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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jim Arrives in the 21st Century, Finally

 

My old phone, a Motorola V710, has been dying a slow death for the last several months. 

I was reluctant to scrap it though, basically because as a phone it was perfect for me. The buttons were large, which suited my midlife presbyopia and my nerve damaged hands just fine.  It was Bluetooth capable and had a voice command function that worked perfectly for me with almost 100% reliability.

However, texting on it was an excruciatingly painful process and it had no internet capability at all. The camera resolution was about half a meg and didn’t work at all in dim light. There was no video capability. A couple of buttons, including the volume button, had quit working and worst of all the computer interface plug was worn out and the phone would no longer talk to my laptop.

Time for a new phone.

I’d been wanting a smart phone, something at the top of the technology food chain.

I’ve been looking around. 

I’ve looked at all the demonstrators Best Buy had and for the last two month I haven’t been able to walk past a cell phone kiosk without stopping to check out the shiny new smart phones.

I really wasn’t impressed with anything I saw.

I had some very specific criteria for my new phone:

First, it needed to be a phone. First and foremost I want my phone to be a friggin phone.  Not a game device, not a texting device, not an MP3 player, not a PDA, not a toaster oven. Phone, first and foremost. I don’t want some internet gizmo with phone capability tacked on as a second thought.  I wanted all the capability I had in the V710, ease of use, excellent voice recognition capability right out of the box that I don’t have to train, Bluetooth, and so on.

Then, of course, I wanted all the other stuff, texting, internet, MP3 and video player, decent camera, PDA functions, and toaster oven if they could fit it in. I wanted something that would keep me connected, let me manage, view, and update my online presence, and surf the internet if I needed to.

I wanted a full QWERTY keyboard.

I wanted something small and compact.  My wife has a smart phone and the thing is a brick – I didn’t want anything like that (My wife also has a Blackberry that her employer provided her and I liked the look of that device. I really wanted something like that.)

I wanted something with a readable screen – no, strike that, I wanted something with a excellent screen, clear, sharp, brilliant color, something on the order of the resolution I get with my ZEN.

I wanted something that could take memory chips.

I wanted something that would interface smoothly with my computers – including USB, wireless 802.11, and Bluetooth.

I wanted something I could expand with software downloads.

I wanted GPS capability.

I wanted something easy to use.

I wanted something easy to maintain, i.e. reasonably rugged and no special chargers and other such paraphernalia. I wanted something that would charge from a standard mini USB cable, because USB is fast becoming the universal standard for such things and I already have car chargers and wall charges and computer cables and USB batteries and I don’t want to have to buy a bunch of other crap.

I didn’t want anything that needed a stylus.  I didn’t want anything that used a touch-screen. And I sure as hell didn’t want anything where the advertisements for it emphasized weird obscure functions, games, Hello Kitty faceplates, or the hip hop skater punk lifestyle.

And I wanted it all in an affordable package. And I wanted it from my current cell phone provider on my current family plan.

 

The Rolling Stones said that you can’t always get what you want, they may be right – but not this time. I got everything I wanted and quite a bit more.

 

What I got was the Blackberry Curve 8330.

 

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First, as I mentioned was a priority, it’s an excellent phone with crisp and clear audio. It does everything the old V710 did and more. The Bluetooth earpiece setup is simple (I just transferred over my Plantronic Explorer 320 from the old phone to the new one, best ear piece I’ve used yet – and I’ve gone through a lot). The 8330 recognizes voice commands without training, and in fact, the voice functions are expanded far beyond the old v710 and, after I got used to how it worked, I found that I liked it a lot better.  For example, with the old phone I had to have a separate entry for each contact number, so for my wife who has four contact numbers I had to have four separate entries in the old onboard phone book. With the Blackberry I can just upload my entire Outlook contact list as is, including her contact card with all her numbers on it, and then specify which number I want with a voice command, such as “Call Becky Mobile” or “Call Becky Business.”  So good is the voice recognition function in fact, that I can actually just tell it a phone number and it’ll recognize it and call it. For example “Call 555-1212.” That’s pretty cool.  The phone also uses voice recognition for a number of other functions, such as reporting status and connectivity and battery levels. It may seem that I’m putting a lot of emphasis on voice recognition and the ability of the phone to give me status verbally vice having to look at the screen – and I am.  It’s important to me. I don’t like looking away from what I’m doing to use the phone. If I have to make a call while driving, I don’t want to take my eyes off the road, I want to tell the phone what to do and have it do it without me having to look at the keypad. The Blackberry does exactly what I want with very high reliability.

