Nate's Straight Talk Express: Week one back on BlackBerry

Nate Allen
Columnist from Indianola, IA
Published: August 25, 2010

This has been my first full week back on BlackBerry (the Tour 9630) after having spent the last nine months with the Android-powered HTC Droid Eris.   I figured I’d break out some of my impressions of the differences between the two operating systems from the perspective of a former BlackBerry user who has developed a love and appreciation for Android. And through those differences, identify continued strengths and persistent weaknesses of the Blackberry environment vs. Android.  Full disclosure, I used a BlackBerry Pearl 8130 for at least 24 months prior to joining the Android community late last fall, so I’m not writing from the perspective of a user picking up a Tour 9630 for the very first time.

Obviously, the shining star in terms of functionality for Blackberry is email.  This time around, I’m syncing with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and my experience has been leaps and bounds better than it was when I was using the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) data plan in that there is no longer a 15 minute delay in delivery of my corporate email, and I finally have global address list and native calendar and contacts integration with my desktop Outlook software.  While the contacts and calendar sync is not a new phenomenon for me with Android, it definitely is this go around with BlackBerry.  My point here is that the core functionality of each system is more even than it has been for me in my historical usage.

My next most used app on Android was the Touiteur Twitter app.  There are many great Android Twitter apps, but BlackBerry Twitter apps are fewer in quantity, and in my prior experience, less robust in quality.  I found Twitter’s official app very adequate.  Additionally, Ubertwitter’s app has seen some significant improvements and is good enough now to compete head-to-head with the official Twitter app.  The touch-based Android counterparts are still easier to use, but BlackBerry’s apps are definitely making strides.  I’m anxious to get my hands on a BlackBerry Torch to see how these apps look and function as touch-based apps. 

Some of you who have followed my columns may remember that I’m a talk radio junkie and love the Radiotime app for Android.  I was pretty concerned initially that I wouldn’t find a BlackBerry internet radio app that would enable me to listen to my favorite morning station.  I was delighted to find that Salem Communications has developed a BlackBerry app for each of its radio stations, with each app being available free in the BlackBerry App World.  Another great thing about these internet radio apps for BlackBerry is that they don’t seem to need to buffer as often, making the experience much, much better and more consistent.  I believe WunderRadio for BlackBerry uses the Radiotime network of stations, but it costs $5 or $10 and I have not had the need for other stations, so I haven’t purchased it.

Finally, I’ve fallen back in love with the keyboard on the Tour.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with the touchcreen-based virtual keyboards that have become so prevalent, although some of the more recent Android offerings like the Droid X have an excellent virtual keyboard. 

Luckily, a week in, I don’t find myself hating my BlackBerry.  In fact, in many ways, it feels like coming home.  I’m sure I’ll get sick of the dated mechanics of the OS fairly soon, but I’ll just have to fight through those feelings. Unless I want to go back to struggling with the crappy password system on HTC’s SenseUI-based Eris, I’ll be sticking with the BlackBerry.  After having seen some video of OS 6 on the 9700, I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on a device with this updated OS on it. I really don’t think RIM has that far to go to refresh their products enough to give their die hard users a short-term excitement boost. They need to continue to innovate and improve over the medium and long term to keep them. 

I know there are Android users out there who’ve either chosen or have been coerced back to their BlackBerry devices.  Please share your stories in the comments.