A few weeks ago I decided that I needed to learn more about the BlackBerry from Research in Motion (RIM). So I made a call to a friend that works for one of the local cell providers and asked if he could hook me up with a demo device for a couple weeks. A few days later and I had a nice red BlackBerry curve and a SIM card to use.
To be fair, I was already certain that I wasn’t the BlackBerry personality. I’m a geek, as long as I can get to a computer, I can get to my email, I certainly didn’t need it clipped to my belt. I was wrong. I now understand the addiction of the “CrackBerry”, it will be hard to give the demo unit back, really hard. It was a Berry good experience, withdrawl is going to be rough.
Setting up email was a breeze, so was adding extra email accounts for Gmail. Facebook was already on the device, as was Yahoo messenger. There was no MSN or AIM clients, but that was quickly remedied with a download followed by a painless install. The web browser was okay, there is only so much that can be done with the screen resolution, and the browser had several viewing modes to help with this. I did try Opera Mini and it ran fine, and behaved like a desktop, but due to the screen size it too wasn’t perfect. Both were more than adequate though, and definitely better than the average cell phone. Google maps is so cool on a GPS-equipped mobile device that it was almost spooky and the navigation applications that I trialed were extremely good as well. The sensitivity of the GPS receiver is excellent, in some locations it outperformed my handheld GPSr unit. The keyboard is far more functional than I ever imagined, accessing punctuation and symbols are trivially easy and the “smart” behaviors really improve input speed rather than hinder it. It is so good that I am writing and composing this post on the BlackBerry!
Now, about the addiction that turns this from a BlackBerry to a CrackBerry. The blinkin’ light. Yup. That’s it. The device sleeps aggressively but wakes up instantly when you press a key and even in sleep mode it can receive email and instant messages. Which is where the blinkin’ light comes in. You fire off a message and set the device down, it sleeps quickly and the screen goes black making it easy to ignore knowing that you don’t need to check it. Then out of the corner of your eye, in your peripheral vision, you see the the light blink. That light makes it easy to multi-task messaging into whatever you are doing, even less obtrusively than running an instant messenger or email application on a desktop. For me, that was the hook, that little light.
So, sure as a geek, I can get to my email from just about anywhere and I don’t need it clipped to my belt. The BlackBerry let’s me know when I need to get to my email without the bother of having to check it first and it enables me to fire off a quick response if I want.
It does other things too, the camera is okay, better resolution than most camera phones, and very easy to use. It plays MP3s as well, and you can expand the memory by adding a micro SD card (although, it took me several tries to figure out how to insert the damned card). Once you have a card in there, it behaves as you’d expect, pictures and media default to the card instead of device memory, which is what most users would want. Loading up music or videos was easy enough too.
Battery life was much better than I had expected for this type of device, and charging was via a standard USB cable instead of some custom connector. If you plugged in to a USB port that was not able to provide enough power to charge the device it tells you immediately so that you don’t wind up plugging it in overnight only to find that the battery is still low in the morning.
Apple isn’t the only one that can get usability right, it would seem that RIM knows a thing or two about it as well.
Now I want one, damn it!