Some weeks with my BlackBerry Bold 9000

During last may/june, for a phone subscription renewal, I changed my phone, choosing a BlackBerry Bold 9000. After several weeks of use, I give you my first comments in bulk.

For the renewal, I looked for phones with real mechanical keyboard. With the iPhone effect, this kind of device become rather difficult to find. Faced with the BlackBerry, I found some HTC and Nokia.

I chose the BlackBerry according several criteria:

  • I didn’t want a device based on « Windows Mobile »,
  • The screen resolution is 640 x 360,
  • I wanted both 3G, Wifi and BlueTooth,
  • I looked for a « robust » device.

After some weeks of use, I can now, give you my opinion about this device. This post is not a true review, but just some comments based on on my daily use.

Device characteristics

The Blackberry Bold 9000 has the following characteristics

  • Dimensions (Height x Width x Depth): 114 x 66 x 15 mm,
  • Weight: 136 grammes
  • Display TFT LCD with a resolution of 480 x 360, 65000 colors, back-lit, and photo-sensitive,
  • Camera with 2 millions pixels, flash, zoom x3, ability to record videos (on memory card only),
  • Networks: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g), BlueTooth, GSM, HSPDA, EDGE, UMTS,
  • GPS

The phone

From hardware point of view, the BlackBerry Bold 9000 is blameless, the initial impression of solidity is verified during usage. All buttons or keys are precise and show no weakness.

The device is relatively large compared to others, but less than an iPhone. My main criterion about size, is that I can put the device, with the cover, in a jacket pocket, without distortion. On this point, the BlackBerry is not a problem.

The screen is beautiful. Despite a glossy panel, it is readable in all circumstances, even with a strong light. The resolution of 640×360 is comfortable … if you have good eyes: the screen is not wide enough for a comfortable reading.

The grip is nice, contrary to what suggest its form. But, when you try to get it from its cover, for the first time, be careful not to press one of the many buttons located around the device.

I was a little skeptical regarding the size of the AZERTY keyboard, but it is, in fact, very effective. Despite of my fingers are nearly larger than two keys, I can write text very quickly.

The real secret of the BlackBerry’s ergonomy is its famous trackball, very good idea, that allows us to reach all functions and application of the device, only with a thumb.

The smartphone is fast, response times are always immediate.

The BlueTooth, et the Wifi (secured or not) work perfectly (but require a lot of energy). In particular, I tried the Bluetooth hands-free system of my car, which works without any problem with the BlackBerry.

The biggest criticism is the autonomy. With a normal telephone activity, this autonomy is 2 days. But when we switch to activities such as: web browsing, or entering text, the autonomy drops to less than a day, and fall to less than a half-day when I listen MP3 files, I activate the GPS or WiFi. In fact, we have to plan recharging batteries once or twice a day.

Note that my previous phone did only… phone. I had a comfortable autonomy of several days, so perhaps I am not objective on this subject.

The BlackBerry is more or less designed to be the companion of a PC or a Mac, it can be recharged through the USB cable that is used for synchronization. There are also docking stations for that.

Software

The BlackBerry Bold is delivered with a small software pack:

  • Standard software: calendar, contacts, notes, todo-list, calc, clock,
  • Internet applications: mail, browser,
  • Multimédia software: image, video viewer, audio player,
  • Office automation applications: the Document ToGo Standard Edition suite,
  • Some games.

For this price, I think that the software pack should include more than Standard version of Document To Go. With this version we can only view MS Office files (no creation, nor change).

From an ergonomic point of view, I find again the ease of use of Palms. The entire software stack has been designed and optimized for this family of devices: all functions are accessible in almost two clicks only. Except for the first time, starting the device is almost immediate. Some can think that the interface is minimalist, perhaps rudimentary. It is true, compared to some other systems, the BlackBerry seems a bit spartan, but it is extremely effective, and it’s why I appreciate it.

But there are som lacks:

  • The main page (home page) cannot be customized without specific tools,
  • Some applications should be more accessible (SMS/MMS, notes, …),
  • The wifi configuration page should be more clear.

About the browser, I found good points, but also less good. Positive points: the many keyboard shortcuts, which help us to reach all functions without using menus. The limited compatibility with sites not designed for mobile phones is part of the negative points.

From PC side (or Mac side), I am a little disappointed with the interface of the Desktop Manager. I think there are lacks of clarity: during first uses, we don’t know where we are exactly. Otherwise the features are standard: data synchronization, and management applications. This last point is particularly interesting, because the application manages the updates for all installed applications, including operating system.

During operating system update, the Desktop manager launches a backup before the upgrade, and a restore just after. This last step doesn’t work all the time, because the device wait our password, and we have to know when to give it.

Background

Three points

  • Accessories,
  • Web sites, blogs, and forums (community)
  • Software

No problem for accessories: we can find a lot of things.
Community is also important. We can find a lot of web sites, and forums talking about BlackBerry.

The software side can be discussed: we can find a lot of applications, but less than for Windows Mobile or iPhone, and most of these applications are not free. The open source or free software are quite rare, but we find the essential.

Compared to the iPhone

I had the opportunity to discuss with an iPhone owner. I used the Apple device, so I can understand the differences between the two products. Concretely, I do not think the two products are really in competition: The iPhone is much more multimedia oriented than the BlackBerry, which is targeted to those looking for a « mobile office » (including email):

  • even if the BlackBerry is able to display videos, the device is not designed for that, mainly because of the small size of its screen (but it’s a good MP3 player),
  • Conversely, the iPhone is not designed to take long notes, or to read and write mails intensively (the lake of copy/paste capacity, in the first generation, is a proof)

Today, we can still compare these two devices. I think this comparison won’t be possible after some months. The narrow screen of the Blackberry, and weaknesses of its browser, won’t be able to face the characteristics of the iPhone.

Conclusion

The appraisal is overall positive, but not very positive. I use this smartphone as I originally planned, but some points are disappointing.

These strengths are robustness, screen quality, and ergonomics. The device and its operating system are extremely effective. We can do everything quickly, with only one or two clicks.

The weaknesses are: the small autonomy, the screen size, and browser’s capabilities. For the autonomy, I would like to have at least one full day of autonomy regardless of use (without MP3 playback). The small size of the screen is annoying, especially for browsing web or reading mails.

In next posts, I will speak about how I use my device. I will present the application, WordPress for BlackBerry, and how I use the embedded GPS to automatically geotag my photos.