Return to BlackBerry – A Bold User Experience

Full Circle

My cellphone pants pocket has come full circle over the course of a year and a half. Back then, I was sporting an iPhone 3G, and got my hands on an early retail BlackBerry Bold. My comparison concluded with a preference for the iPhone, citing my consumer leanings, and some serious drawbacks to the mapping application and smaller display of the Bold.

BlackBerry

Over the course of the past year, I grew extremely frustrated with the iPhone’s touchscreen typing (I am atrocious at it, even with its great error correction), and moved on to a Nokia E71. I spent a good 9 months with that phone, before I swapped over to an HTC Touch Pro2. The Nokia provided me a return to the physical keypad and I loved it, but at the same time, I wasn’t very pleased with the lower resolution display. The TP2 had a fantastic 3.6″ WVGA touchscreen display (800×480) plus a giant physical keypad.

In a bout of prescience, I had commented in that iPhone – Bold comparison that HTC’s TouchFlo 3D looked great, but would be worthless if it came at the cost of a lot of performance. The TP2 was a dog of a performer, requiring regular reboots to keep in a good working state. Integration with Exchange was fantastic and MyPhone was a great feature, never leaving me worried about the synchronization state of my computer’s and phone’s contact lists.

My focus on a physical keypad was based on a significantly higher ratio of written communication than ever before. I get on average 10-15 emails per day and go through around 10 text messages in that same time-span. That reliance on email made me reconsider the BlackBerry once more (I had used a BlackBerry Curve for quite some time). A friend recently purchased a BlackBerry Bold 9000, and showed me how the platform was “just getting good when you left it“, as he put it.

So I bought a used BlackBerry Bold.

In Use

I’ve been using the Bold for the past two weeks, with a Rogers BIS data plan. Email has been much more reliable than the Touch Pro2 (I  now receive them on in prompt fashion) and the device itself is far, far more responsive. I immediately loaded BlackBerry OS5.0.411 (Swedish 3 network version, not the Bell version) onto the device, and combined with the Reverie D theme with transitions, the interface is sublime to use. Screens fade in and out without the least bit of hesitation. Things load faster than anything else I’ve used, and just as I noted even 1.5 years ago.

BlackBerry Bold 9000

The keyboard, while not nearly as large as the one on the TP2, is fantastic to use. The keys have positive action, and a nice soft click when depressed. The slight ridges on the keys make typing very accurate, despite the size. I’m finding myself belting out more emails and text messages on the go than ever before. I always needed to slide up the screen of the TP2 to expose the keypad before I could really use that device to write anything. The candy-bar format makes this more convenient.

Furthermore, the Bold 9000 is built like a tank. The fake leather backing feels great in the hand, yet at the same time resists normal day-to-day wear, unlike the iPhone’s scratch-prone surface. Not unlike the iPhone’s monolithic bulk, the Bold also has no creaks or groans during use. I popped in an 8GB microSD card, and with the included 3.5mm audio jack, I can listen to some music on the go too. The screen isn’t glass-covered, and there are a couple  hairline scratches on this used copy, but it seems like even moderate care should prevent any serious damage to it. The TP2’s resistive screen on the other hand seemed extremely delicate. Over the short while I used it, it developed several scratches on the screen. And I take care of my gadgets. All in all, a very positive feeling for the Bold’s durability. I have no worries using it anywhere.

BlackBerry Bold 9000

Browsing on the device is decent, not great. The browser that comes with OS5.0 seems capable of handling most any site I visit, with the exception of my university’s online course materials portal. Then again, an iPhone doesn’t do well on that site either. While the screen is far smaller than the iPhone or the TP2, the resolution is on par with the iPhone’s (480×320), and text looks extremely crisp on the Bold. Cramming that many pixels into this (relatively) small display creates a very vibrant, detailed experience. My previous experience with the Bold involved some frustrating time with BlackBerry Maps. I didn’t bother loading it up this time, instead opting for the free Google Maps application. On 3G, tile loading rates are good and GPS works just fine and dandy.

