BlackBerry Review – Smartphone Round Robin

Those of you who read this site generally come here for coverage of all things Nokia, but as you know I am a part of the Smartphone Round Robin this year and we are looking at the five other platforms for the next five weeks. As you know this week I am looking at the RIM BlackBerry platfom, with a focus on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Storm2. I consider myself a pretty well-rounded smartphone user and have dabbled in the BlackBerry world from time-to-time, but it was great to spend time with the extremely knowledgeable Kevin Michaluk from CrackBerry.com a couple of weeks ago and find out more about the BB platform that I would like to share with you all below. So let’s take a look at some hardware, the OS, some capabilities/functionality, a comparison to S60 and Maemo, and ┬ámy closing thoughts before we move onto another platform next week.

Smartphone Round Robin

Hardware: Storm2 and Bold 9700

I spent a bit of time with both devices at the Smartphone Round Robin event, but not enough to be an expert on both of them. For real in-depth reviews, I recommend you check out the reviews on CrackBerry.com for the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and BlackBerry Storm 2. That said, I do have some impressions from a heavy Nokia user that may interest you and mirror some of your findings if you pick up a BlackBerry and give it a go.

BlackBerry Storm2 This device is the second generation in RIM’s touchscreen lineup and I have to say I found it to be much improved over the Storm1. I tried the Storm1 and honestly had to put it back in the back after about 15 minutes and send it back to RIM since it was just a very frustrating experience with a display that moved too much and required completely distinct presses to enter text. I understand that the Storm2 improves upon the original Storm with a new display technology, WiFi radio added, increased memory capacity and response, and a better camera. When I first held the Storm2, as shown in my video, I was pretty amazed by the way the touch screen does nothing when it is off and then magically turns on and is pressable when the display is turned on. Kevin told me it uses four capacitors to enable the touchscreen and I have to say it works MUCH better than the first generation product as it allows simultaneous presses as well.

The Storm2 felt very solid and had that expected rugged BlackBerry feel to it. The camera seemed to take decent photos and video, nothing like a Nokia, so you could capture things on the go. The large high resolution display was very nice for viewing video content. I actually wonder where RIM can go with their touchscreen lineup next since this device pretty much has it all.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 Bold97001I actually purchased an AT&T Bold just over a year ago and thought it had the best QWERTY keyboard on any smartphone at the time, but the device was quite wide and I couldn’t get over the lack of Exchange support. IMHO, the Bold 9700 is a nicer device than the Bold because it is much more pocketable, has an optical touchpad instead of a trackball, has a nice 3.2 megapixel camera, and has a slightly higher resolution (though smaller) display.

The 624 MHz inside this device makes it fly and I never saw any lag in using the device. I was just getting used to the trackball on BB and Android devices and now see that RIM is switching to an optical touchpad. I understand from talking with Kevin that the trackball has been an issue with many BlackBerry devices and replacement balls are one of the biggest sellers in the CrackBerry.com store. The touchpad offers a navigation method with no physical rotating mechanism and should require less maitenance. I was actually surprised how much I liked the touchpad and how responsive I found it to be compared to a trackball. I believe that people will prefer it over the trackball.

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The keyboard is nicely designed and angled and RIM does have some nice shortcuts included in the OS. However, I don’t like that you have to press the alternate button to enter a @, period, comma, and question mark. The Nokia E71 is setup better for these common symbols and I wish RIM would setup their keyboards a bit better in this regards.

Again, like in the Storm2 I wonder what else RIM can do with a front facing QWERTY device since this Bold 9700 seems to have it all in an almost perfect form factor that seems to be optimized for all the specifications. I think the changes we will see are in the operating system rather than the hardware so let’s move on to my take on the RIM BlackBerry OS.

