Tools & Technologies

BlackBerry 8700 … A Wonderful Device

After three fiasco experiences with Windows Mobile devices, I’ve become a BlackBerry fan. I have been using a BlackBerry 8700 for the past couple of months, and have found it much more reliable than the Windows Mobile 5 device I wrote about back in March. It has never failed to turn on, never failed to save my work, never failed to show on the screen what it should. The built in keyboard is easy to use, even given the size of my fingertips. I have tried to go back to the Windows Mobile 5 device at various points … I have an emotional attachment to it because I spent so much money getting a perfect setup … but have generally only stayed with it for a couple of days. The BlackBerry has won out as a highly reliable, highly portable, and highly useful piece of equipment.

How I’ve Used the BlackBerry
I’ve used my BlackBerry for carrying around my calendar, my list of next actions (in the GTD approach to life), my contacts, and for text messaging with friends and colleagues. And it has been great as my primary mobile phone (I gave my Treo 600 to my wonderful wife).

Carrying around my list of next actions has been the primary use of the BlackBerry. I follow David Allen’s GTD approach to managing action and projects, and whilst there is no “context” field in the task manager on the BlackBerry, it hasn’t stopped it from being highly useful. As a workaround, and one that I would use even if I returned to a device that did have a separate context field, is that I added a short code to the beginning of every next action. For example, for emails that I have to send, I added “E-“, for calls “C-“, for errands in Christchurch “OC-“, for errands in Darfield “OD-“, and so on. This means that all my next actions have been alphabetically organized by the context in which they have to be done, making it very easy to see what I have to do in any context at any time. I have synchronized this with Microsoft Outlook 2003 using free synchronization software available from RIM for the Windows platform.

For contacts, I have 1200 or so people that I know and communicate with. However, I don’t use Outlook to store these, choosing instead the Address Book on Mac OS X. No problem … The BlackBerry handed it fine. There is free software available from RIM for synchronizing on the Mac platform too, and the BlackBerry had no difficulty in sync’ing with Outlook for Tasks and Mac Address Book for contacts.

Text messaging works like a charm. I’ve always been a fan of devices with inbuilt keyboards, and the BlackBerry is the best I’ve used to date. As with the Treo 600, text messages show in a threaded list, so that you can easily see the back-and-forth between yourself and others. I find this layout a whole lot better than other devices that don’t thread the messages.

I used the wireless email capabilities for about a month, but turned it off because it was not integrated with my regular email. I tried to get it integrated, but it wouldn’t work, so it was just another place to use and check. I am not often away from a computer with email, so paying $35 per month for wireless email for 1 or 2 days of send only email wasn’t worth it. That’s a reflection of my lifestyle and workstyle, not a condemnation of BlackBerry email.

Two Points of Improvement for BlackBerry
I have two suggestions for RIM based on my experience with the 8700.

Firstly, the calendar layout needs a revision. If you schedule back-to-back meetings for an hour each, say 9-10am, 10-11am and 11-12pm, a blank line will display between each of the meetings, giving the visual impression that you have time available during the meetings. Clearly that’s a fallacy. The blank line should be removed. That’s what I’m used to in Outlook, Notes, the iPAQ, Foldera, and so on. The BlackBerry calendar shouldn’t be different.

Secondly, there was a belt holster in the BB8700 box that I received. It is a fairly good holster and negated the need of buying a separate one, something I greatly appreciated (the iPAQ sure didn’t come with one; I had to pay another $55 to get a belt holster). However, I have had the BlackBerry jump out of the holster a couple of times, and almost jump out on numerous other occassions. On one of the times that it jumped out, it landed on the road, the back pane came off, and the battery came out. It came fairly close to being run over by a vehicle too. I’d like to see a band with a magnetic clip attached over the top of the holster to prevent this from happening.

I’ve heard a lot of good words about the BlackBerry since the late 1990s, although this is the first time I’ve had one to use for myself. In comparison to the Windows Mobile based devices I’ve tried, it is highly reliable, highly usable, and “just right”. I’m not going back to the Microsoft fold on this one. This is my new strategic device.

UPDATE: After finishing this review, but before I could post it, the BlackBerry jumped out of the holster again. I don’t know why I used the original one today rather than the other one I was using, but when I got out of the Transit in town, it fell and hit the ground. The back pane came off, the battery fell out, and the device died. After putting it back together, it will not turn on. It’s dead. I feel lost without it already …

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