To top things off, I purchased a BlackBerry charging pod, which I now use as my alarm clock. It sits on my desk and I simply plop the Bold into it when I come home. It turns into a big digital clock, and I’m able to set as many different alarms as I want via the calendar. This works great as I have morning classes on Mon-Wed-Fri, but still want to wake up at a decent hour on the other days of the week. The dock looks fantastic, provides an extra bit of functionality, and ensures that my phone is always charged. Well worth the investment.

BlackBerry Bold 9000 in dock

Speaking of charged, battery life has been solid. Over the course of a normal day from 9am through 9pm, usage includes around 10 text messages, 10 minutes in calls, 20 minutes of web browsing, 20-30 minutes of Brick Breaker, some time on Google Talk, and 4 email accounts being pushed, with 3G and Wifi enabled, the phone runs down to about 70% battery. On another run over 3 days, with one day of heavier use (on par or more than the above scenario) and two of light use, always with the 4 push email accounts, the battery ran down to 15%, at which point I got a low battery indicator. Overall, very good.

But not all is hunky dory. With only BIS through Rogers, I am unable to sync my contacts and calendar over the air with my computers, without some crazy proxies in between (such as using Google Calendar). Furthermore, I have a hosted Exchange server, which syncs my desktop and laptop. With the Touch Pro2, that also meant I could use ActiveSync to sync my phone. Microsoft MyPhone also gave me a backup option, even if there was no Exchange. With the BlackBerry, neither of these options exist without BES. A real bummer. Perhaps Mike Lazaridis’ announcement on Tuesday will address this pretty key drawback.

Wrap

After 1.5 years, I find myself back with a Bold, except this time, it’s mine and I’m loving it. The level of importance I place upon reliable communications has risen over the years, and the BlackBerry platform just makes sense for me right now. The Bold 9000 is snappy and responsive and performs its key competencies, email and communications, just so very well. The QWERTY keypad is fantastic to use, the form factor is good, and BrickBreaker’s pretty darn entertaining. It’s not a multimedia powerhouse like the iPhone or other touchscreen devices, but all I need is a cursory music player, and it has that.

BlackBerry Bold 9000

If Research in Motion would go ahead and give me OTA sync of my calendar and contacts with an Exchange server or some other cloud service, without the need for BES, I’ll be very content indeed.

Windows Phone 7 will be shown off tomorrow morning, and I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen so far at Microsoft. I’ll be waiting with great anticipation for actual shipping hardware. Until then, the Bold will be in my pocket.

7 thoughts on “Return to BlackBerry – A Bold User Experience”

  1. If you need a hosted BES service look at cortado.com. They have a range of affordable services around the RIM platform. Their solutions work well and are reliable. I used them for quite some time now.

    1. Interesting – didn’t know I could get a free single user license for BES (sounds like some sort of trial/test offering?). How much control do you need over the Exchange server to get these two synced up? Microsoft hosts my Exchange, so there’s not much tinkering I can do to it.

      1. Learned about during orientation.

        To my knowledge, it’s a full-fledged version, that allows for a trade-up (for a fee) to expand to more users.

        I have zero idea about the requirements for implementation… but based on the fact that your Exchange is Microsoft-hosted, I can only assume that things won’t be too easy, though perhaps they support some sort of distributed setup.

  2. Just use Google Sync which uses exchange to sync your google contacts and email…forward your bis email account to gmail..bam…done. OR set up your own BES, RIM released an express version of the BES server which is free, though i’m not sure on the restrictions, just thought it was worth mentioning to look in to.

    1. Yeah, but I have everything on my hosted Exchange, not Google. All I need is for some sort of desktop sync application that will sync my Outlook to Google’s services (thus, indirectly syncing my Exchange with Google) and works with Office 2010. I used some Google Calendar sync app with Office 2007 in the past, but it doesn’t work with the new version yet.

      As for the Bold 9000 versus 9700, it was really a matter of cost. For half the price, I’ll make do with the ball versus trackpad, older styling, but bigger screen. Plus, I can hardly pick out the 9700 from an 8900 or 85xx from a distance, whereas the 9000 is simply a beast and quite unique.

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