Operating system: RIM BlackBerry 5.x

bold97006Similar to what we have seen with the S60 platform, there looks to be very little that has changed over the year in the BlackBerry OS. We went from seeing 4.x devices to 5.x devices and like S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 and S60 5th Edition there were lots of backend tweaks and performance improvements with some minor usability and other improvements. It may not have looked like much physically, but tweaking things to make them more stabile and functional is always a good thing and really if it isn’t broken then why mess too much with it.

The BlackBerry platform has always focused on messaging as its key feature and honestly it does it VERY well. I was particularly impressed with the BlackBerry Messenger client/service that Kevin showed me as I personally have never tried this myself. With review devices in the past, I never took the steps to get myself associated with a PIN on a particular device since I knew I had to send it back after a couple of weeks. BB Messenger is a powerful and capable messaging solution and I can honestly see why people will stick with the BlackBerry platform just to keep using this feature.

We have seen BlackBerry doing extremely well in North America these past few years and I think a large part of that success is their cross carrier availability and focus on improving consumer experiences. The most popular BlackBerry devices roll out on all four major US wireless carriers so you aren’t really too limited by your carrier choice. RIM has also added some decent cameras, beautiful high resolution displays, attractive designs, and better media playback to appeal to consumers. RIM also makes the out-of-the box and out-of-the store experience painless for customers who are required to have a data plan with the device that gets them their email without any real effort on the part of the consumer. I have seen a ton of soccer moms using BlackBerry devices this year because it is easy and just works.

We also see this year that RIM launched the BlackBerry App World so discovering and installing new 3rd party apps is an enjoyable experience right from your BlackBerry device. I was pretty impressed by the number and quality of software offerings in the App World too.

Like most mobile operating systems today, the BlackBerry OS is very icon/shortcut driven so that selecting an icon launches an application. Similar to what we see on S60 you can organize these application shortcuts in folders and on the menu screen to your liking. You can install apps to customize your standby screen and also wallpaper the background to your liking. You will find the BlackBerry platform very similar to S60 in terms of interface elements and customizability.

Multitasking is supported on BlackBerry devices and from what I saw it is handled quite well by the OS. I didn’t get a chance to discover how to quickly switch between running apps or discover the task manager so I can’t talk about how this works at the moment.

I actually hated the Options area on the BlackBerry devices and it seems like there is no real organization or sense made to what is going on here. Then again, I think much of the same can be said of S60 and the options/settings we see on our devices as well. I know that it is probably only the real smartphone geeks that get into this area, but it sure would be nice to see a bit more sense made out of it.

Coming from the Nokia S60 platform where you can install apps onto local integrated memory or onto any external storage card, I found it interesting that BlackBerry apps all get stored into an internal memory area with your expansion memory card primarily serving as a media storage area. With the focus on apps today and the new BlackBerry App World I wonder if power users are hitting the limit of loaded applications on BlackBerry devices and wonder if this restriction will ever be lifted. Then again, from what my experiences with BlackBerry the OS has a ton of capability loaded by default and is very capable.

Capabilities/functionality

While I appreciate that RIM released a touchscreen device, I still find their hardware QWERTY devices to be the real strength of the platform and what most people associate with the name BlackBerry. If you are looking for a hardware QWERTY device, then there isn’t much better than the BlackBerry platform if you can live with the BlackBerry Internet Service or BlackBerry Exchange Server. In the past when I tried to own a BlackBerry I had issues popping my SIM out and putting it into one of my unlocked Nokia devices because the SIM was provisioned for BB service. I also have an Exchange server at work and since I work at a small company they will not be paying for a BES anytime soon. Thus, I find I am limited to email over the Outlook Web Access (OWA) method and cannot sync calendar and contacts without cabling to a PC and using the BlackBerry desktop manager. These are my two primary issues for not having a BlackBerry device in my collection.

Like Nokia, BlackBerry devices are durable and seem to handle drops and bumps quite well. This appeals to those who want a smartphone, but don’t want to worry about babying it either. They want something that works all the time. I also understand that BlackBerry devices have long battery life and this appeals to most people as well.

