The excitement of June 29th has come and gone and today I, like many others, am reflecting back on my decision to tread into new territory by purchasing a phone the likes of which I have never used before. Unlike all the others who picked up new phones yesterday I chose a different route by passing on the iPhone and picking up a BlackBerry 8830 World Edition phone. Like all mobile device purchase decisions this one was driven by need for me, and I resisted the cool factor and went with the device that I feel will serve me better in the long run. Here then, is my story.
I’ve already mentioned the ugly events that left me with no working phone on my Verizon account, which is my primary business account and has been for years. Getting a new phone was not an option rather something I had to do, and do quickly. I researched the options available to me on the Verizon network and found pretty slim pickings to replace the dead xv6700. It quickly became apparent to me that I either had to purchase another 6700 or look in a new direction to get another phone with similar capabilities. I have been keeping an eye on the BlackBerry front for a long time, after all they are a bastion in the corporate world since they make good phones and great email machines. This describes my needs perfectly so I looked long and hard at the various BlackBerry devices that Verizon offers and it didn’t take me long to settle on the 8830. The specs of the phone are impressive:
Bands: 800/ 900/ 1800/ 1900 MHz
CPU: 312 MHz xScale
Memory: 64 MB
Display: 2.2 inches (320×240)
Talk/ Standby time: CDMA- 3.7 hours/ 216 hours; GSM- 5 hours/ 384 hours)
Size: 4.4 x 2.6 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 4.6 ounces
You can see from the specs that what sets the 8830 apart from all other smartphones (and BlackBerries) is the dual network mode. The 8830 is designed to work in the US on the CDMA network which means fast EV-DO connectivity but it also accepts a GSM SIM card for traveling abroad. The phone will auto-switch between the local CDMA network and the GSM network during those times insuring connectivity and phone usage is possible from just about anywhere on the globe. It’s like getting two phones in one and quite unique. While I don’t travel abroad now as much as I have in the past it’s still a nice feature to have on the phone in case it’s needed.
The dual network operation while nice is not the primary reason for selecting the 8830, the main reason was the great email interaction that BlackBerries are famous for. I live in email and the ability to work it just like on my desktop is a big plus for me. I have a hosted Exchange Server with MailStreet that I am quite happy with and prior to pulling the trigger on getting a BlackBerry I researched and discovered that I could add a hosted BlackBerry Enterprise Server to my existing Exchange setup for $9.95 per month. This BB server hangs off my Exchange Server so I have the best of both worlds and a native BB solution for my corporate email. Since the 8830 has the latest firmware (4.x.x.x) once I got the phone the entire configuration and initial syncing process was all automatic and happened totally from the phone itself over-the-air. The entire BB environment was created and the initial syncing took about 20 minutes over EV-DO, which was quick since I have over 4,200 contacts in my database. Once that process completed the 8830 started doing its thing, and doing it very well. Email appears instantly on the device and I can do virtually anything with it that I can do on my desktop, and everything instantly appears back on the server side. It’s quite impressive to watch happen and I’ve been playing with this a lot. I read an email on the 8830 and Outlook on the desktop instantly shows that I’ve read the email.
I am still getting used to the BB operating system but I can tell you so far it is very intuitive and extremely fast. No lags no matter what I do and I am impressed with how streamlined it is. That doesn’t mean it skimps on options, on the contrary I am finding that virtually every aspect of the BB experience is user-configurable. It’s pretty heady stuff, actually.
On the hardware side of the 8830 there are a few things to note of import. The QWERTY keyboard is excellent and I adapted to it very quickly. The keys have a curvy top which make it hard to hit the wrong key and the keyboard is a joy to use. The 8830 doesn’t have a scroll wheel on the side like most BlackBerries, RIM decided to put a little trackball on the front of the device just above the keyboard. This is a great way to interact with the interface as it makes it possible to go anywhere on the screen very quickly, and pushing down on it does the equivalent of a mouse click. I am still getting used to it but it’s already a boon to productivity for me. All the other buttons on the phone are pretty standard fare and there are a plethora of key shortcuts that I am just learning. These make it possible to pretty much anything with just a tap or two and I’m already seeing the benefit of that.
The 8830 has a microSD slot which is significant as this is the first BB that has decent multimedia capablities. I haven’t had time to play with this very much but it handles music, video and photos and since the screen is gorgeous this is pretty cool. I don’t consume much multimedia on my phones but it’s nice to have it there just in case.
So far I am happy with the purchase decision and with how well the BlackBerry works with the server. The only irritating thing I’ve run across so far is how the OS handles POP email accounts. In addition to the main account you can integrate up to 10 POP or IMAP email accounts on the device and I have two of those configured. Each POP account adds its own icon to the main screen so you can interact with each email account separate which is handy. The problem is that while email retreieved to each account is accessible under this account email icon the OS also dumps those emails into the main email inbox. This does make it easy to work with all of your email from various accounts in one place it also means that these POP emails are put in both places. There may be a good reason for that but I haven’t had it long enough to figure out what that might be.
Web browsing is good with the EV-DO network and the WAP browser works pretty well. I have installed the Opera Mini 4.0 Beta and while the interface isn’t tweaked for the 8830 it works very well. I need to learn the key shortcuts to get really good at working with Opera. I have no complaints about the browsing so far.
It’s is nice to finally get some hands-on time with the BlackBerry platform. I have played with devices from time to time and I could see how good the platform is at creating a mobile productivity workhorse. You can open all typical Microsoft Office documents and PDFs sent as attachments although you can’t edit them on the handheld. There is a third party application that is very pricey that adds that capability. Call quality is excellent and the 8830 has the loudest speakerphone I’ve ever heard on any device. I will continue to integrate the 8830 in my daily routine and add my thoughts from time to time. So far so good. :)