Taking Push Email and PIM Beyond the Enterprise

I’ve become quite enamored with the BlackBerry and its email and PIM functions. While Sybase won’t open up their email system to me (I don’t blame them, to be honest), I’ve been manually inputting meetings and schedules into my BlackBerry. The ability to get a reminder of a meeting or task deadline is invaluable in the fast-paced and busy work day.

So it got me thinking – why not extend the convenience and usefulness of schedule management and push email to the university? I know many students are just as busy, if not busier than full-time workers. I already get my university email pushed to my BlackBerry, but I’d like to connect my calendar up as well. Waterloo is the hometown of a leading-edge university (University of Waterloo) and a pioneer in the wireless email business, Research in Motion. What better place for a trail deployment of a university BES for students? Here’s what I’d like to see.

The university implements a BES that manages the existing email infrastructure. Furthermore, course calendars would be synchronized and professors and teaching assistants can add assignment due dates to these calendars directly.

Now I haven’t quite nailed down how the project would be run – whether all students would have access to it or if only a subset of them would – there is an existing program at the Minota Hagey residence that gives students smartphones, replacing their existing land-line phone and boosting wireless usage and personal management, so recruiting a subset of the population can definitely work. The program would be far simpler to implement for a smaller group, so for trial purposes, that is probably the best solution.

What are the benefits? Let’s look at it from all parties.

  1. The University of Waterloo – the university has been on the forefront of several initiatives, some good, some not so good. PDEng, the Velocity residence, and the co-op program itself are some leading edge programs that the university has undertaken. In order to maintain its image of being a school of innovation at the forefront of technology, a student email/calendar system would be one more step towards this goal.
  2. Research in Motion/Microsoft – I mentioned a BES for students because I use a BlackBerry, but in reality it could be Microsoft Exchange and Windows Mobile devices as well, or any other wireless email + PIM service. This builds a large student population that is familiar with the product and service, and if they’re like me and find it useful, will continue to be users down the road, upon graduating from university.
  3. Wireless carriers – Data service is more lucrative for wireless carriers and is one part of the market that they have all been targeting to offset declining voice revenues. Just imagine entire universities filled with BlackBerry/Windows Mobile toting students. The revenue growth would be significant, even if some sort of cheaper student plan is introduced for the market. Again, if these students find the service useful, they will continue to use it after graduation, adding a whole new revenue group for the wireless carriers.
  4. And finally the students – Although the above-mentioned parties all stand to gain from this program, the student benefit is the end goal of the program. After all, this is something I’m conjuring up – clearly it’s to my benefit. 🙂 A student’s life can be extremely busy at university. Assignment after assignment are due and examinations seem to pop up without warning. The ability to have calendars with these events pre-populated pushed to a wireless device that is with the user at all times allows reminders and constant contact.

Hopefully something like what I’ve written about here will help students get more organized, plan their free time more effectively, and allow them to do better at their academic and extracurricular activities. I know in the past month with the BlackBerry, I’ve become more organized and event reminders have helped me at least appear more intelligent and on the ball to co-workers. Well worth the investment in my opinion.

Logitech Customer Service Experience #2

I recently ran into some hardware problems with my almost one-year old Logitech VX Revolution mouse. It has accompanied my laptop almost everywhere it goes and even gets used at work, where everyone’s usually stuck with the regular 2-button optical mouse. A more functional (not to mention more comfortable) mouse like the VX Revolution makes my a bit more productive.

But back to the issue – the left click stopped working properly. One out of every 3-4 clicks was either not being registered or would act as a double click. Not registering a click isn’t nearly as bad as a double click – ever tried dragging a shortcut to the recycling bin only to have it launch the application instead? Very annoying to say the least. The problem made the mouse essentially unusable.

In the original review, I mentioned that there seemed to be some interference issues with the mouse, but it happened only on occasion. The problem now was much, much more apparent and frequent.

I got in contact with Logitech Customer Support by email this past Thursday, hoping my previous positive interaction with them wasn’t just a fluke. Oh, if anything, this was even better.