The Curve is the smallest BlackBerry smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard. Despite the fact that the keys are small, tiny even, they’re surprisingly easy for me to use – couple that with smart software that figures out things like where the @ symbol should go in the the email address I’m typing and puts it in there without me having to jump through hoops and I’m seriously happy with it. It makes typing email, texts, tweets, and even short blog updates a snap. And I really, really like the Blackberry trackball thumb mouse.

Internet access depends on the provider network, of course, but so far it’s been excellent. The screen is crisp and clear and easy to read with user selectable font sizes. Page loads aren’t fast but they’re not slow either – and the smart display software can display even large webpages like Stonekettle Station’s main page with its huge banner picture in an easily readable format.

Hooking up my several email services with the Blackberry was as simple as entering the user name and password and the device took care of the details – seriously, the Blackberry software is how software should work.

The curve comes equipped with a 2.0 megapixel camera, with video recording capability.  The resolution isn’t great, but it’s a damned sight better than most phonecams.  There’s an integrated flash and video light. Here’s a shot I took this morning when Becky and I were sitting in the sunroom drinking coffee:

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The sun was just rising over the shop and shining in the windows, which accounts for the angelic rainbow halo effect. Like I said, not the best resolution, but not too bad either.

There’s an advanced media player for music, videos and photos. The phone has a microSD card slot for extra memory and I replaced the 2Gig card that came with the phone with an 8Gig card I had lying around – now I’ve got plenty of room for annoying ringtones, you bet.

There’s 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth with support for stereo headsets and car kits, GPS navigation and the ability to be used as a modem with a laptop.

Battery life is supposed to be up to 17 days in standby, I haven’t tested this yet as I only got the phone 24 hours ago.  Truthfully though, if you’re using it a lot and have Bluetooth connectivity turned on you’ll be lucky to get two days out of it. That’s OK with me (Funny memory, my first portable phone was a Motorola analog bag phone with a lead acid battery, you’d get maybe four hours standby out of that battery and about twenty minutes talk time. You kept it plugged in to the car’s cigarette lighter – which is what we called a car power port back then - or you kept it turned off. Times, they’ve changed a bit). 

About the only thing the 8330 doesn’t do is WiFi connectivity (the 8320 and the 8350i do have 802.11g/n capability if you need it). This wasn’t a deal breaker for me, and besides the phone can talk to my laptop or server or the HP C7280 printer via Bluetooth, so WiFi isn’t necessary at all.  And speaking of interfacing with the computers, the included software is excellent and easy to use – and did I mention that it was included? Motorola made me buy their Phonetools software and the special cable and they charged me a fortune for it and it never worked worth a crap.  The Blackberry software is simple and easy to use and works without screwing around. It took a second to configure and then loaded my entire Outlook Contacts list, calendar, notes, and task list onto the phone without any effort at all. It also backed the entire phone up in a couple of seconds.

My current cell provider had a very affordable package that I could add to my current plan. The excellent tech behind the counter at the Wasilla store had the whole thing done and ready to go for me in a couple of minutes and I walked out of the the store more than a little satisfied.

I did think that the case/holster that came with the phone was pretty useless.  I stopped by Target after leaving the phone store and they had Blackberry holsters on sale. Note: you want a holster designed for the Berry, they’ve got a magnet in them that tells the device when it’s sheathed – the Curve will then adjust ringtone to vibrate and do other programmed functions if you want. I got a very nice semi-hardshell horizontal clip holster for $15 (and while there I checked for online deals on Blackberry holsters using the Blackberry. Seriously how big of geek am I? Pretty big, yep).

