Archive for December, 2011

2011-12-22

My must-have BlackBerry apps

Having recently moved from webOS to BlackBerry OS, I’ve decided to compile a list of my must-have BlackBerry apps. Some of these are free, some are not. Most are available through the AppWorld, though I’ve installed some directly from the web.

BlackBerry Bridge

Bridge pairs a BlackBerry phone with a PlayBook. The PlayBook then essentially becomes a 7″ version of the BlackBerry phone, providing views of your calendar, browser, address book, messages, and documents. I love the approach and find it to be a better fit for my tablet use than native PIM apps. I can start a document on the phone, move to the PlayBook, and move back to the phone again. Slick.

Dropbox

Dropbox is fabulous. It gives you your folder of files on every computer and every device, all syncing in the background, silently, perfectly. Dropbox is the key to my ability to move easily between devices.

BB Podcast

RIM’s podcasting app. It works well, allowing you to search and add your own podcast feeds. There’s not much more to say about it. The app provides options for how and when to update podcasts, ensuring that users don’t run over their data allowance.

BB News RSS

Like the podcast app, this RSS reader from RIM is a capable, no-nonsense app that brings you the information you need when you need it. It isn’t fancy but works well.

QuickLaunch

This is my must-have BlackBerry app. QuickLaunch enhances the BlackBerry experience in many subtle ways. I have it assigned to my convenience key and use it constantly to run and switch my main apps. I also assign launchers for adding a task and appointment. QuickLaunch just makes using the BlackBerry much more efficient. I highly recommend it.

Globe News

As a good Canadian citizen, I count on news from trusted sources. Globe News is one of those sources. You can read majour Globe and Mail news as it hits in a convenient mobile app.

LogicMail

I know this may sound strange but one of my main beefs with the BlackBerry is how it handles email. I’m sure it’s great for low-mail-volume or BES users but I get a lot of system chatter on my work email. Because of this, I don’t use BIS to check the account. Thankfully, there’s LogicMail, a plain old IMAP/POP client. It doesn’t go through RIM servers, so it wouldn’t be subject to service outages. You can see your IMAP folders, it’s great. The downside: it isn’t well integrated into the rest of the BBOS, the interface is a little rough, and it doesn’t integrate with Bridge. Still, as a secondary mail program, it’s great.

WordPress

I’m using WordPress now to write this! It’s a great, simple WordPress client. It’s free, it’s complete, and it easily handles multiple blogs.

BBSSH

This is an open source ssh client for your BlackBerry. It’s a great safety blanket for this sysadmin. It lacks the visual flair of iSSH but handles multiple connections well and absolutely gets the job done.

SpeedLock

The only thing I don’t like hardware-wise about the Torch 9810 is the unlock mechanism. SpeedLock fixes this completely. It is $1 well spent. If you have a Torch that you ever accidentally unlock, buy it. Trust me.

Google Sync

This app from Google syncs calendar and contacts. It works very well and makes switching devices and platforms as painless as possible. It runs in the background. You almost don’t know that it’s there.

Google Talk

Another Google app. Talk works as well as BBM but means the person on the other end doesn’t have to have a BlackBerry.

Font Manager

The fonts on the BlackBerry are fine. That said, Font Manager let’s you bring in your own. My only beef: it only works with small font files, so I can’t use the Ubuntu font for everything. Pity.

That’s a wrap

That’s it. That’s what I use. There are plenty of other gems out there, but these are mine. If you’re reading this and have suggestions of your own, please let me know.

2011-12-18

BlackBerry Torch 9810 Review

When my nearly new unreleased Pre 3 gave up the ghost my grand obsession with webOS drew to a sad and unexpected close. So, where to from there? I really don’t like Android, webOS is done, at least for now, I just can’t seriously consider Windows Phone 7, a personal hang-up, and I want a keyboard and don’t like the microsim, or inability to permanently unlock iPhones. This left my favourite beleaguered Canadian tech company: Research In Motion.

At first I bought a Bold 9900. It looks great but the camera is rubbish and I found the screen too small to be enjoyable to use. Luckily, I found someone selling a 9810 and was easily able to sell the 9900 for what I had paid. I’ve had the 9810 for less than a week but I already much prefer it. With the big screen and keyboard, I find the 9810 to be the same perfect balance of fun and function that the Pre 3 was, albeit without the elegance of webOS or the decent game selection.

Hardware

The 9810 is the spitting image of the previous model, the original Torch 9800. Aside from a lack of colours on the keys and a brighter silver finish, the two are indistinguishable at a casual glance. This is good and bad. On the down side, the unchanged outward appearance has been responsible for many mediocre reviews. Many reviewers seem to value change over actual progress. On a more practical level, it means that despite significantly improved specs and software, 9800 cases, peripherals and docks all still work. It also means that users can upgrade, get a significantly better user experience, and have no real adjustment time to the new device. They keyboard is the same, button placement is the same, etc.