Thursday morning, I sent in a message with the symptoms. An hour later, I received a response stating a replacement would be issued if my mouse was still under warranty. That evening, I sent my shipping information along with my invoice. Not 10 minutes later, I receive a response stating a replacement unit had been set up and would be shipped to me.

The real kicker is, I am to dispose of the mouse as I see fit. Instead of making me pay $15 shipping to get it back to them and waiting for the replacement, the replacement is shipped immediately and I save my money. Of course, this relies on the honesty of the user. I don’t know if this happens all the time, so don’t start a warranty service request for a perfectly working mouse, hoping for a free replacement. If it comes time for the replacement arrangement and they request the unit be returned, don’t blame me. I can only vouch for my situation. If anything, that sort of dishonesty will only cost others the convenience of the current replacement arrangement.

Extremely quick responses and an amazing replacement policy will have me buying Logitech gadgets and recommending them for a long time, given that the products stay at their level of innovation and usefulness. Customer service can maintain customer satisfaction and build loyalty. Logitech’s has done exactly that. I’d like to say thanks to the rep I worked with, Kunal, from Logitech’s North America customer support group. A job well done. 🙂

Aboard the BlackBerry Train – Curve 8310

While I was sick in bed, with no word from Sony Ericsson regarding the status of a repair for my K790a, I dug around on eBay for BlackBerries. After following a few items to completion, I realized that purchasing BlackBerries on eBay was not much cheaper than buying it in-store locally and ran the risk of being dinged by duties and customs fees, as the majority were from the United States. Most recently, I had the opportunity to pay over $35 in duties and fees for a $25 copy of Pzziz. That’s left a sour taste in my mouth for international purchases.

So after some research, I ended up with a new unlocked BlackBerry 8310, purchased from SN Traders. My questions about the device were answered promptly and service was very satisfactory.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve Trackball

In a sentence, I am extremely pleased with my purchase. The side effect, paying Rogers more for BlackBerry service, I’m less pleased with, but that’s a bit unavoidable. I didn’t know what I was missing when I bought the non-QWERTY keypad Sony Ericsson K790a. The BlackBerry’s an absolute joy to use and I’m able to jot down notes of thoughts I’ve had for further musing, at a later time. Did I mention it’s one sweet looking device too?

BlackBerry 8310 Curve

Predictive text tools, like T9, are nice ways of making it less painful to type alphabetic messages on a number keypad, but it’s no where close to replacing the ease and flexibility of a full QWERTY keypad. The keypad on the Curve is very easy to use, and I’ve had no trouble adapting to the small keys.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve Keypad

For a long time, I remember reading that holding a BlackBerry up to your ear was akin to holding a piece of toast, due to its width. That may have been true in the days of the 7200 series and older models, but with the Curve, it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable. For certain, it’ll feel wider than just about any feature phone, but given the no-compromise QWERTY keypad, it’s about as narrow as its going to get. At 60mm wide, it’s 13mm wider than my K790a, but with its decrease in thickness (15.5mm versus 22mm), it fits into a pants pocket a bit more readily.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve versus Sony Ericsson K790a
BlackBerry 8310 Curve

I’m glad for the Curve’s use of standard ports. For charging and data transfer, a standard mini USB port is used and for wired connectivity, a 3.5mm headphone jack is provided. Couple that with a microSD card slot (which is unfortunately wedged behind the battery) and the BlackBerry Curve can serve your multimedia needs as well. I have a microSDHC 4GB card installed and working without a problem.

The inclusion of the multimedia console, which allows access to music, videos, ringtones and pictures all in one place is a nice touch, but the lack of dedicated media keys means navigation in that application is a bit clumsy. If you want to skip a track, you have to bring up the menu using the menu key and then select previous or next track. Although you can start a slideshow of pictures, navigating them manually also requires bringing up the menu. UPDATE: I should’ve read the manual before I wrote – there are a wide range of shortcut keys that can be used to navigate in the media player – for example, N for next track or P for previous.

BlackBerry 8310 Curve Media Center
BlackBerry 8310 Curve music player

One of the things I’ve been using the BlackBerry for is text messaging and I really like the threaded messaging feature of the built-in messaging application.  It’s very nice to be able to see what you were responding to at a glance.

