Over the years RIM have bowed to pressure, reluctantly found that bottle of ketchup in their pantry and, with something of a disapproving sniff, served it up on a silver salver with as good a grace as they could muster. Their somewhat ancient Java operating system has been regularly updated and the product line these days includes phones with cameras, media players and an OTA store called BlackBerry App World. Why, their websites even carry banners now that cry: “Works with Mac straight out of the box!”
Convergence has many faces. A printer, a scanner and a fax machine can easily converge into an All-In-One machine; a hip, fun, flashy media-playing, super-browsing communicator and app-platform like the iPhone can converge with business devices by getting all VPN and Enterprise friendly and a grim corporate tool like the BlackBerry can fluff and frisk itself up with Facebook apps and games and video and ask to be played with. But there are ontological baselines and last year RIM made a disastrous attempt to cross a BlackBerry with an iPhone and came up with one of digital history’s all time dogs, the Storm, an example of those wretched, cursed mutants that slip from the womb, writhe and thrash for an instant as they struggle for air and then die screaming – to the eternal shame of the diabolical genetic manipulators who dared interfere with the natural order of things. The Storm was (and is – for they have been cruel enough to keep it alive) blushmakingly dreadful. It was as if the butler answered the door wearing trainers, ripped jeans and a beanie with a cry of “Sup, bitch?” Embarrassment all round. I reviewed the benighted beast here and while I wasn’t kind, I hope the glowing encomia I heaped on the BlackBerry Bold in the same blog shows that it I am certainly no BlackBerry hater.
I think RIM have understood that messing with the core appeal of the BlackBerry in this way was a bad idea. It may be that somewhere in the future they will develop a successful hybrid, a phone with either a proprietary (web-based, like Palm’s?) or existing OS which will be capable of delivering the usual BES or BIS connections on a modern, games and app-savvy platform. For the moment they have in recent months concentrated on bringing out true BlackBerry devices that offer the limited bells and whistles that their venerable Java OS affords but which tweak, streamline and refine that system in an elegant and consistent manner. Twitter and Facebook clients, RSS aggregators, utilities and games all work on these new generation devices, but never as well as they would on an iPhone or Android phone. There again, push email won’t work as well on iPhone or Android platforms as on a BlackBerry. For the moment, true convergence between Work and Play hasn’t been effected by either side and the BlackBerry still reigns supreme as the professional business phone par excellence.
Given that: what choices are there? The Bold offers quad band, 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, a 2MP camera and 1GB of onboard memory (supplemented by micro-SD) and is still a champion device, the complete package. Version 4.6 of the OS gives a smooth, balanced look and feel, there’s power and speed enough.
Speed is an interesting issue for BlackBerry. RIM has always exhibited a schizophrenic attitude towards wireless protocols. The true BB experience doesn’t really require 3G speeds, EDGE is easily good enough for push email and conserves battery power so much better: indeed pointing at the four-fifths full battery icon at day’s end is one of the BlackBerryist’s favourite occupations. But 3G is “today” and not to offer it would seem perverse. It is really most useful for Over The Air downloads of applications and updates or web browsing — only of course the proprietary web browser, while it may have improved, still sucks big time stylie. Too many random fails and “XML is not well-formed” error messages.
So: what flavours and functions of BlackBerry handset are available? More cut-down models than the Bold offer either a configuration which is 2G only but has WiFi built-in for downloading and power-browsing or a configuration which offers 3G but no WiFi. Of course, in America (and parts of Asia) there is the option of CDMA (more later) which until now has only been available for the senescently gray 8830. Which brings us on to the two models under advisement.