BlackBerry Presenter Review
Why carry that heavy laptop and projector to your next presentation, when you could confidently waltz in with minimal baggage? Imagine the BlackBerry as a vessel for your PowerPoint slideshow, projected wirelessly via Bluetooth, with you at the helm, steering a dynamic presentation. You're nimbly traveling from city to city, lugging minimal gear, staking your claim as the road warrior king/queen and continually wowing board rooms with your style. Let's face it, your pageant is powerful, lightweight, and can practically run itself, allowing you to focus on your audience.
Sounds heavenly, right? That's the picture painted by RIM and its accessory, the BlackBerry Presenter. You simply plug it into a projector or monitor, and present Microsoft PowerPoint files wirelessly, leaving you free to roam the stage or room, using your BlackBerry smartphone as the presentation controller.
Out of the Box:
Here is what you can expect to receive when opening the package:
- 1 BlackBerry Presenter.
- 1 Micro-USB cable-to-wall AC adapter, which is used to power the device.
- 1 Micro-USB cable, which is used in conjunction with the desktop software.
- What? No CD? --- That's right, you have to download and install the desktop software in order to do the following:
- Rename the device
- Upgrade the device firmware (latest version is 188.8.131.52)
- Transfer files to the device
- 1 faux leather carrying case. Pretty nice little case, complete with a magnet clip.
- Getting Started Guide. This paper fold-out is pretty straightforward.
- It does not ship with VGA or S-Video cables, which must be used to connect the Presenter to a projector or display, so you'll need to pick up your own.
When connected via USB to a computer, the Presenter should map as an 8MB external drive, but don't get too excited. Testing has proved, that in order to protect your information, all files are deleted from the BlackBerry Presenter the next time that you power on the device. So it cannot be used as a portable drive. However, you can leave presentation files on the device, but only if they are leftover from a previous presentation.
Key takeaways from the Getting Started Guide:
- There are 24 different supported animations and 55 transition styles you can use.
- Slides using an aspect ratio other than 4:3 may not appear correctly.
- The single multi-mode LED button on top of the device is used to put it to sleep, wake it up, or reset it to show a new presentation.
Reminder: If you're a MAC user this accessory is not supported. So in order to use the desktop software, you'll need to have access to a Windows PC.
RIM states it this way, "All you need to do is plug it in and select "Present" on your BlackBerry smartphone." While I will admit the device is fairly easy to set up, it's not that easy. If you have ever connected a PC monitor or projector, and paired something via Bluetooth, you should be able to get this going.
Here are the steps to use this accessory:
- Download the Presenter app to your BlackBerry device. It can be found in App World here: http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/content/8503.
- Connect the Presenter to an electrical outlet via the provided USB cable-to-wall adapter.
- Connect the Presenter to a display (projector, monitor or television). When the Presenter is powered-on a stand-by screen appears which will contain a passkey to be used when pairing via Bluetooth.
- Open the Presenter App on your BlackBerry and choose "Browse" to open a PowerPoint file already saved within your device memory or from a media card. You may also use files from an email or calendar attachment, but in my testing they must first be detached.
- Once your file has fully loaded in the app, click the menu button and choose "Present". Doing this will auto-pair your BlackBerry smartphone to the Presenter via Bluetooth. Note: You must first turn the handheld Bluetooth antenna on and this wireless connection is not encrypted.
- Once Bluetooth pairing is complete the PowerPoint file will begin loading into the accessory memory. Before proceeding I suggest waiting for the entire file to load. This waiting period is more dependent on how "busy" your slides are versus the total number. RIM's suggested solution to improve the loading time is to remove slide animations, photos and other effects from your PowerPoint file.
Getting Started and Being Frustrated:
Once your file has completely loaded onto the Presenter, you can easily move between slides by using your trackpad or trackball. You may also press the space key on your BlackBerry just like using the spacebar on a Windows keyboard. If you have animations that are timed or mouse-click-triggered, they should execute following another swipe of the trackpad or roll of the trackball. I was unable to test this on a touch-screen BlackBerry model, so I'm not certain if you can simply swipe to advance.
