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The BlackBerry Curve (8310)

For the first week of Smartphone Experts' Smartphone Round Robin, I was assigned the BlackBerry Curve 8310. As I've indicated in the Crackberry forums, I've said some nasty things about BB in the past. Some of that is going to have to be put behind me this week; this BlackBerry 8810 isn't going to use itself.

And don't forget - a comment on this post counts as an entry in the Round Robin Contest!

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Setup

I went about setup a little backwards; I didn't go about setup the usual way. I probably should have set up the BlackBerry on my computer first, but I wanted to get a feel for the device as is. Plus, we weren't allowed to post on the forums until yesterday. So, I set up my emails on the BlackBerry itself, and figured I'd set up other services later.

I've used some featurephones fairly recently (I used a Sony Ericson w810i as a cameraphone intermittently before my final love affair with the Treo 680), so a lot of the Java BlackBerry apps are pretty familiar -- Opera Mini and Google Maps for Mobile specifically, and some more that I'm curious to see. Google Mail, Yahoo! Go, and Facebook are all in that camp. I was really pleased to see a good AIM client in Ramble; a lot of users suggested JiveTalk as a superior client, and I may yet give that a shot.

Sync

Syncing, at least on the Windows platform, was pretty much a non-issue. I'm pretty good at moving contacts to and fro between various online services and applications, and once I found out that I could pull information from a Yahoo! account, I just put all of my information into my Yahoo! mail. The closest thing the iPhone comes to real push is with Yahoo!, so that account has been getting a bit of love of late. Most of my experience in syncing has come from the Palm Desktop side of things, which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth; I've had my fair share of troubles with Palm conduits and iSync over the years.

My favorite sync method is obviously with the iPhone, since it's built to be perfectly integrated into all of the Apple Mac apps like Mail.app, Address Book.app, and iCal.app, but that really shouldn't surprise anyone. In fact, this entire paragraph is gratuitous.

I'll probably wipe the Curve and see what it's like from the Mac side of things on Wednesday or so; I want to give it some time on the Windows side first, since it appears that's the overwhelming demographic using the BlackBerry.

What's Awesome

Mail

By a longshot, the best part about the BlackBerry is the mail. I feel a bit like an idiot, since all of the people that use a blackberry obviously know that. I manage 4 accounts -- 2 personal, 1 work, and one for an intermittently high-volume list, and the Curve is a monster in gobbling those emails up. Coming from the iPhone, that's a new world all over again; the iPhone is a dog for managing a lot of mail. I would definitely be a happy camper if the iPhone suddenly slurped through email like the BlackBerry does.

Integrated GPS, Radio Signal

The GPS chip on the 8310 is amazing too. I have GPS pucks that won't pick up a signal anywhere inside, and here the Curve was able to pick up a satellite signal in my kitchen. GSM radio reception was also excellent.

Form Quality

I was really impressed with the overall form-factor; it's really an excellent refinement of the Treo form factor. The keyboard is pretty much the exact same shape and the response on it is really quite good. Nice and clickable, a lot like the high-tactile-response old-school IBM keyboards.

The Curve is quite slim compared to a Treo; not nearly as slim as the iPhone but much shorter, altogether a very pocketable device. No creaks when you try and move it. One of the keys to good design is if it looks like it should be expensive. And the curve does -- it's a pretty stylin' device.

Stereo Bluetooth

I'm glad to see the A2DP, I have some bluetooth stereo headphones that have been patiently waiting for a purpose for about half a year. Today, they find their purpose: to listen to music streamed in stereo from Bluetooth A2DP-capable device.

What's not awesome

The Browser

Coming from the iPhone, the browser is a real impediment for the Curve. Opera Mini has been out for quite a while now, and I really don't understand why companies don't tear down Opera's door to make Opera Mini the default browser on their platform. This alone might be the biggest impediment to my productivity -- I'm on the baby internet, the kinda sorta internet. Opera Mini goes a long way towards fixing that (and can even be used to sync bookmarks back to the desktop), but Opera won't multitask and can't be used for downloads.

It's amazing how quickly I got spoiled with the iPhone. Just three months! It has double the pixels, and I can view the web in pretty much full glory. The iPhone almost passes the acid2 test. Opera Mini already runs on the BlackBerry. What's the holdup? Why hasn't RIM moved to secure a real browser? Expect this question to be asked on this site for the upcoming Treo and Windows Mobile Smartphone Round Robins.

