The Blackberry is one of those devices that always perplexed me. It’s the most popular smart phone in the world (yes, even more than the iPhone) and I’ve never had one or really even touched one. Sure my bosses had them but I always took one look at the interface and said, “Ugh, that’s one fugly looking UI.” So I’ve never understood its popularity, ok I do. The idea that you can run your business from the phone is compelling. Every time I travel to a conference, I always wish I had a smart phone. Then I get home and realize I wouldn’t use it enough to justify the outrageous monthly costs. I wish I could get one without being locked into paying almost $2,000 (over the course of a standard 2 year contract) for that kind of money, I’d rather just get a $400 Netbook with wireless broadband and carry that around (or take my Macbook everywhere I go).
T-Mobile and Blackberry have teamed up to bring us the first Blackberry Pearl Flip phone. I’m a huge fan of the Flip; all of my personal cell phones for the last several years have been flips. This is one beautiful looking and feature rich phone that is hampered by one janky, frustrating keyboard that made me want to throw it off my hotel balcony.
Let’s start with the positives, again T-Mobile, I don’t know why the network doesn’t get the love it deserves, it’s a solid network that hasn’t dropped a call on me, is clear, and reasonably priced. More so now that they have the new $50 unlimited call plan. By comparison, Verizon drops calls almost every time I get on the phone – seemingly, regardless of where I am. I know a lot of people swear by VZ’s network, but in the two years I’ve had their service, I’ve almost never had a good experience. I tested T-Mobile’s service here in DC and in Orlando, Fla and it worked fine for me. The data speed is slow, but then I don’t expect blazing speed on a mobile device. T-Mobile will most likely be whom I switch to when my VZ contract is finally over.
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The phone looks really thick and bulky, but it’s surprisingly lightweight and fits nicely in my hand. When you flip up the screen, it looks strange because the top screen is actually in the “back” of the body. The screen itself is sharp and clear. When the lid is closed there is a big, beautiful LCD display window. The phone comes equipped with a built in camera that doesn’t work very well. The camera always seems to be moving no matter how steady you try and hold your hand photos come out a dark, blurry mess.
By comparison the G1 takes a “beautiful” photo. So don’t get this phone thinking you’ll be using the camera lot – you won’t. The audio quality is really nice and the standard headphone jack goes a long way to making this a very usable portable .mp3 player. The MicroSD card slot is expandable up to 16 gigs and easy to access. The speakers are really nice, clear and loud, especially when using the speakerphone. For some reason the phone constantly blinks. At first I thought it was a voicemail notification light, but it’s not. I’m not sure what’s going on or how to stop the blinking but it was keeping me up at night until I put the phone in a different room or turned it off.
I don’t know what they were thinking when they designed this keyboard. I was so excited to try my first Blackberry, but the frustratingly difficult keyboard destroyed that experience, it is virtually impossible to use. Each Key has 3 different characters – not even the same letter (upper and lowercase on the same key like Dd3), no it’s different letters (i.e. DF4) I never could figure out how to consistently and easily switch between the letters so you are always hitting the wrong character. Not only that the damn thing is always making “suggestions” or automatically adding an additional 3 letters to whatever you type. For instance you hit the letter D (assuming the D even shows up and not the F which is the other character on the key) it’ll add ev to the screen, so I was always backspacing to delete those extra letters. When I finally got to the end of a word and hit the enter button, it would still add more characters. It also didn’t remember what I typed before. It was one of the most annoying experiences I’ve had with an electronic device in months. Just awful, it breaks the phone.
Once I got my email up and running, I didn’t even bother to reply to anyone. The UI on the Blackberry is pretty plain and just a little bit bad. When you turn on the phone you have five applications you on the home screen – Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Browser and T-Mobile’s My Favs. When you click the applications button you can see all the other included software, but I couldn’t figure out how to move the stuff (Slacker Radio, Google Apps) that I use to the front screen.
The phone comes with the Blackberry Tools Sync disk that works in a Mac – but doesn’t. It read the CD and Installed but it’s blank, so I had to go to the Blackberry website to download it after I had to fill out this obnoxious long form – I’m so sick of being forced to register on sites, especially to download some stupid drivers. This is the first App that I’ve encountered (in my 3 months with a Mac) that requires me to install drivers, restart, and then install the main application. So far my first Blackberry experience isn’t leaving me with the warm fuzzies.
I always wondered how people transferred applications to their blackberries without an app store, now I know. Once I got the Blackberry tools running it was very easy to find and download new applications to the phone, you can also use it to easily transfer your iTunes playlists to your phone. It was very slick, especially now that my entire iTunes library is DRM free. The audio quality through my headphones is surprisingly good. I could easily use this as an .MP3 player. The problem was, the phone isn’t smart enough to recognize the tunes on my memory card unless I sync it first. This became really annoying as the music is on the card in the proper folders, why can’t the darn thing recognize that you have tunes on the card?
This phone isn’t ready for prime time. I love the form factor and even grew to really like using it while I’m out in about but I’m not sure what happened or if this phone went through a UI focus group test. Because there are just some amazingly dumb design choices – namely the keyboard but other things like it not being able to recognize your music unless you sync it first. If you want to use T-Mobile, don’t get this phone look at the G1 or the new Blackberry Curve.
Final Grade D
By Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 3.08.09