Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Don't buy a Blackberry

I've had a Blackberry for the last four years, and I suppose I've been quite loyal. Before I had one, I was intensely sceptical. Partly because as a good European chauvinist, I knew no North American company could make phones as good as Nokia or Ericsson. And partly because the idea of a device that enabled you to be emailed wherever you were struck me as a horrible chain to be dragging around with you.

Then I got a Blackberry, and discovered that it also allowed you to delete emails while you were sat on the toilet, which was a boon to efficiency, as I could get to work with an inbox clear of ephemera. And most of the emails were full of shi- oh, better not say it.

I've had an Ericsson that died because I put it in my pocket. No, not "put it in my pocket and then sat down hard" put it in my pocket. As in "put it in the breast pocket of my jacket, went for a walk and then found my phone had died" put it in my pocket. So my faith in the robustness of Europhones was already diminishing when I got my first Blackberry.

This was in the days before you could cut and paste on an iPhone, which dates me as a geriatric, I suppose. Any day now a gang of jeering youths will laugh at me for not being able to download porn on my sunglasses, or whatever the young do these days. But a Blackberry had cut and paste, and a keyboard you could type a novel on (if you didn't mind numb thumbs). Hell, you can touch type on a Blackberry, and there's nobody I know who can do that on an iPhone.

Further, it's only the size of half a slice of toast. Smartphones with keyboards do exist, but they're few and far between, and usually too big compared to the Blackberry. And the keyboards aren't any good.

Did I mention Blackberrys have good keyboards?

Well, my first one did (a first generation Curve, that wouldn't make calls in Japan and had a casing made of grey plastic with silver paint that fell off if you so much as looked at it). My second one wasn't quite so good; at some point the R button stopped working, like my Blackberry was the punchline of a crap racist joke about Cantonese pronounciation of English words. I was in Hong Kong, after all.

Still, both of them had solid cases, with grippy bits of rubber that didn't look nice but worked well. The battery life was oustanding on my Curve - up to three days.

Perhaps that was because you couldn't install any apps that would soak up the battery. You couldn't really seem to install any apps at all. You could only have the ringtones decided on by our corporate administrator in Bellevue, and the alarm sounds were all like a rusty nail jammed under your skull.
Oh, and there's something RIM, the makers of the Blackberry couldn't get right in the last four years, but which I had on Ericsson's as far back as 2002: a different alarm for each day of the week. Say you want to get up at 7am every day to go to the office, and on Saturday you deserve a lie-in until 10, and on Sunday you need to spring from your bed at 8 in order to be religious. On an Ericsson, no problem.

On a Blackberry, you can also do it. If you set a reminder on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night to tell you that you have to reset the alarm for the next day. Well, cheers. Did the designers not realise a personal digital assistant is meant to assist you, not need assistance?

Well, I suppose Canadians, being mellow types, aren't so concerned when the phones they make aren't so great.

But this year, I seem to have reached the nadir of Blackberrys, with the latest, Hungarian manufactured Curve.

Hungary is a notable manufacturer of phones? I guess it's better than being invaded by Soviet tanks. Anyway...

My new Blackberry has a shiny plastic case that's a flimsy magnet for fingerprints, and not comfortably grippable. The battery dies in less than 24 hours, and warms up alarmingly whenever it feels like it. Perhaps the battery is so shortlived because the phone's doing double duty as a room heater.

Speaking of the battery, sometimes you have to take it out to get the phone to reboot (how quaint! How 2006!). On previous Blackberrys, that was a simple bit of fumbling; on the new Curve, you either prise the front of the phone apart by accident, or jam that shiny black plastic cover into the soft bit of flesh under your fingernail when you try to get it out. It's like somebody really hates Blackberry users, and wants them to be in pain. And that person works in RIM's design department.
The keyboard is ok, but lacking a certain something, and the menu/phone buttons are just horrible, at the same time over clicky and giving no feedback to whether they've been pressed or not.

Oh, and Google have killed their Gmail app, which was wonderfully helpful on previous phones, but now reduces the usefulness of a Blackberry quite considerably. It wasn't a very good app, but at least it was reliable; Gmail using the Blackberry's flaky browser on an unstable data connection is never going to be as rock solid.

Finally, just to wind me up, I think, there's no longer a case provided in the box with the phone. Oh no. Now you have to go and spunk $30 on one from a random mobile phone shop, and that's mandatory, because the screens on modern Blackberrys are like that old Ericsson of mine; so much as think about a jean pocket that once had some keys in it, and BANG, the screen is gone.

So I bought a case. An official case, licensed by Blackberry, for this specific Curve. And the damn thing is designed so that you can't plug the charger in while the phone's in there, like you always could before. Either that's because they're wise to the Satan-o-battery of Infernal Heat, and they're worried if the handset is in a case and charging, it might reach terminal temperature and detonate.
Or, like I said before, somebody working at RIM really hates Blackberry users.

It's a shame, really, because I don't think I could ever buy another Blackberry after this horrorshow, and at one point they were quite good. Never amazing, like the show-off iPhone, but just good enough, and superlative at the one thing they were designed to do. And now they're not really very good at that, and sadder still, nothing else is either.


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