S60 and Maemo comparisons with BlackBerry

S60 If I switched from a S60 device to a BlackBerry device I would gain BlackBerry Messenger and access to more common apps, but I don’t see much else compared to a device like the Nokia E71. I would lose a better browsing experience, fairly functional Exchange integration, and high quality media capture capability. Due to lack of usage, I can’t comment on the BlackBerry phone call quality or RF reception, but we all know that is a huge strength with Nokia S60 devices. As you can see, the RIM BlackBerry OS and Symbian S60 operating systems actually match up very well.

blackberry-nokia4

Maemo It probably isn’t really fair to compare the Maemo 5 OS and Nokia N900 with a BlackBerry since the N900 is really a portable Linux computer more than a smartphone. The N900 and Maemo 5 gives you the BEST mobile web browser and BEST multi-tasking experience of any platform, along with some of the slickest communication services integration I have ever seen. I do think BlackBerry does email much better though and really sets the bar in that regards. Battery life has been a bit of an issue for me on the N900 too and I never hear anyone complain about battery life on a BlackBerry device.

Wrapping up BlackBerry week

I appreciate all of the insight and help that Kevin provided to me on the BlackBerry platform and the look at two of the latest devices. I received a warm welcome from the CrackBerry.com community over in the forums and appreciate their input. I think the platform is extremely capable and even though it is one of the seniors in the smartphone community, like Nokia, it gets the job done and is a solid choice. It may not be as flashy as some of the latest platforms, but for the targeted messaging consumer it works very well.

If web browsing is down low on your priority list while messaging is primary then I would definitely think you want to take a look at the BlackBerry platform before you then decide to pick up the E71. Like the name of our sister site, once people start using a BlackBerry they can get addicted to it and the seamless connectivity it provides.

My favorite aspect of BlackBerry devices is definitely messaging and my most hated thing is the lack of Exchange support and reliance on 3rd party servers to sync data. When RIM servers go down everyone is affected and that does concern me a bit. Then again, Nokia’s new Messaging services are hosted by them too and we have seen the same impact to our messaging capability.

Thanks again to Kevin and all of those in the CrackBerry.com community who participated this week and responded to my questions in the forum. Remember to keep contributing to the various forums and threads to be entered into the Smartphone Round Robin contest where you could win your favorite smartphone. Stay tuned next week for my perspective on the Google Android OS with HTC Hero and Motorola DROID devices.

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19 Comments to BlackBerry Review – Smartphone Round Robin

Paul Zimmerman
December 18, 2009

Matt – I see you work at a small company, I do too and they wouldn’t pay for a BES either… however – we have BPS and its a completely free smaller version of a BES that RIM has available but very little people know about it. I heard about it from my VZW rep for my company. Been using it for 2.5 years with 9 users and it works great. Email me at zoomy942 at gmail.com and I can explain more for ya.

Anton
December 18, 2009

Very nice review from the perspective of a Nokia Expert :) Fair, balanced. Very nice indeed.

Mark
December 18, 2009

Surprised no specific apps were mentioned, but overall a good review. Interesting about Exchange support. I’ll consider Nokia for my next phone assuming S60 gets with it.

rh
December 18, 2009

There is a Googlesync application that enables OTA syncing with Google calendar and Google contacts. It eliminated the need for Outlook syncing for me.

rsm
December 18, 2009

Exchange is supported via an app called Astrasync: http://www.astrasync.com

You should get a trial version to test.

rsm
December 18, 2009

Having used both S60 and Blackberry, another thing I really appreciate on the Blackberry is robust PIM applications, especially for items such as categories. They synchronize without a hitch. S60 really has dropped the ball on this issue.

I set up my blackberry to always go to the list of applications instead of the home screen when I hit the “End” button. Couple this with keyboard shortcuts built-in to the BB OS (i.e., m for Messages, b for Browser, a for Address Book), and I very rapidly switch through tasks on the Blackberry.