Opera

The internet is about way more than just email. I feel that almost all of the handset companies, not just RIM, have blinders on in this regard. Nokia might be the only handset maker that really "gets it." They install Opera Mobile on most of their phones, and have WebKit-based browsers on everything else. A decent browser is one of the big reasons that I jumped ship to the iPhone. The world wide web is what got the populace on the internet in the first place. Why ignore it in the mobile space?

User Interface

I have a lot of problems with the user interface. A lot of the icons are similar to each other, the icons don't always have good contrast with the default background, the shadowed font effects don't really lead to readability... I could go on. And given the chance, I often will. I was advised by Kevin to hide the icons for what I didn't use, which is great advice, but I still had to slog through the apps to see what I'd use and what I wouldn't, since the Curve ships with its own fair share of AT&T/Cingular-branded bloatware.

To AT&T's credit I found their more simplistic default theme more usable than the standard BlackBerry icon view. And it has to be said that there are plenty of themes to choose from. I think it's excellent that 4 out of 5 of the top-sellers are all iPhone lookalikes. 8 out of the top 10 are all iPhone lookalikes, and there are no other themes in the top 10.

4Of5

Settings All Over

I had a hard time looking for all of the places that I'd use to change settings. As I mentioned in the forums, it seems that there's a never-ending supply of places to look for where settings are stored. Ringtones and profile settings are stored in 'Profiles', a bulk of the settings are stored in 'Options', Bluetooth gets its own app AND has settings in 'Options', 'Set Up Email Accounts' has its own app... it's not the most user-friendly system out there. I can see why they separated 'profiles' and 'options,' but the other stuff frankly mystifies me. But for profiles, all I really want is a vibrate switch.

Settings

Shroedinger's Touchscreen: Simultaneously Awesome and Not-Awesome

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p>I miss having a touchscreen. I can tell because there are absent-minded fingreprints all over the Curve's screen right now. But, omitting toucscreens allows RIM to make their devices slimmer, and problem helps them last longer. It's pretty much expected that they should have a slim device. And yet, the iPhone throws that conventional wisdom on its side.

But I have to say, there are enough keyboard shortcuts that it makes use pretty easy. Once you learn all of the keyboard shortcuts, that is. I'm also impressed by the one-handedness of it all, and that's something that RIM probably wouldn't have focused on so much if there was an 'easy way out' touchscreen available. I will miss the BlackBerry's magnificent 'N' key when I return to the iPhone.

The Philosophy

I'll admit that the Philosophy of BlackBerry is confounding to me: compete mainly in the centralized-management enterprise, be an email beast, be secure, and worry about everything else later. I don't get that; I've got all this stuff that I want to carry around with me -- I want to be able to carry media with me, sync playlists with the music app that I use, sync my bookmarks to and fro, store TV shows that I purchase online, the whole shebang. In using it, I don't always feel like the BlackBerry got the convergence memo. And putting the SD card behind the battery... not the most convenient place. I don't think they ever expect me to change SD cards once I get one in. That says a lot about what BlackBerry thinks the Curve should be.

Memory

But, I can also appreciate that the BlackBerry can constitute essentially bit of a mobile office-on-the-go for a lot of mobile workers. For a lot of employees, maybe that means using the BlackBerry as a DUN connection to their laptop for EDGE internet access anywhere. Maybe it means that email is one of the key features for them at work. For managing email, the BB is a champ.

Mscmdm

I do worry about RIM in this space, though. Their philosophy is to push content that people want, be an email beast, and compete in the enterprise space. The reason that I worry about RIM is that they're competing with Microsoft. I've said in our Treocasts that Microsoft is a vicious competitor, and they're relentless in the areas that they want to focus on. Like Ballmer said at his CTIA conference, they just keep coming and coming and coming and coming at you. They don't intend to stop, and the Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 is aimed squarely at BES. Microsoft is hungry to maintain and grow enterprise because the server and mobile spaces are the two spaces that they're not a giant in -- they've essentially got a lock on the desktop and office software. The purpose for MSCMDM08 is for Microsoft to wedge themselves into spots that RIM was wedging into, and that puts a pretty large onus on RIM... once MSCMDM08 comes out, that is.

Final Thoughts

So I respect the laser-honed focus on email, but that focus dulls the sheen a bit for someone more interested in a consumer device. Mobile accomplishers abound. Truth be told, the BlackBerry has been improving of late in this regard. I can take pictures now, I can play MP3s (and use them as ringtones, natch), I can even watch the errant video now. I was surprised to see the Roxio media sync there. The BlackBerry is maturing fast, and I'm going to have to keep a much closer eye on the platform than I ever did. In that respect, my use of the BlackBerry has been a real eye-opener.