Blackberry Bold – the good the bad and the great

image My trustworthy Blackberry 8800 was upgraded to a Bold last week and after much anticipation I can definitely say it’s been a very worthwhile upgrade.  I’ve made these notes which might help anyone considering or receiving a bold in the near future.

Background

I’ve previously been an enthusiastic user of a Palm Treo 650, a not so enthusiastic user of various Windows Mobile Smartphones and a pretty happy user of a Blackberry 8800.  I can safely say that the Bold has the best attributes of all of these devices with few if any of the downsides.  My wife has an iPhone 3G and despite it winning over the bold in terms of sheer style and “conceptual integrity” the bold wins out for me in terms of good old fashioned performance and functionality.

The hardware

Overall the Bold seems slightly larger than the 8800, it fits fine in the 8800’s holster though and it feels great in the hand.  It’s certainly not a small device, but any smaller would be too much of a compromise for me in terms of keyboard or screen.

Screen

image The screen is amazing, it’s only when you see a screen of this quality – both resolution and brightness – that you realise what a compromise you’ve been living with.  More importantly I’ve started using the bold for reading, video watching and web browsing much more than on any previous device.  Web browsing in particular is so much better, not all down to the screen of course.  I was initially surprised that RIM didn’t take the approach of cramming more information onto the screen in applications like Email and Calendar, but now I think I see their logic, the larger fonts are wonderfully crisp and I’m pleased to say that I can use the device easily without glasses, which is a luxury I haven’t had for several years.

Keyboard

Wonderful!  I was very happy with the keyboard on the 8800, but I’ve been amazed at how much better the bold is.  I have fairly small hands and this last week I’ve been suffering from Arthritis pain in them, but it’s not mattered – I’ve been tapping away faster than I thought possible.  There’s absolutely no comparison with my iPhone experience, which for me at least requires a lot of focused attention to tap out even the shortest accurate message. 

Convenience keys and trackball

I’ve found these keys to be a big differentiater compared to the iPhone.  On the iPhone I often find myself wondering whether I’ve actually pressed a soft key or whether the iPhone’s just responding slowly, pressing the home key and starting again is often required.  The physical keys on the bold are faster, more reliable and pretty consistent in terms of how applications use them, soft keys seem to give application designers perhaps too much freedom.

The trackball is the biggest area of compromise on the bold, it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the iPhone’s touch screen.  But in practice this affects only a few applications, and whilst pinch zoom demo’s well, I’ve quickly got the hang of the equally convenient shortcut keys on the bold keyboard (not always consistent across apps though).  One thing I like is that the trackball/mouse is a much more accurate way of navigating buttons and links on web pages than the finger on the iPhone.

Camera

Although the camera resolution’s not that great at 2M Pixels, it’s fine for most of my point and shoot opportunistic family snaps and wonderful for day to day photographic recording of labels, book covers, whiteboards, things I want to buy on the web when I get home from the seeing them live in the shops etc.  Although I’m missing the Camera integration with the Evernote client that the iPhone has (I love Evernote on my PCs).

Speaker

I use the speaker for listening to Podcasts and music around the house, and the Bold’s speaker is excellent, much louder and better quality than the 8800 and better than the iPhone.

Stereo A2DP Bluetooth

imageI have a tiny Jabra BT8040 Bluetooth headset that’s mono aural (ie fit’s in one ear) but it supports A2DP so I get good quality streamed music and more frequently Podcasts to it.  It’s working great so far and it also works with my TomTom GPS. 

Stereo Headset

I’m not a big fan of the supplied headset which seems a little too chunky for my ears, but I’m using my wife’s iPhone headset most of the time and that works fine.  At first I was annoyed that RIM changed from 2.5mm to 3.5mm, given the number of 2.5mm headsets I’d acquired over the years – but now I’m happy having realised that I now only need to carry a single headset for the bold, laptop and my car GPS.

Battery life

Seems less than the 8800 but then that’s no surprise.  I’ve not had an issue with running out of power yet.

Charger/Cradle

image Before the Bold even arrived I bought a couple of the cute little charger units, one for my desk and one for my bedside table.  The external charger pickups on the Bold case mean that it’s incredibly easy to drop the bold into it’s cradle, which means I do it more often.  The really big plus though is that when charging the Bold displays a great clock – very useful.  The software also supports the concept of bedside mode, which makes for a great alarm clock, which I have configured to automatically switch off all of the radios as well as wake me up to music.

Micro SD card

I have an 8GB Micro SD card crammed full of music, Podcasts and videos.  Larger cards are supported but 8GB is cost effective.  I found inserting and removing the SD card VERY difficult, eventually resorting to tweezers.

WIFI

WIFI is a nice addition to the 3G radio, with the 3G radio off, most – but not all – applications continue to work over WIFI, and downloading software’s is much faster.

Interface and built in applications

Theme

image The new theme is very nice, choosing to take a more stylised approach than the easier to identify iPhone icons, although I’m sure that an iPhone like theme will be available already for download. 

So far I’m happy with the built in Precision Silver theme, although I did quickly copy most of the applications out of folders and into the home folder.  I don’t have enough additional applications to make folders that worthwhile yet, I have kept the folders for downloads and games, although downloads that I find really useful get quickly copied to the home folder.

Applications

In the order that they appear in my home folder

Email

The new screen and the super crisp fonts make emails a joy to read (well some of them anyway) and various other minor tweaks make the whole reading experience simpler.

Calendar

A bit of a disappointment, I was hoping for a better week view that would take advantage of the new screen solution (third party products will fill the gap) but it’s fast and functional and makes good use of keyboard shortcuts for jumping around and switching views.