Beyond the superficial appearance of the new 9810, this is a significantly upgraded device. The CPU speed has been better than doubled, RAM has been upgraded, the screen has been upgraded from 480×360 to 640×480, so text is clearer. All of this has been done without sacrificing battery life, which is quite a feat.

I know it’s a minor cosmetic point, but the black back of the 9800 looked and felt fine. The silver plastic back of the 9810 is a step back. This is my biggest complaint of the new phone. (Not bad.)

Once again, the 9810 is very well built, giving the overall impression of subtle quality. The understated looks are less likely to draw attention than the new Bold 9900 but if you’re more interested in actually using the device than just looking at it, I can’t imagine being disappointed with the build quality or keyboard that the 9810 sports. Many reviewers gush over the 9900’s keyboard. I actually prefer the keyboard on the 9810.

Software

Not much has changed between BlackBerry OS6 found on the 9800 and OS7 found on the 9810. There have been minor UI refinements and the browser is more capable, with a newer version of the webkit engine underneath, but things are mostly the same. In fact, OS7 is a bit of a mixed bag, as not all apps are compatible. This is improving over time but I’m still missing key apps like QuickLaunch due to bugs found in my particular version of the OS. I am looking forward to the eventual release of OS7.1, as it finally brings wifi hotspots to the BlackBerry.

All told, the BlackBerry OS continues to offer a well-thought-out, cohesive, and consistent OS. Albeit one completely lacking the UI flourishes found in competing platforms. RIM needs to get their act together and move to QNX fast. The PlayBook OS, which will form the basis of the new phone OS, is a breath of fresh air. OS7 is adequate for the moment but RIM is kidding themselves of they think that it is keeping pace with iOS. That said, the current app ecosystem for BlackBerry OS is decent and the PlayBook app situation appears to be improving, though it still lags behind what webOS offered, and we know how that worked out for Palm.

Room to Improve

I quite like the BackBerry Torch 9810. However, there is always room to improve. Should RIM release a sequel to the 9810, I’d like to see them make the screen a bit bigger. If they dumped the black bezel surrounding the screen, they bring it up to about 3.5″ and could bump the resolution up to 800×480. If they could also slim it down a bit without sacrificing battery life, camera or build-quality, that would be a bonus too. They may as well integrate a mirror into the rear of the slide-out portion of the phone Palm-style. Why not? It’s more useful than the black metal there now.

Otherwise, the new Torch is pretty much perfect for me. It’s a high-quality pocketable computer that is fast, has a great browser, great keyboard, and pairs beautifully with the PlayBook. Having used both the 9810 and 9900 I can say without a doubt that I much prefer the 9810. It isn’t radically different from the older 9800 but the faster CPU, newer OS, and better screen are excellent upgrades. I was able to sell my 9800 and buy the 9810 for about $70 in the end. This was easily money well spent.

If you’re in the market for a new phone, don’t count the BlackBerry out. RIM has very different priorities than Apple and Google. The result is a device that is very consistent, very well-made, has great attention to detail, and great battery life. BlackBerry OS7 paired with a fast CPU means that real games are finally coming to the platform. RIM is down but they’re certainly not out.

Oh, one more thing: I typed this review on the 9810 using the excellent WordPress app. I probably could have done so a little faster on a desktop, but found the time to do it here and there with the 9810. I can’t imagine typing this much on-device with anything other than a BlackBerry.

2011-12-16

webOS out, BlackBerry in

Well, my wife and I had a fabulous time in Barbados. Unfortunately, the newish Pre 3 didn’t fare so well.

It did take brilliant photos and worked well enough until a software glitch stopped the webkit browser_server from running. This spiked the load at 40, rendered the browser and email unusable, and took out the rather useless Bing-powered Maps app that webOS is using. Then, on the second last day there, something happened to the earpiece speaker. I’ve reloaded the OS and the software is fine but with no earpiece speaker and no chance of parts, I’ve officially given up on using a Palm smartphone. Given how much I liked the Pre 3 and webOS, this was a tough decision.

So I’m back to BlackBerry for the moment. I’m typing this on a Bold 9900 that I picked up used. I like the hardware and OS 7 is nice but the small screen and lousy camera make me pine for the Pre3. Still, at least this one works. Overall, I think the 9900 looks fantastic but is less usable and fun to use than the 9800 that I had before.

For anyone out there looking to buy a BlackBerry, I heartily recommend the 9810 or 9800 over the Bold 9900. The Bold looks nicer but I miss the bigger screen, better camera, and even the keyboard of the 9800. If anyone reading the would like to trade me for a 9810, I’m interested.

Oh, I’m writing this post using WordPress for BlackBerry. Like everything BBOS, it isn’t the prettiest to use but it is very functional and seems to work very well.