A couple of days ago, I was fortunate to receive a BlackBerry 9700 as a gift.
My friend Dane told me, in order to use a BlackBerry phone properly, one should adopt “Nerimo”, a javanese philosophy of submission and resignation, to receive whatever that is thrown at you as the right thing, be it a limited phonebook entries, quirky button behaviours, no autolock, and lots of other stuff 😀
With that in mind, I started my journey into the BlackBerry experience.
Do note that this entry is written based on my only two days of operating the 9700. I should also mention that I’m an avid Nokia user. I have owned a 3530, the awesome 5300, the less-than-stellar 5610, the magnificent E51, and I am currently a happy owner of an E52. I also own a HTC Dream/G1, my “toy” phone. My experience with the G1 and Nokia phones significantly influence my view about the unit and how it operates.
Well… Meh.. At first, the unit sure looks expensive with its battery cover adorned with leathery stuff and all that shiny chromy… plastic all around. But then I realized that there is no button, or latch or any release mechanism whatsoever to open the battery cover. You simply press the cover down, and slide it open. This won’t be an issue if the face of the phone is not cramped with large screen and tiny buttons!! I have to place my fingers and palm carefully hoping that I’m not breaking the screen or buttons instead of opening the battery cover. Great
Oh I should mention that the shiny black plastic part of the front of phone is very prone to scratch.
The screen was okay. Nothing spectacular, but very clear, and readability under bright sunlight is exceptional.
Keyboard. Holly crap haha… those buttons are so tiny… What’s worse is that RIM tailored the keyboard to be used with two hands. You see, they shaped the buttons so that the left part of the keyboard fits your left thumb, and the right fits your.. well right thumb. Pretty cool actually. But that makes one hand operation a bit problematic. It’s like using a right-hand-only mouse with your left hand. It’s doable, but very oh so not comfortable 😀 Some might say “It’s a QWERTY keyboard, it was meant to be used with both hands”. Well… In my case, the 9700 is so tiny (or my hands are too big), thus having to hold it with both hands when all I want to do is to type 2-3 words reply to an SMS becomes a very tedious job. Well… I might have been spoiled by the expansive 5 rows QWERTY keyboard of the Dream/G1 😀
The BlackBerry platform is… interesting 🙂 As I mentioned before. I’m avid Nokia user. I have gone through their basic java offering, the S40, and the S60. These will heavily influence my opinion regarding the BlackBerry OS and its functionality.
What I like:
- Application integration. The RIM provided apps works well with each other. Messages and notification from the blackberry messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Gtalk, and facebook integrate seamlessly. This is not the case with 3rd party apps offering such as Nimbuzz.
- Battery life. I managed to squeeze about 2 days of mild operation. This includes 1-2 hour talking, 4-5 hours of WiFi connections each day, BBM, YM, Google sync client running in the background. Very neat
What I don’t like:
- The page up/down function (space for page down, alt+space for page up) does not work in some of the applications. For example, the facebook app. When I’m at the bottom of the screen, I have to scroll all the way up to reach the top, just to reach the function icon located at the top of the page. And doing that with the digital trackpad is VERY ANNOYING
- No keyboard autolock function. I must install a 3rd party application. To make it worse, I can’t find it on BlackBerry AppWorld, and I have to hunt down the elusive .jad file with google
- No shortcut for activating bluetooth and/or wifi. On my E51 & E52, activating and deactivating bluetooth can be done by pressing * for a couple of seconds. With the G1, simply put a power management widget on one of the seven homescreens. With the 9700, I have to open the “Manage Connections” and select or deselect bluetooth or wifi. This can be assigned to one of the 2 “convenience” keys, but it seems a bit of waste. To simplify things, I can put the “Manage Connections” icon on my home screen, so I don’t have to dig into the main menu page…
- Very limited function key. Aside from the “pick up”, “hang up”, “BB”, “cancel”, and OK (integrated to the digital trackpad) buttons, you get two convenience keys that can be customized for one function each. That’s it. Oh, you also get a “del” button on the keyboard, but that seems to work as “delete” only on certain situation. The E52 in other hand, managed to squeeze 5 way nav buttons, “home”, “calendar”, “messages”, “delete”, and 4 softkeys. As a bonus, you get the aforementioned “*” for bluetooth on/off switch, “0” for opening browser, and # to switch the phone to “silent” mode. 2 functions can be assigned to the “calendar” and “messages” buttons. And I should mention that the E52 keypad is very comfortable to use. You can infact get a miriad of shortcuts from the 9700 keyboard by disabling the “Dial From Home Screen”, but that’s not a trade off that I’m willing to make 🙁
- Unlike E52’s S60, the screen doesn’t show me what applications are currently running. I need to do a long press on “BB” button to bring me the list of running apps
- The “BB” and “cancel” button behaviour. At first I thought the “BB” button functions similar to “home” button on my E52 and G1. That is not the case.
- Pressing the “BB” button on your home screen will send you to the main menu.
- Pressing the “BB” button when you’re inside an application will get you the context menu of the said app, as opposed to send you back to the main menu. To go to the main menu, you need to press the “hang up” button which will send you to the home screen. From there, tap the “BB” to get to the main menu. Very tedious.
- I can’t directly add a new number to a existing contact directly from the call history. On my E52 and G1, I have the option to insert the number to an existing contact. On the 9700, I need to “copy” the number, bring up the contact, go to edit mode, “paste” the number on a predefined column… then save… Which bring me to the next point..
- For a business oriented phone, the contact/phonebook function is pretty anemic. You get two, and only two field for emails, works, homes, and mobile numbers, faxes. You also have four custom fields, but that’s it. As a comparison, I can put “mobile number as much as I need on the G1’s Android. the S60 even went so far by giving choices such as “mobile home” and “mobile business”. Neat 🙂
- Locking and unlocking the keyboard use the same button. It’s located on the top right of the phone. Since unlocking the keyboard does not require key combination, it is very possible to accidentally unlock the phone. It hasn’t happened to me yet
- Newly installed application from the appworld and internet are stored in “Downloads” folder as opposed to “Application folder”. Very strange
- The application notification icons are very small. Sometimes, I have squint my eyes just to determine which application a particular notification belong to. At one point I gave up guessing, and open the applications one by one, until I found the right one.
All in all, I find my 2 day experience with the 9700 very eye opening. I really enjoy the simple and streamlined approach to messaging, and I hope that someday Nokia messaging platform will reach the same level. Competition is always good for us, the consumer 🙂 But I was a bit baffled on why some people consider the BlackBerry platform is superior to Symbian. For me, the 9700 was actually a little bit quirky for day to day usage.