Over the past two years, I've had my rounds with every major mobile OS (save for Symbian) out there. Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7 and webOS have all found a permanent, cozy spot in my heart. But my journey began with one particular platform, which will always be granted a larger portion: BlackBerry.
RIM has been mostly absent from the market for the last year. Of course, they did release the much anticipated, QNX toting PlayBook. But that was met with little interest in light of the iPad and several Android tabs. RIM has shown great interest to get back in the smartphone race with their latest BlackBerry line. That said, the BlackBerry 7 line will soon be irrelevant due to QNX handhelds. But with major speed improvements, they serve as excellent stepping stone devices to tide users over.
I have spent the last 40 or so hours with the Verizon 9930 and am proud to say I'm glad to be back. Here's why:
At first glance, the Bold 9930 looks little different from its predecessors. It largely favors the popular Bold 9000, but the trackball has been replaced with a trackpad and the keyboard is six percent larger. Though the design is strongly similar, the hardware and materials are ages apart. The 9930 screams business executive. It's remarkably lightweight, but the aluminum trim and carbon fiber back give it a high quality feel.
I remember rumors of this phone from way back in 2008. At first, I loved the idea, but the more I saw it and read about it, the less I liked the trackpad/touchscreen combo. On Android, I hate it and never use the trackpad. On the 9930, however, I am constantly switching between the two with little to no trouble. It takes some getting used to, but it's awesome once you get it down. And you can't talk BlackBerry hardware without mentioning the keyboard. It's amazing – the best mobile keyboard to date. Call me crazy, but as a testament to it's quality and perfection, I have written this entire article using the 9930 without a hitch. (Hey, don't judge.)
Fluid and consistent software
Little has visually changed since BlackBerry 6 OS. I always liked the interface, but with under-powered hardware, BlackBerry 6 left much to be desired. Apps took forever to load and you came to expect the hourglass of death pretty regularly. I have yet to have one instance of lag on the 9930. The sheer speed of BlackBerry 7 – paired with a 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor – taunts even the untouchable iOS. There ... I said it. It does not feel like you're using "one of those slow BlackBerrys," which definitely took some adjustment.
An obvious Achilles' heel of BlackBerry software has been app support. But to be honest, I haven't missed any applications ... yet. There were actually some particular BlackBerry-only apps that I missed like SocialScope (do not ask me for an invitation, I don't have any and cannot get one for you) and naturally, BlackBerry Messenger. I will inevitably miss some features from Android like navigation, widgets and notifications. But the urge to pick up my G2x has been very minimal. Another surprising tidbit worth noting is that I've actually enjoyed browsing the web on the 9930. The screen is small, but I have been reaching for my BlackBerry (over the G2x or iPhone 4) when I have needed to look something up really quickly. Old habits die hard? Weird.
The hardware found in BlackBerry keyboards is notorious for being the best of the best. But they wouldn't be half of what they are without the software support behind them. And no, I do not mean auto-correct. You can enable that, but I simply prefer the default option of in-line spell checking. It makes for easy corrections without annoying pop-ups and word suggestions. What exactly do I mean then? Keyboard shortcuts and Word Substitution (previously known as AutoText).
Keyboard shortcuts are exactly what the name implies. From the home screen, you can launch applications with preset keys from the QWERY keyboard. For instance, "M" launches Messages, "N" launches BBM and "B" launches Browser. If you have trouble finding which keys launch which apps, a letter corresponding with a keyboard key will be underlined in the app name from the home screen.
Word Substitution is one of my favorite BlackBerry features. The simplest way to explain it is by example. The way I have it set up, if I type "wayut" and hit the spacebar, it with automatically change to "What are you up to?" Word Substitutions are user definable and the limit is the sky. I currently have emoticons set as substitutions like typing "jiy" will correct to ";-)" ("jiy" is the keyboard combination for the symbols in the smiley). It's a simple feature, but it speeds up my text entry quite a bit.
It's a step back from the rush
It seems like every week, a new Android phone launches or leaks. A bigger, better, more powerful phone that makes mine look like a Motorola RAZR. BlackBerrys are generally underpowered anyway, but they only launch periodically. If you buy a BlackBerry to begin with, you're obviously not after power. You get the comfort of not caring whether your phone is the best smartphone and knowing that it just simply works.
When using the iPhone or an Android device, I constantly feel the need to download apps and tinker. BlackBerry has always been the opposite. RIM focuses on making their software business efficient; they want clients' employees to take care of business and pocket their BlackBerry right away (we all know that's not how it works). This is why most people find BlackBerry boring. I find it more productive than anything. I spend less time worrying about how many games I can download and take care of emails and texts more quickly. I also tweet more. A lot more. (Sorry, followers.)
Although BlackBerry 7 is worlds apart from OS 5 and one hundred times faster than BlackBerry 6, it isn't Android or iOS. It is blazing fast, but it still has it's faults. Application support isn't up to snuff and it still has a very 2006, business-centric feel to it. Android and iPhone fanatics aren't going to feel at home on BlackBerry 7 and may find themselves wanting to switch back. But those who miss the good ol' BlackBerry days, this is going to be like heaven for you. This is RIM's first large improvement in ages – their first entry into the modern smartphone race.
I've enjoyed every second of being back in the BlackBerry camp and have yet to miss the clutter and distractions associated with Android and iOS. I was surprised to find that RIM had skimped on battery life, seeing as that's one of their largest selling factors. That said, it's still better than most Android devices I've used and on par with my iPhone.
Welcome back, RIM. Now let's see those QNX phones and a full-on turnaround.