One knock against the BlackBerry – the OS is not pretty. Coming from my Sony Ericsson, which had a very graphical system, the BlackBerry focuses on function over form, with page after page of text menus at times. If RIM really wants to break into the consumer market in a big way (and not just target the prosumer group) they’ll really have to do some revamping of the software stack. Most business users probably prefer the functional nature of the OS, but with Joe or Jill Smith gazing at the device sitting next to a Sony Ericsson, I think they’d be swayed to the SE based on the looks alone.

With that said, I’m more than willing to deal with text menus in return for all the advantages the device brings. I’ve found battery life to be very good. With the push BIS enabled, a few calls here and there, and some texting, I can use the device for 4 days without fear of running out of battery power. Add a couple hours of music each day and you’ll probably want to charge the Curve every second or third day to ensure you don’t run out of power midday.

It’s now been two weeks with the BlackBerry and it’s holding up very nicely. The organizational features have come in handy over the last couple of busy weeks. I’ll soon be coming into a proper case for the Curve – the holster I have now was designed for the BlackBerry 7100 series, so doesn’t fit quite right. CrackBerry addict? Not quite, but progressing nicely I’d say. 😉

Lenovo x300 – The No Compromise Laptop?

When the first inkling of the Lenovo x300 appeared on the web, I doubted that Lenovo would be able to get the weight down to the rumored 3lb range. Given the seemingly no-compromise design (plenty of ports, a WXGA+ resolution LED panel, while keeping quite thin), I was surprised at the quoted weight.

Fast forward to today and Lenovo’s now selling the x300. The reviews are in (and they are most favorable to say the least) and I’m glad to say, I’ve been proven wrong. The 3lb weight of the laptop is very real, albeit with the 3 cell battery and no optical drive. Still, even with the 6 cell battery and a DVD drive, it’s only about 3.4lbs. That’s very impressive. The LED screen seems great, the 3 USB ports (amongst other ports) is more than adequate, build quality is top notch like other ThinkPads, and there’s a full-size keyboard. Could it be the perfect laptop?

Granted, the thing’s over $2500, in large part due to the mandatory SSD I’m sure, but that’s the premium you pay for an almost no-compromise machine

I say almost no-compromise because it did make one compromise, a compromise that’s something of a deal killer in an ultraportable – battery life. That’s a major area of weakness, especially since at 3lbs, Lenovo’s targeting the highly mobile. With the 6 cell, one can expect between 3 and 4 hours of battery life under light to moderate use. The LED backlit panel and SSD contribute to making that even longer than it would be otherwise. I believe a major culprit is the choice of CPU, the Core 2 Duo L7100. At 1.2GHz (dual core), it’s well within Intel’s ULV performance range, but unfortuately has a TDP of 17-20W instead of 10W like the ULV’s. It’s apparently the same type of SFF processor that’s used in the MacBook Air – except much slower. It shocks me that Lenovo is stuffing this power-hungry CPU inside the laptop, since the same performance could have been achieved with an ULV processor. And it’s not like Lenovo is gunning for bargain basement pricing. At the $2500-$3000 range, I think most potential buyers would easily eat the additional cost of a ULV processor if it meant improved battery life.

So in the end, the no-compromise competitor to the MacBook Air has made possibly the worst compromise of all for an ultraportable. Unless Lenovo does something about the battery life, the Sony TZ will continue to sit at the top of my laptop to-buy list.

Note:  If you’re not too concerned about the battery life and think the x300’s the laptop for you, here are a couple more incentives to buy.

Canadians: Visa has a deal with Lenovo for some savings, and now, you can save an additional 6% with the coupon: CAXSAVE4RX. Visit Lenovo through the Visa Perks website and the cheapest x300 comes out to around $2430CAD before taxes.

Americans: Again with Visa – you can save an additional 10% on top of the standard promotional price if you pay with your Visa. Just use USXTRIPLESAVINGS when checking out. Visit Lenovo USA’s site through Visa promotions to access the savings. The cheapest x300 configuration comes out to about $2180US before any taxes.