Five years ago I needed a Sony Clie PDA, a laptop, an MP3 player, a camera, and my phone to get everything I get in the compact Blackberry Curve. I like being able to take the internet and my email with me wherever I go.

So far I haven’t managed to fall into an open manhole or walk into traffic while texting.

But it’s probably only a matter of time.

16 comments:

  1. Good review.

    I was just thinking I should start looking into a new phone. My current one is only good for making phone calls. Maybe when I find another job...

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  2. Thanks.

    And I'm posting this thanks from my Blackbrry. Woohoo.

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  3. LOL! I knew when I was reading the list of your requirements that you'd almost have to go for a Crackberry!

    We're 8310 users here, but will probably upgrade when our service plans come up for renewal in 2010.

    www.crackberry.com -- It's the place to go to become informed on what apps are okay and which are utter dreck. Grab yourself some free ringtones while you're there. :)

    Also there are some really good RSS readers for Blackberries, I use Newsgator, my husband likes the Wall Street Journal's, our friend Richard thinks well of Viigo. I keep up with your blog and several others that way.

    I hope you enjoy yours and get as much productivity out of it as we do ours -- they've substantially changed how I manage my business and my life. :)

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  4. Thanks, Songstress, I actually saw crackberry.com yesterday when I was looking for twitter clients (Settled on Twitterberry, which works great). I'll have to go back and look at the site in more detail.

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  5. Yeah, but does it make toast?

    We started getting the Curve for certain select users at work - I'm reeeeeeeally tempted to swap my KRZR for one. You may have nudged me over the brink...

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  6. The Smart Man has a Storm, and loves, loves, loves it.

    I don't want one. Do. Not. Want.

    And what the hell is that creature that Becky is petting? The reincarnation of King Vole? Maybe it's the angle, but it looks about the size of a panther.

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  7. You can't have a toaster in your phone. That's only for Nathan.

    This is qan excellent review -- I'd never considered Crackberries, because I own so much Palm OS software, but I light consider it when the time comes for a new phone...

    I have a Palm Treo, because I got tired of carrying around a Palm OS PDA plus a cell phone. I don't use internet on my phone. I'm too cheap, and Verizon's so-called unlimited internet package is like $45/month. And goodness knows I don't need to spend more time hanging out in this time sink... I have to admit that I like the few games I have on it.

    Now if I could convince Larry that I *need* an iPhone or a Palm Pre, then I would get internet service through the phone. So far he doesn't agree that I need one. Mean husband.

    That's one big kitty...

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  8. Jim has gone to the dark side of the BlackBerry.

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  9. Maybe it's the angle, but it looks about the size of a panther

    That's one big kitty...

    That's Tubby (Kenai), Stupid (Sitka) his brother, is the same size - and it's not that they're so big, it's that Becky is really, really small.

    I'm reeeeeeeally tempted to swap my KRZR for one.

    Karl, I haven't been impressed with anything Motorola has made since they stopped producing the StarTAC. I've got several friends that have either the RAZR or the KRZR and I can't hardly understand a damned thing they're saying half the time. The phones have lousy sound quality, especially when coupled to that shitty Motorola bluetooth headset - you know, the one that's the size of a Buick.


    Jim has gone to the dark side of the BlackBerry.

    Nope, keeping with my Centrist ideals, I got the "titanium" one. It's sort of a gray color. I admit I wanted the black one, but they didn't have any. I sure didn't want either the white one or the red one.

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  10. I haven't been impressed with anything Motorola has made since they stopped producing...

    Well, I guess maybe I got the only good one - I get coverage better than all my previous phones, all the functions I've used have always functioned (never used the headset), sound is good, it's small and fits next to the work phone in a shirt pocket, among other things. I didn't buy it on a 'plan', so I wonder if it's because Cell One didn't get a chance to screw with its guts...

