaxy Note, you shouldn’t even be using a smartphone.

    I’m sure BB10 would be too advanced for you. *yawn*

    1. I can’t speak for nearvana, but when I first switched from a BB Tour to the Note, I definitely had a “why did I wait so long” moment. It is cool basically having a computer in your hands. But, that’s the thing: many of these smartphones are jacks of all trades whereas BB might not do everything as well, but does a few things better. And just because those few things are more important doesn’t mean the other stuff isn’t important and that they won’t welcome what BB10 brings…

      1. Well that’s really the point made in the blog that Bleh doesn’t agree with I guess. Really the Blackberry *is* the smartphone while these other phones are mini computers that happen to have a cellular radio. And that’s fine – it’s just not for everyone.

  3. With a 4S, you get loads of apps, a more responsive touchscreen, a better browser, better signal reception (especially wi-fi, the 9900 antenna is crappy), a much better camera (with autofocus!), plus you never get to see that little black clock ever again.

    Fine, the 9900 has a great keyboard. I’ll give you that. But apart from that I see nothing that really separates it from the ‘mini-computers’. They have almost the same features. The only difference is that the more advanced OS’es are just more seamless (iOS) or advanced (Android).

    There’s no one forcing you to download the 500,000+ apps on the iTunes store. You can use an iPhone as it comes out of the box if you wish. And it’s a perfect ‘smartphone’ as you would say, because it does the basics just as well as s Berry. Other than the lack of a physical keyboard you shouldn’t have any problem. But you WILL wonder ‘what took you so long’ like B. did.

    You should really have tried an iPhone though, so you could have had a feel of all the major OS’es.

    1. Appreciate the reply. I was given a free 3GS in 2009 and didn’t like it at all. Used it for two months but eventually I paid for a Blackberry 9700 rather than use it. I’ve briefly used the 4S and it is better than the 3GS, a lot better.

      Really the keyboard is the killer app for me. But it would mean little if the Blackberry wasn’t very good at the important things such as email and making calls.

      I’m not some tech novice – I’m worked in IT for 15 years, I have an Android tablet, an HP Touchpad (and I love Palm OS), have used a Zune for four years and would love to get my hands on a Nokia N9 just to play with MeeGo for a while. I just find the iPhone thing to be too homogenous. That’s just my personal view. I appreciate the debate though.

      1. I keep flirting with picking up a Bold and have come close on multiple times, but I think the proximity to BB10 keeps holding me back. Aside from having a device that’s in a sort of lame-duck situation, I’m a little worried about a few hardware shortcomings, namely the camera and lack of autofocus, which Bleh highlighted. What’s your take on the camera, especially coming off the Note’s camera?

        The other concerns are things I experienced on my previous BB, such as the frequency of seeing the spinning clock and occasionally slow resume-from-standby times. Have you encountered those performance-related issues yet?

  4. It’s true to say that the Bold does struggle at times. There is some hanging, occasional reboots (although the reboot sequence seems to take a lot less time than on the Bold 9700) and I experience issues with some third party apps such as WhatsApp which just seems to get stuck for 5-10 seconds.

    The camera is actually quite good. True, no autofocus but I don’t use the camera for much beyond snapping something amusing I see on the street and then uploading to Twitter or whatever. The video mode is excellent @ 720p.

    The phone’s strengths are email, texting, calls and the keyboard of course. And it’s just a very attractive phone. I’ve had numerous comments from people who don’t like BB but really like the way the phone looks. I bought my non-geek g/f a Galaxy Nexus (she was previously using an old flip Motorola Razr) and although she likes the phone she looked with some envy at the Bold when I got it!

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