Over Labor Day weekend, another seasonal at the campground mentioned that they had been geocaching recently. My wife had been geocaching before with TJ, though I had never been. When we got back from camping over the weekend, she said that she really wanted to geocache. In preparation for my trip to Iraq back in 2004, I bought a Garmin Rino 120 GPS. I actually never used it while I was there, but I still had it. We dug it out from the bottom of the closet and figured out how to add a couple points to it. We set out that evening to do our first cache: Savage Animal. It took us a little while to figure out how all the equipment worked, but we did find it. I had brought my laptop along with me, so that helped us out of a pinch. Good thing I brought it along.
As I mentioned before, I’ve now been a BlackBerry user for two and a half months. So, here are some of my thoughts having come from the Windows Mobile world.
Things I actually liked about Windows Mobile that I’m missing now
Chat Like Text Messaging
To be fair, when I first started using my PPC-6700, Windows Mobile didn’t have it either. Palm was the first to bring threaded SMS to the Windows Mobile world (porting it over from their PalmOS version). However, on my latest update to Windows Mobile 6.1, I didn’t even have to jump through the hoops of finding a CAB for the Palm application and installing it, it just worked on my phone. Compare the screen shots to see just how much more useful the threaded SMS is.
As can be seen on the side-by-side screenshots above, the Windows Mobile phone does have a slightly larger display. They are the same width, but the Windows Mobile phone was about 60 pixels higher. Of course, the BlackBerry phone uses the space for those 60 pixels to give me an always available keyboard complete with tactile feedback and it’s impossible to have everything.
Microsoft Voice Command was actually a pretty good program. It seemed to recognize was I was saying better. It also seemed to flow better than the voice dialing on my BlackBerry phone. I also liked that if I had my Bluetooth headset in, Voice Command would read the subject for any high priority email messages I received. Granted, I’m comparing the pay version of Voice Command to the version that comes free with the BlackBerry… and the free BlackBerry application is a lot better than the free one that came on my PPC. But I can’t say that I’ve come across a better voice command for the BlackBerry (though vlingo is promising).
Direct IMAP/POP3 Email Retrieval
When it comes to email, the BlackBerry wins in most categories, but this one kind of goes to Windows Mobile. Being in the Army Reserve, I have what’s called an AKO account. Among other things, this provides an email address. This email can be retrieved either using webmail or from an email client that supports IMAP or POP3. Research In Motion has a service that allows you to have their servers check up to 10 email accounts for you and send any messages you get to your BlackBerry. Unfortunately, this requires them storing your password. The government isn’t really a fan of this. Other than that one minor tidbit, push email on the BlackBerry is better. It’s also easier on the phone’s battery (IMAP/POP direct from the phone has to constantly check for new message, BlackBerry’s push doesn’t really do anything until there is a new message). Once I no longer have an AKO address to worry about (a touch over a year from now!), this won’t be a concern anymore.
Syncing the “Read” status
When I used Windows Mobile, if I read a message in Outlook on my desk, the next time the phone synced with the Exchange Server, the message would be marked as read on my phone. Not the case with my BlackBerry. It does work the other way around (when I read a message on the phone, it gets marked as read on the sever). I liked that on Windows Mobile, it worked both ways.
Syncing of contact pictures
This was one of those “hey, that’s cool” type things when I found out how to do it, but now that it doesn’t work on my BlackBerry phone, I miss it. Any contacts in my Outlook contacts folder that had a picture associated with them would have that same picture associated with them on my phone. So when that person called me, their picture showed up as part of the caller ID. Where this really started to shine is when I found a program that would go out to Facebook and grab pictures for anybody I had in my Outlook contacts. Shortly after the program ran, those pictures would be on my phone ready to be caller ID photos. My BlackBerry, of course, has the feature where you can associate a picture with a contact and when that person calls you get that photo of them as part of the caller ID. It does not, however, get that picture from the contact in Outlook.
No separate “Windows Mobile” data plan
In order to get BlackBerry service, I have to have a BlackBerry plan. Because I connect to an enterprise server, I have to have an even more expensive plan. I pay $39.99 per month for the data on my BlackBerry compared to the $7.50 per month I was paying for data on my Windows Mobile phone (it was on an older data pacakge that Sprint no longer offeres). If my employer wasn’t willing to pay for the better email experience, there’s no way I’d have this plan and thus this phone.
Things I like better about the BlackBerry
So now that we’ve got the negatives out of the way, let’s talk some about the positives of my new phone.
