For the last few years, Research In Motion, the company behind the infamous BlackBerry, have been a punchline in the tech blogosphere. And I’ve been part of that noise.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t being fair to RIM or myself, or anyone who ever listened to me. In reality, I’d never used a BlackBerry, apart from in a store (which I have now believe, because of my thoughts on Windows Phone 7, isn’t right), and, instead, based my rants on public opinion.
And I regret that.
So around 3 weeks ago, I emailed a RIM and got myself a BlackBerry Bold 9900 and BlackBerry PlayBook for review. This is a mini-review. But I won’t be breaking down specs, or going too deep. It’s just my opinions after using the Bold 9900 for 3 weeks (I’ll save my thoughts on the PlayBook for another post soon).
Firstly, the look and feel of the Bold 9900. While this isn’t something that will earn me brownie points, I have to admit that I do actually like the way it looks. I like the back cover, and the overall feel of the keyboard, the screen and just the whole phone. Sure, I prefer a kinda-matte finish (similar to the HTC One X or Nokia Lumia 900), but the Bold actually looks and feels good, for me.
But that’s where most of the positives end. (note: this is annoyingly similar to how I structured my Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD review)
I asked to borrow the BlackBerry swag because I wanted to see whether RIM’s arrogant marketing is right – that BlackBerry meant business. Whether a keyboard on a phone can actually make me better at doing work, instead of loafing around checking Twitter.
But instead of proving myself wrong, I was proven right. The public opinion was proven right.
Well, in my mind at least.
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 sucks as a business, as well as consumer, phone on so many levels. I switched back to my Windows Phone soon after realising this, and I’ll never look back.
Sure, I’m not on Wall Street, I’m not even that business-y. But using the Bold to do things like send texts and emails was no different to an iPhone, Android phone or Windows Phone. The Bold being a business phone is disappointingly just marketing bullshit from RIM. It’s no better than any other phone at doing work. At times, it is worse. And apart from the physical keyboard, which I guarantee is only slightly better than a touchscreen keyboard, despite my glowing first impressions, the Bold is garbage.
Simple things like checking and sending email turned into a chore. And typing, for me, wasn’t amazing on a physical keyboard. While I could see myself learning the keyboard eventually, I don’t think, in any way, that it’s worth it. Because I’m happy with a touchscreen keyboard. On first glance, I felt like I could finally see why BlackBerry fans hadn’t been taken by Apple or Google, because the keyboard felt nice. But, after the shine of the physical keyboard eventually wore off, I just felt that a touchscreen keyboard isn’t as bad as BlackBerry owners will tell you. Not anymore, at least. And, for some things, touchscreens are better.
The Bold’s hardware looks nice, but the keyboard, while good, isn’t anything to write home about. And after 3 weeks of using it, I stopped. It’s been sitting on my table, literally dressed in a cloth of dust, waiting for me to send it back.
I know, it’s only 3 weeks, but from what I have gathered, I just don’t understand what is it that makes this a “tool, not a toy”, as RIM would tell you via their obnoxious, arrogant ads. And it’s this arrogance, this lack of admitting that they’re wrong, that makes me hesitant to ever trust the company again. Maybe the Bold is worse at Twitter and Facebook, which could technically make it better for business people because it has less distractions. Maybe it has less games. But it’s still the same as the iPhone or Android counterparts when it comes to work.
In-fact, it’s just a stripped down iPhone or Android phone overall. And from the few times where I said “Wow, that’s cool,” such as the unified Messaging system, where your Facebook, BBM, Email and Text messages are listed together, I was again reminded how terrible the core OS was. Things like the OS forgetting my phone had a touchscreen, thus disabling it until I rebooted. Or the endless scrolling circle in the middle when the phone runs out of memory. Or the fact that touch just wasn’t that good, and was just slapped on a OS built for a keyboard and thumbwheel.
The browser is fine, the apps are average, but almost everything else about the software, apart from the small, bitter crumbs of goodness, was horrible.
If you’re a BlackBerry fan who can type fast on your phone and get down to business, as Eminem once mused, then I respect that. And I can see that, after learning to use the BlackBerry keyboard in style, a touch-screen keyboard sounds insane. But if you have any temptation that the grass is greener on the other side, then it probably is. You might not type as fast for the first week, but after a month you’ll be used to it. And in a year, you’ll wonder why you ever told yourself that a physical keyboard makes you more productive. Because it doesn’t.
I’m hoping BlackBerry OS 10 bakes these crumbs into a good OS, but it’s unlikely judging by the OS on the BlackBerry PlayBook. Because, in the end, a good OS and good hardware is the true key to a good phone. And the BlackBerry has alright hardware and crappy software, whereas Apple and Android can make both work.
Final Verdict: Not for me
Design: Terence Huynh
Photography: Chris Southcott/techgeek.com.au