Browser

image The improvement in the browser is great, making it so much more usable than the 8800 was, of course the WIFI/3G helps.  It’s not quite in the same league as the iPhone browser which feels almost desktop like, but for me the Bold’s browser does the job I want it to, its fast, following links and clicking on buttons is very precise with the trackball, it seems pretty compatible with everything I’ve used it for, zooming is fairly quick and easy. 

On my desktop and laptop I rely totally on Roboform for password management, which means the only password I know is my master password.  This is a major issue for password protected web sites and I’m looking forward to a solution for automatically entering passwords into web pages.  Roboform has a Blackberry app available, but it doesn’t support auto password entry yet.

Twitterberry

I’m a massive fan of twitter – my web command line, and main social networking/communications tool.  Twitter was the first application I installed and it really takes advantage of the Bold’s screen.  The latest version of Twitterberry is great as well.

Google search

Being one click away from a Google search is just so convenient, so it’s right up there in terms of my most used applications

Sametime Connect – Instant messaging

CSC (my employer) uses Sametime for instant messaging and presence and it works superbly on the Blackberry, it’s not noticeably better on the bold.  CSC push installs Sametime into the downloads folder, I copied it to my home folder straight away.

Media Player

I reprogrammed the left hand side convenience key to start the media player, which I mainly use for Podcasts, video and music.  The media player is pretty good, massively improved for video and now seems to support the videos targeted at iPods, the video quality is excellent.  Playing Podcasts is reasonable, it doesn’t bookmark, but the media player keeps your place so long as your don’t reboot the device. 

If you browse for Podcasts in the file system you get the option to play a single file, a folder or all the files in a folder and the file browser allows you to delete Podcasts and videos that you have listened to which is very useful.

Audio quality is good, but lots of Podcasts don’t have the gain very high – ie they are quiet even at max volume, removing the safety limit on max volume helps here.

I copy media files straight from the PC to the Bold, no Blackberry Desktop Manager required.

Camera

The Camera is ok, as described above, it’s made a big difference to me and it’s made even more useful with the Flickr uploader application and through the integration with Twitter via Twitpic support in Twitterberry (lets you upload a photo and publish a link via Twitter) which is good fun.

Contacts

No real changes that I noticed, although by installing Taskify, it’s now really easy to turn an email into a task which is very useful as I do a lot of email processing on my Blackberry and also send a lot of tasks to myself as emails.

GPSed

A great application for saving GPS tracks for later sharing or personal use.  They can be uploaded to a website and linked to photo’s taken to illustrate the route.  I used this a lot on the 8800, not yet used it in anger on the Bold, but looking forward to it given the Bold’s Camera.

Google maps

Just keeps getting better and better!  Ultra useful application, I especially love the ability to search for – say – nearby Cafes and then get instructions for how to get to them from my current location, and the awesome satellite view, which has saved me from getting lost many times.

Fastforward

Autoforwards by mobile number to my home office phone whenever I plugin the USB, which I almost always do at home. 

gMail

Access to my personal gMail account

YahooMail

Access to my personal yahoo email account

Flickr uploader

Auto upload photo’s to Flickr, these photo’s can be linked to routes uploaded using GPSed

Profiles

Discovered that “press and hold” Q will switch the phone into Quiet mode, press and hold again switches back to Normal, very handy.  I also like the bedside mode.

Clock/Alarm clock

I know it’s sad but the auto display of a really nice clock, alarm clock or countdown timer when I pop the phone into it charging cradle is a small but very useful feature.

Remember the Milk

Integrates my RTM account with Blackberry Tasks, Twitter integration and Email integration is also good with RTM, so I have lots of ways to get tasks to the Blackberry and then back into Lotus Notes.

Documents to go

A massive improvement over the 8800 and I particularly like the Text only view which is easy to read and fast to navigate.  No support for viewing ink annotations though.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

6 Responses

  1. Claire Flanagan says:

    Hey, Steve. Thanks for the review. I have to tell you, I really do like mine as well. A few minor nits (integration with our LN calendar), but very impressed with the display screen, WiFi and other features. I’ll have to look into the charging docks you mentioned.

  2. Omarra Byrd says:

    I actually love the RoboForm software myself. I use it all of the time and it takes all of the menial everyday tasks that I have to perform on my computer daily and shortens them extremely! What once took me fifteen minutes to complete now takes me only one second because RoboForm does the same task with just one click. In fact I wrote a Report about a lot of RoboForm’s capabilities for use that aren’t even touched on in the User’s Manual for RoboForm. You can get that Report here:

    http://www.theroboformreport.com

    There is also a FREE version of RoboForm that you can download on this web page, just to test the RoboForm software out for yourself! I highly recommend it!

  3. Michael Lawson says:

    Steve, Great info and I have this phone also. I love it so far and just got it on the 4th of Nov. for the US release. I am having an issue with the Sametime client over wifi and not working and was hoping you could give me some info. I also work for CSC so we can chat via ST or Notes. If you email me at my gmail account I can send you my shortname. Thanks

  4. Daisy says:

    Thanks for the review. I tried out the Storm yesterday and was really disappointed – though I’ve never been a fan of touch screens so I wasn’t surprised. I hope the Bold comes to Verizon soon…

  5. MJH says:

    Good review and I now have one. Still struggling though and cannot figure out how to add desktop shortcuts……can anyone help?

  6. InfoEmpresa says:

    Yeah, I’ve loved the blackberry series since they started, much more than any kind of phone… I haven’t tried the bold yet, but I will… thxs!

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