The Spartan Way

Before the iPhone craze hits again, I thought I’d summarize my past few weeks using a BlackBerry. Like I wrote last month (wow, has it really been a month?), I needed to reset my biases towards (or against) other devices, and started using an 8900 during work days.

As it turns out, it was a good thing I did. It felt as comfortable as an old suit, but with a few great extras. For instance, I had long used MSN and Google Talk clients on the BlackBerry (because it is probably the only device where you can use them properly – i.e., with complete integration), but I got the Microsoft Office Communications Server client pushed to mine, and all of a sudden I had immediate access to anyone in the company (with full integration with the built-in address book, of course), which proved to be tremendously useful in a number of occasions.

Using it professionally was a no-brainer, although I found myself going up against some of the BlackBerry e-mail management quirks time and again – for instance, the BlackBerry remains adamantly partial towards folder trees (you can file stuff to folders from it, but moving messages around on the server won’t get synced back properly), and moving/deleting many messages was still awkward (I actually missed the iPhone’s multiple message management mode, which made it a lot faster to file away stuff).

Personally, there were some neat things going for it as well. Personal IM just worked. Google Maps works great (including Latitude), I was able to find a halfway decent (if somewhat stale and buggy) Twitter client (TinyTwitter), and the Facebook client (which got a revamp last Friday) is usable enough to give me an inkling of what was going on (although it still fundamentally sucks when compared to the iPhone’s), so I was mostly set.

The BlackBerry Facebook app does have a saving grace – it integrates with the built-in address book and updates my contact photos automatically (a neat trick that propagated to Outlook 2007, which used those images as well). Throw in IM contact integration and the overall experience is not completely unlike the Pre’s Synergy – the whole thing needs some manual association of contacts but works well enough, and has apparently been doing so for a year now while I’ve been fooling around with other devices.

Software-wise, there were two big downers: The Evernote client is basically a (very thin) wrapper around a poorly integrated browser interface (which throws away all the potential of the BlackBerry for serious note taking on the go), and the browser still basically sucks (although it now supports XMLHTTPRequest). Opera Mini, alas, was not quite usable (at least not to a point I was comfortable with), and was therefore not an alternative for me.

Physically, the device is great – small, light, apparently very resilient (if plasticky), and the only downer was the keyboard, which is noisy and rigid (this is the only thing where I think the Bold wins, with a smoother and quieter touch). Whereas I can tap away at great speed on the iPhone, on the 8900 it takes serious effort to write either at speed or at length.

But the best thing for me was the battery life. Pulling out all the stops (with my not inconsiderable e-mail traffic and corporate IM, Facebook plus Twitter in the background), and with Wi-Fi on at home and the office, I had practically two days’ worth of usage, which is no small feat for something with that good a screen.

And this is where you say “hey, but that’s a 2G device!”. And I say: yes, it is.

And it’s still a much better communication device than pretty much anything else out there, which should give you some food for thought.

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