Blackberry impression

Okay, so I’ve been testing out (read:playing with) the new blackberry I picked up this morning. This is a cheap-o blackberry model that comes with full keyboard, GPS, and 2mp camera with video recording capability but no wifi. And it’s on the lacking side when it comes to the number of bands it can transmit in, though the comm options are still much better than most mid range cellphones out there.

All in all, it’s pretty good for something I picked up on a whim until I can get my hands on a decent android based phone. I was somewhat surprised to find video recording capability and LED flash on the phone though. It’s not the kind of feature that’s available on machines of similar class. For example, iPhone has neither.

I love the keyboard on this thing. It’s much better than tapping messages on the standard T9 keypad, and surprisingly enough I get quite an impressive wpm on this device… It’s no where near what I can do with a full sized keyboard of course, but still impressive considering that it’s only been a few hours since I got my hands on the blackberry. No one will be writing a novel on this thing but it’s still plenty enough for an occasional blog post (like what I’m doing right now).

The GPS is something of a disappointment though. It’s nice to have the functionality on a mere 50 dollar device but the accuracy and lock on time leaves something to be desired. It almoist makes me think that the chip may be running some sort of triangulation scheme instead of a full GPS module. I need to mention that I’ve only used the GPS inside the building with google maps application I downloaded off the cellular web though. Considering how carrier-locked devices are I may get better performance with the bundled At&t navigator application. I do remember that the blackjack II smartphone from At&t had its GPS locked in so that it wouldn’t even turn on if you didn’t use the paid app supplied by the phone company (there are ways to get around it of course).

The photo quality is good enough. It’s no where near the quality of the nokia N series phones I had a brief fling with but it will still serve its purpose in a tight spot. The picture quality is still better than what you would get with an iPhone under similar light condition, if only marginally. I will take a few pictures and post it up on the flickr when opportunity arises.
I am delighted to see video capture capability on this phone. For some reason a lot of carriers and device manufacturers leave video capability out of otherwise fine smartphones (like iPhone and the G1), so I wasn’t sure if there would be video capability on this device. You won’t be filming any Hollywood movies with this, but it still does its job well enough.

How many words did I write so far? It’s been about five minutes since I started writing on this phone. Marvelous.

The bundled web browser is nice enough. You can watch youtube videos on it, and the video loads swimmingly despite this device only being capable of data transfer over the infamous EDGE network (more on that later). Other pages load nicely as well, and the browser supports javascript and full CSS rendering (so far). I have a secondary opera mini browser loaded on the device though (among other myriad of applications).

Careful calibration of the web browser turns this device from a messaging centric smartphone into a fully featured synthetic biology reference, among other things. I have numerous web-widgets that links directly to the PLoS journal, openwetware web services, the GenBank database with full DNA table search capability and etc. Combined with the ability to view flash videos off the web, the innovative will be able to find a lot of crazy uses for this device.

The main reason people get their hands on blackberry is so they can maintain ubiquitous email presence. I have four email accounts registered to this device for work/school/mailing list/personal, with full filters. The email experience on this device is definitely solid. People say that blackberry is the best system on the market for messaging and emails, and I must say that I am inclined to agree. Other smartphones doesn’t even come close to this, and this isn’t even the best blackberry device (I’d say the place is reserved for the blackberry bold model, something that costs four times as much as this device even with 2 year service agreement). Now only if I could get rid of that annoying ‘sent via blackberry from at&t’ marking at the end of all my emails…

This device is all about communication and it shows. There’s a program called blackberry communicator on the device that acts as an instant messaging protocol for any and all blackberry devices without any extra charge. I can see how corporates and research groups can go nuts for such a feature set.

The first third party application I installed on this phone is the twitterberry. As some of you might know already I’m something of a twitter junkie. I know that there are a lot of useless noise on that thing (‘what I ate for lunch today’ and etc) but once you can get through that part and link up with worthwhile people the whole thing becomes indispensable. Not to mention that it acts as a field report on my day to day thoughts. The second application would be a full suite of google mobile apps including Gmail client, google maps, and rss reader among other things. I also got mobi-reader for blackberry, turning this device into a semi-decent ebook reader.

Not all is well in the blackberry land however. There is one glaring and quite frankly insane omission from the standard application set that comes preinstalled on the device. This particular model of blackberry does not come with any kind of instant messaging program. There are a few for most of the major protocols like ICQ and Gtalk available on the net. Many of them programmed by the device manufacturer (RIM) themselves so that they sit flush with the operating system, but users of this type of message centric device should not have to jump through hoops like that in the first place. Also, all of those free applications are single protocol only. Having multiple instant messaging programs open on your desktop was ridiculous five years ago and it is ridiculous now. Maybe the time I spent with nokia’s symbian operating system spoiled me, but I can’t believe the lack of free multiprotocol instant messenger clients on the blackberry os. There are a few programs available but they are all commercial apps you have to pay for. It’s crazy I tell you.
I added 1 gigabyte memory card to this phone, and it didn’t have any trouble recognizing it. I’ll be needing it for the crazy number of photos I’ll be taking with this phone.

Hardware-wise I have no complaints. This phone is surprisingly small now that I have it in my hands, it’s almost a miracle that I can type away with my fingers like this. The size is more or less a fine balance between mobility and usability. The construction feels very solid and hardy without being heavy, and I would definitely refer to the overall feeling as being classy without being boring. For a smartphone with a full keyboard I found this phone to be surprisingly pocketable, but then I have skinny legs so your mileage may vary on that. At least this phone is significantly smaller than the G1. This phone is also slightly smaller than the Samsung blackjack II(an interesting bit of trivia, the blackjack II is the smartphone of choice for the female lead of the scifi tv show Fringe), something I couldn’t really notice until I got the two devices side by side (thanks Ann!). The trackball interface needed some getting used to, but it worked out nicely in the end. I don’t particularly see the advantage of trackball over other navigation methods though. Maybe it’s the aesthetics?

The biggest gripe I have with this device is of course that it doesn’t run android os. An ideal handset at for me would be blackberry hardware with Asian band compatibility, better camera, running the android os. Well, one can dream on, right?

Well that about wraps it up for preliminary review of the device. I’ll write some real world usage impressions later on…

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