    Looks like Tubby is trying to say something, there.

    Wait, your phone uses Polaroid film?! How cool is that!

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  11. Ha! Could you imagine if Polaroid made a phone camera?

    Speaking of phones, my son's has flames on it. Flames. And his holster has more flames and a skull. A flaming skull.

    How come they don't make Blackberrys with flaming skulls?

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  12. I got the red one about a year and a half ago. My Razor (which actually survived a deployment and a trip to the island) had been sitting on the arm rest of the door of my Jeep in a small depression that just seemed perfect for it. I got called in to look at some stupid tasker that in fact could wait for day staff the night before I flew down to San Antonio for a two week course. Of course, I was pissed at being called in, so I jerked the door.

    Insertion slow motion image of me watching Razor go flying out into Ft. Gordon parking lot only to shatter into seven distinct pieces here.

    The crackberry was cheaper than a new Razor. Some sort of crazy sale.

    I've had zero gripes, but want to warn you on one thing, Jim....

    You were talking about the easy universality of the USB charger.

    Be careful on that. BB chargers have a different setting in some respect than other USB chargers. I had been using the old Razor USB charger as a back-up for travel, and started noticing significantly less charge, even with the snazzy mag-holster. Well, finally, the USB charger just wouldn't work.

    I went to a dealer, and she explained that the voltage provided by the Blackberry charger is higher or delivered differently (don't ask--she lacked a certain degree of engineering, and I couldn't read her mind), and the Razor charger was actually "dumbing down" the Curve's battery.

    I bought a discounted travel charger made specifically for the BB a little down the street. Thing goes from red bar to full charge in two hours. Just make sure that if you're on travel and need a charger, you get one that actually says it's Blackberry compliant and not just fits the port.

    Mine's been dropped, chipped, and had a incredibly-near miss with a Jetta. Still works like a champ, aside from speed dialing my friend Rachel every time I fall asleep with it on my hip. She somehow got assigned the letter 'q' for speed dial....

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  13. Blackberries are for serious people who do serious stuff, boss. Hence, no flames or skulls.

    Seriously. Leave that to those iPhone weenies....

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  14. Hmmm, sounds like this might become THE "must have" for serious UCFers. My first cell was a Treo, but I rebeled and went down to a phone that was just a phone. Maybe it's time to join the UCF texters or twitterers, and get the capability to post and read while on the train.

    Or... maybe not.

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  15. Vettriano, who was it again that taught you about advanced technology? Who was that? I forget. ;) I'm good. The tech who sold me the phone gave me a list of USB chargers that will work with it.

    Tom, My wife had one for a while but I never liked the Treo. Personal taste probably, but I just didn't like the interface or the keyboard, and it was too big.

    As to twitter, I never saw much use for it - until I got an account, now I can't live without it. It's great for keeping up with friends, but more than that it's ideal for providing a heads up for things that you're interested in, like The White House, or your Senator, or NASA or the Hubble (Seriously, I've been following the current Shuttle mission on Twitter) and for emergency information (I follow both the Alaska Volcano Observatory and Earthquake/Tsunami Warning Center) and some major news feeds. If I'm interested in the subject I can follow the link and read the story.

    The Curve also is tied to my email and RSS feeds. I also have it set to notify me when people comment here on Stonekettle Station - and the funny thing is those notifications appear before they do on my computers.

    And, you know Tom, I think you've given me tomorrow's blog post. Thanks, Buddy. Be the first to read it by following my Twitter feed, heh heh.

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  16. Case in point, Tom, the Smithsonian twitter feed just notified everybody that the terrific Smithsonian restaurant is serving Razor Clam Stew today as a special in the Native Heritage Museum.

    And if you haven't been to the Smithsonian Cafeteria in the Native American Heritage Museum you are seriously missing out - it is fantastic. It's all native American foods divided up by region. Last time I was there I had rare Buffalo and wild rice from the Plains Tribes and Cedar Plank Salmon from the Pacific Northwest. It was outstanding.

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