Behind the scenes: BlackBerry Torch event

| August 11, 2010

[NOTE: This post isn’t actually about the BlackBerry Torch 9800 device itself. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the media event coverage came together, and how two different devices assisted in that. For info about the actual Torch handset, click the links for the announcement/demo vid — yes, the same one I talk about below — as well as Aaron’s unboxing video and his first impressions of the device. And his review is in the works, so check back for that soon!]



Ever wonder what it’s like to go to a smartphone media event? Usually, there’s a decent amount of food and drink, and a swarm of bloggers, broadcasters and print journos. Everyone’s there to do the same thing — bring you guys the info needed to make smart tech choices. (Or snap pics of celebs, if they happen to be there.)

Sometimes you have to elbow your way to the right contacts or devices. Other times, you score a private meeting. In either case, it’s very clear that your success at the event hinges only on what you’re able to capture.

You get in, you get out. Simple, and that’s the way it often goes — that is, when everything’s working perfectly.


Epic. Tech. Fail. (You know I’m serious when I use periods like that.)

To say I had tech issues last week at the RIM/AT&T media event would be an understatement. Luckily, there were two things that saved me: the iPhone 4 and the HTC EVO 4G, both of which were in my bag.

Internet at any media event can be a dicey situation, and it definitely was that day. The Wifi cut in and out (actually “out” more than “in”). Oh, and did I mention that I was in the middle of a live blog? So yeah, heart palpitations aplenty ensued. There I was, sitting on the floor in the middle of an aisle, so as to get a better view, and suddenly I noticed none of my live updates were… you know, updating. This was a colossal moment for BlackBerry fans, and I didn’t want to let them down, but I was on the precipice of an epic fail.

Suddenly, I remembered that I had an HTC EVO 4G on me. And you know what that means… Sprint hotspot to the rescue!!

Using the EVO as a hotspot, I was able to send images of the presentation without problems. I snapped photos on the iPhone 4 (running up to the front each time, since digital zoom typically stinks, especially in low light situations), and then run back to my seat on the floor to live blog what I'd heard.** All the while, my Sprint connection remained consistent.

Truth is, many bloggers rely on a MiFi, Overdrive or some other wireless broadband solution. Sadly, I didn’t have any of that. I suppose I could’ve just launched the iPhone 4’s tethering option, but it’s USB or Bluetooth only. Plus it would’ve required downgrading from my grandfathered unlimited plan to a 2GB data capped plan (for a total of $45). No, no, no! I find the mere words upsetting. And you what? I probably still would’ve gone with it anyway — I was so desperate for connection — but AT&T reception in the venue was just awful, so it wouldn’t have done any good.

This was why I turned to the EVO. Sure it was a loaner device, but you know what? Even if I had to pay for it, the decent network connection there plus $30 unlimited hotspot price would’ve still made it the preferable choice.

So far, so good. I got a little exercise, and the announcement was covered. But what happened after the presentation made my jaw drop.

I pulled my vidcam out and saw there was no juice. Zero, nada, nothing. But, but, but... It worked just fine last week, and I’d charged it overnight! I made a rookie mistake of running out the door without checking it again, and the battery picked that special moment to get fried. More heart palpitations. I slumped down into a newly emptied chair and pondered my situation.

Eeshk. This was akin to a friend asking you to record his baby’s first birthday, and at the moment she blows out the candles, you realize you’ve run out of memory at the pivotal moment. Yeah, it was that bad.


Two enemies that work great together

I wound up doing doing the only thing I could: I picked myself up and shot my vid intro before going into the demo floor to snag more Torch pics and video with the iPhone 4.

Granted, I could’ve used the EVO (both phones do decent stills and 720p HD recording), but here’s the thing: My EVO power was draining fast. Then again, the iPhone 4 wasn’t perfect either. Sure, it has spectacular battery life, but I hardly had a signal in the room, which made sending/posting images kind of impossible. It was like I had two halves of a perfect smartphone.

I wound up keeping the EVO’s hotspot on (but didn’t use the handset for anything else). And I continued to use my iPhone 4 on that connection, to send images to PhoneDog headquarters. At this point, I’m feeling like a cellular MacGuyver.

It was an ironic situation, approaching the BlackBerries with an Android phone in one hand and the iPhone in the other. The AT&T people didn’t blink, but having to explain to the Research in Motion execs that I was using their biggest competitor to shoot a demo of their newest handset — well, that was awkward. I apologized profusely, and luckily, RIM was extremely gracious about it, though maybe just slightly put-off. I don’t blame them one bit, but hey — when your camcorder’s toast, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

For some reason, many of the media people there thought it was hilarious, that I was shooting the BlackBerry with my iPhone 4. In fact, I recall some camera flashes going off in my direction. Oh great. For all I know, I and this whole weird scenario are probably already famous in Bangladesh or something.


Why smartphones rock

Aside from the entertainment value of it all, I do have a couple of notes from the experience: First, wireless broadband is awesome. If you’re a non-hackery sort who needs mobile internet — and you’re tired of hopping from Starbucks to MacDonald’s to public Wifi and back again — then you might find the extra expense of a mobile broadband/hotspot/tethering option worth the cost.

Right now, I’m eyeballing Sprint’s Overdrive 4G. Aaron had some good things to say about it, and the 4G aspect may not be expansive now, but I figure it will sort of future-proof this product. Plus, as Sprint points out, it should work great with my iPad — unlike the iPhone’s sanctioned tethering option.

Second, I have a whole new appreciation for HD video capture capability. This event aside, it just keeps proving really useful. At a friend’s wedding a couple months back, I suddenly remembered that I had HD video recording, so I shot some beautiful footage on my phone. I got the ceremony, some heartfelt wishes from friends, and a special message from bride and groom to each other — all on the fly. This is going to make a spectacular gift for them.

You know, every once in a while, I envy the simplicity that featurephone users have. They don’t tend to get lost in their devices the way smartphone users often do. But then things happen that make me grateful for the extra functionality, whether that’s to save my neck in a work situation or to enable/capture a special moment.


Where is that perfect smartphone?

Overall, this situation was fairly indicative of the modern smartphone seeker’s conundrum. Is there such a thing as a perfect user experience out there? Or are we constantly stuck with awesome devices that are crippled somehow, either by a hardware aspect, a carrier fail or something else that gets in the way of full functionality? (I find it funny that when I was a single woman, I used to have a similar lament about the dating scene…)

For now, I’m keeping my eyes on the Epic 4G, which I also covered later in the week. We'll have to see if the production model lives up to the promise, hopefully we'll know around August 21 (fingers crossed). The rep told me that, although it has a 1500 mAH battery (like the EVO), its Super AMOLED screen is supposed to give it some extra energy efficiency. That, plus a fast Hummingbird processor, 3G/4G hotspot capability and good hardware QWERTY, definitely give it some muscle.

I just wish it were a little bit leaner. Oh yes, that would be something. Then it would be nearly perfect.



**I often shoot pics with smartphones, which is more than adequate most of the time. I make sure to get a good seat in the hall, or even stand to the side to get a good shot. But this time, the room was more packed than anticipated, and my last-minute call to live blog the event changed things somewhat, so I wound up getting a really good workout that day! I ran up the aisle, took my shots, and ran back to my gear to blog about it! Crazy stuff. So hey, smartphone manufacturers — any chance optical zoom could become more standard (without making the phone fat)? Puhlease?