This is a huge one (no pun intended… really). My old phone was a brick. I powered it up today to get a screen shot of the SMS client and… wow. Now sure, there’s a number of phones that run Windows Mobile and not all of them are bricks, but I think most of them are… and the one I had most certainly is. My BlackBerry is the Pearl. It really is a nice size phone. Sure, I had to sacrifice the full QWERTY keyboard and it has a smaller screen than most other BlackBerrys, but it’s so easy to carry. It’s light. When I hold it up to my ear to talk instead of using a headset it’s actually comfortable. With my old phone, I often felt like I was holding a brick up to my ear. If possible, I avoided using it if I didn’t have a headset available (it wasn’t bad to use with a headset and Voice Command, as I mentioned above). With my BlackBerry, I’ve used it many times without the headset and it’s really no different than using any other candybar style phone.
New since visit indicators
Not only does my BlackBerry tell me how many messages a particular program has, but it also tells me how many of them are new since the last time I had that program open. This is the case for email, SMS, JiveTalk (Instant Messenger), Facebook, etc. This really comes in handy as I have a tendency to not always read messages as they come in but to come back to them later…. sometimes never in the case of mass mailings.
Yes, this is also just a feature of the particular phone as I know there are Windows Mobile phones with a built in GPS and there are BlackBerry phones without GPS. But the simple fact is, my old phone didn’t have one and this one does. And for what it’s worth, I think I actually like the BlackBerry maps application that comes with the phone better than Google Maps.
Much more phone like
In addition to the size consideration I mentioned above, the BlackBerry just seems to run much more smoothly as a phone. With the Windows Mobile phone I pretty much always felt like I was “starting up the phone program” to make a call. Even though it was a cell phone, it felt more like using a softphone on the computer… it works, but it’s not what the computer was really designed to do. With the BlackBerry, I feel like it’s a phone/email device first, everything else second. It does other things quite well (with the exception of what I mentioned above), but it really shines as a communication device.
Email is a breeze
And, of course, the bread and butter of the BlackBerry. When it comes to email, the BlackBerry beats my old Windows Mobile phone hands down. Messages get delivered quicker (yes, Windows Mobile claims to have push email when syncing with an Exchange server, but the BlackBerry still seems to deliver faster. I often hear my BlackBerry ding or feel it vibrate before my computer on my desk (20 feet from the mail server on the same physical network as it) gets the message. There is one downside that I mentioned above with RIM’s approach to email, but if you don’t have to deal with government provided email, it’s a great package.
Again, this is partly a function of the specific model phone I had, but it’s also effected by the Windows Mobile method of push email. My old phone could go about 10 hours on a full charge with normal usage. The advertised spec for it was 4.7 hours of talk time or 200 hours of standby, but I don’t see how that’s possible at all. Standby must be determined with all radios off (including the cellular radio) because even without push email running I don’t think I ever got much more than an awake day out of it. My new phone will almost get me two days of normal usage (its advertised spec is 3.7 hours of talk and 216 hours of standby). I still charge the BlackBerry every night, but at least I don’t have to charge it in the middle of the day.
Sure, there’s a mobile version of facebook available at m.facebook.com, but the application provided by RIM that’s a native BlackBerry application running directly on the phone is a lot smoother and quicker to use. With it installed, it will intercept all messages from Facebook that are sent to your phone and process them within its interface. It allows you to define a special sound for Facebook notifications. But it doesn’t just receive. You can use it to write on a friend’s wall, accept friend requests (though you can’t add them to a friend list or add friend details), poke your friends, reply to and send Facebook messages and, my favorite, upload photos directly from the phone. Just take a picture and choose the option to upload it to Facebook. You can even tag friends in the photo from the phone (though I’ve yet to do this).
Different Alerts for Different Applications
Sure, every program on a computer or Windows Mobile phone can have a method for letting you choose how to be notified, but on the BlackBerry, there’s actually a way for applications to plug into the standard notification profiles. All the app then has to do is tell the phone to notify you. The phone keeps track of how you want to be notified (are you in silent mode?, is there a specific sound for that type of notification?, etc) and does it. It really comes in handy with the….
Holsters with a Sleeper Magnet
You can get a holster that contains a sleeper magnet. The phone has a sensor that detects when it’s in the proximity of this magnet and then knows whether it is in the holster or not. You can have your sound profile set up to perform different actions if the phone in the holster than it performs while it’s out of the holster. I have mine set up so when it’s in the holster all alerts vibrate but when it’s not, I get different sounds for different events. When I walk into a movie theater, I don’t need to worry if my phone is on silent or not, I just know that it’s in the holster, so it’s OK. But if I have the phone setting next to me on my desk, I can listen and tell what that notification is (so I know that Outlook is about to tell me I have a new email).
Wow, that ended up being a very long post. According to WordPress, I have 2009 words. Goodness, it’s like a mini essay.