You have the ability to view speaker notes on the phone, however, it isn't intuitive, and I was forced to look at my BlackBerry screen while fumbling with buttons and menus, all of which took my focus off of the audience. Personally, I have never used this feature and expect seasoned speakers to memorize their slide order and content, hence never needing the speaker notes. It defeats the point of "owning the room" if you have to stop and concentrate on your mobile screen for a few moments just to make a quick change. Better app development and programming could make use of the BlackBerry convenience keys for this type of feature.
Best Usage Scenarios:
Let's discuss a few situations suited for the BlackBerry Presenter.
- Imagine a conference room with only one Presenter on the table. Multiple BlackBerry devices could individually connect throughout the meeting to project their users' slides.
- To be on the safe side, I suggest pre-creating your slides with limitations in mind, including previewing/practicing your presentation before leaving the office.
- Now, I guess you could edit a PowerPoint file directly on your BlackBerry with apps like eOffice or DocumentsToGo, but who really does that?
- Clearly, one of the best features is the ability to loop your presentations. If you do a lot of booth presenting at trade shows, this feature can save someone from having to babysit a laptop all day. But be aware that once this feature is turned on and you walk away, or forget to click "End Show", it will play continuously and eventually lull anyone in the room into a paralyzing coma.
Presenter vs ShowMate:
When this device was first announced back in January, I immediately checked the Impatica website to see if RIM had acquired the company and/or the ShowMate device. Of course I didn't find anything, and continue to chuckle when someone says, "Wow, check out what RIM released. It's so innovative!"
Come on, the ShowMate has been around for a few years, but according to RIM, the BlackBerry Presenter has two advantages over the Impatica ShowMate:
- ShowMate requires a file-transcoding process on a PC prior to presenting slideshows, while RIM's device does not.
- Presenter has a max resolution output of 1024x768, compared to the Showmate's 800x600.
Check out the table below to help determine how the Presenter stacks up against the ShowMate.
- Makes a great laptop alternative for the minimalist road warrior.
- Auto-adjusting display resolution. This alone helps eliminates 90 percent of the headaches when connecting laptops to different projectors.
- Looping - as mentioned above, easily my favorite feature, especially if you present at a lot of trade shows.
- Loading of PowerPoint files can be a lengthy process depending on quality of slides.
- No HDMI, DVI or audio output. Not essential to its use, but would be nice.
- Netbooks are similarly priced and offer more true to PowerPoint option.
- Does not work with 8220 or 8300 series models.
What I'd Like To See Next:
- This device could replace those pricey digital photo frames. Just hook this puppy up to a TV, load your images and loop it endlessly. (Oh, wait, it doesn't do photo slide shows ... yet.)
- Allow the device to project the BlackBerry screen in real time. The ShowMate does offer this, and although there is often an odd lag time, at least you can project a live handheld to the big screen.
- Battery power. If this device is meant to be a go-anywhere, project-anytime solution, less cables would be nice.
- Full video and audio support. Think love child of the Presenter and Music Gateway. :)
- Create hardware with a built-in, hand-held projector. A tiny projector may lack quality, but you could literally present almost anywhere with minimal equipment.
- Offer a direct USB connect option between handheld and device (for added security against Bluetooth theft).
- Better PowerPoint conversion when reproducing slide elements (photos, animations, transitions).
The BlackBerry Presenter is a solid piece of hardware, and a pretty good idea, but it lacks innovation and isn't all that practical. Put another way, if you want to truly appear untethered from a desk and laptop, utilizing a BlackBerry Presenter can lead toward this goal, but the price tag may be too high for what is being offered.
You pretty much need to create lame PowerPoint slides in order to use this device as nothing super-fancy will convert correctly. At this point it's been more than six months since this device was first released. How many of you have you bought and used one?
One Last Crumb:
Before I sign off, I'd like to leave you with this tidbit from my own experience. This accessory can be subject to random freezing, so when using it for a presentation, make sure to turn off the radio antenna and close all unnecessary apps.
And just because you're saved from toting an trunk full of equipment, it remains a good idea to have a backup plan in place. I'm suggesting you still bring your laptop (and a portable projector if you own one). Also, don't forget to have a spare VGA and/or S-video cable handy. True road warriors are better off following Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will.
Who knows? If we're lucky, RIM will soon release a firmware update that allows you to broadcast the BlackBerry in real time through the Presenter, hence negating me even mentioning the ShowMate. Crack on!