John Chew
December 19, 2009

Extremely well written lucid and balanced review of your short time with the Storm and the 9700. I like your perspective and coverage, as an American, of Nokia phones. I felt cosmopolitan when I used the N82 and N97 earlier this year, but Ovi felt too foreign, and I didn’t feel a strong enough sense of community being a S60 user. There’s a strong community of S60 users here in NYC, but its nothing compared to the Blackberry community. Although I am a Blackberry user, I am a fan of Nokia phones especially the original N95. I just loved that phone! Thank you.

Poops McGhee
December 19, 2009

Before I got my BB, I was looking into the N97mini, but somehow chose to buy a BB instead. My former phone is S60 and though very nice and usable, the BB seems to be quite better out of the box. I’ve testused several Berries before, but never owned one myself, until now. I’ve been a Nokia user for at least 15 years, but Berries will rule the next, I guess.

Review is good, solid and informative. Much better than some iPhone favoured reviewer I’ve seen some time ago ^^

abezapata
December 19, 2009

I will stick to my bb 8900 even though we just had some BIS outages. XD

sadi85
December 20, 2009

I use both a BlackBerry 8830 WE (Unlocked, works on GSM 900/1800; There’s no BB supporting carrier in my country!!!) and an E-63. I really like the S60 platform, it has some nice softwares (S60 phonebook is the best phonebook). I like the fact that my E-63 doesn’t require anything like BIS/BES etc., it runs on the proprietary APN of my operator. But, as I’m migrating to USA, I plan to move to BB. My 8830 WE has a much better keyboard, the software is much more stable than any S60 I’ve used. Switching apps is also much faster on BB. Besides, the place I’m migrating in US doesn’t have 3G except VZW. Nokia sucks in this respect because to penetrate the US market they really need some CDMA-EVDO S60/ Maemo device.

Aamir
December 20, 2009

i think as far as UI goes, I find blackberries to be far more complicated and don’t understand that everybody who complains about the s60 doesn’t say the same about blackberry… I have not used the new blackberry phones so I am not sure if they have changed the UI on the new ones or no…

rijc99
December 21, 2009

Everyone I’ve ever known whose used a Blackberry swears by them. I tried a Curve at the store but it just felt cheap.

The Bold and new 9700 definitely look and feel better but the browser just falls so far short of Android/iPhone versions.

PaloAltoWorldView
December 21, 2009

I don’t understand the part of Blackberry supposedly not supporting Exchange. Something like 90% of US enterprises use the Exchange/Blackberry combination. You can do it either with BES or with BIS. It seems equivalent to saying that “I wish BMW made cars that don’t have diesel engines.”

Furthermore, there are several ways of getting a BES, including the option of not owning/locating one yourself. You can rent a seat for something like $10/month, aka an insignificant rounding error.

aamir
December 23, 2009

a person i work with has a blackberry pearl. it took her more than an hour just to figure out how to change her ringtone… i think i ll stick with my outdated symbian…

Justin
December 24, 2009

there is an option to download apps to your SD card, with the storm2. from the main app screen, press BB menu>options and there is a choice for “download folder”.

also, app switching is very fast and easy with a BB. just hold down the BB button for a few seconds and it will bring up the app switcher showing all apps running and allowing you to select any one you need.

overall a very fair review though, keep up the good work!

njbianco
December 24, 2009

LOL took a hour to figure out how to change a ringtone thats hilarious no offense. Anyways if you think Blackberrys are complicated i would never get near a android or windows mobile device if i was you id stick with what you no Aamir. Ive owned pretty much every type of smart phone incept for a Symbian device(also never owned or used webOS yet) and Blackberry is by far the simplest I’ve used. But thats just my opinion

A1by
February 3, 2010

Hi Matt,

Not sure if it was already mentioned, but you can do EAS with Astrasync app for BB. I believe it basically works like touchdown for Android

Focus Factor
February 27, 2010

This is a very great information. I become

knowledgeable about the subject. Thank you for

posting this kind of information. Are there any

other posting the sane as yours?

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