And I’m back with Part III of the web’s first BlackBerry 9000 Review. In this installment we will take a closer look at the BlackBerry 9000’s version 4.6 operating system. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part I and Part II which provide an overview of the BlackBerry 9000 along with my initial reactions and observations. Part II includes a Video Quick Tour of the 9000 and its operating system that is worth checking out.
[ Disclaimer: Changes to the Hardware and upgrades to the Software will likely be made before the BlackBerry 9000 is officially released ]
While legions of BlackBerry users are stuck waiting for operating system version 4.5 to become available for upgrade, along come release specs for the BlackBerry 9000 and 9100 touting they will be ship with OS4.6! Sooo not fair. But as you read this and look at all of the eyecandy screen captures, keep in mind many/most of the new features in 4.6 are already coming your way when OS4.5 becomes available. OS4.6 just kicks it up a slight notch and makes it pretty.
As for the new incremental features in OS4.6 that we haven’t yet seen on OS4.5 previews, the big question is will these OS4.6 incremental improvements make there way to existing Curve, 88xx and Pearl Users? And while I don’t have an answer to this question, my hunch is that RIM will always try and pack as much OS goodness into every current device model until they reach the limits of a device’s hardware capabilities. Call me a BlackBerry fan boy, it's the truth! :-)
OS4.6 at a Glance
The first thing you notice about the 9000's OS are its good looks. And I’m not just talking simple lipstick applied to the current BlackBerry OS - it’s more like she’s come home from a trip to the spa with a manicure, pedicure, facial and wax wearing high heels and a cocktail dress. SEXY!
Three factors contribute to the 9000’s onscreen sex appeal:
the new Precision Themes
that AMAZING LCD Display
revamped Native Apps to match the new look
The unfortunate thing about this is that even if the Precision themes came to the Curve, Pearl and 8800 series, they wouldn’t look nearly as good as they do on the 9000’s 480 by 320 LCD.
Precision Themes & General Appearances
While I’m sure the 9000 will also ship with a carrier branded theme, the BlackBerry 9000 I’m playing with has three themes installed by default – the Precision L, Precision Today and Precision Zen.
A big departure from current theme designs, with the Precision themes when you set a new wallpaper it only changes it on the home screen. When you click the BlackBerry button from the home screen to go to the application shortcut view, aka Ribbon, the background wallpaper remains unchanged (in this case stays black). I’ve been looking for an option to change that background color but haven’t it found it yet. I guess this explains why there is no Precision Icon theme in 4.6 like there is a Dimension Icon theme in currently available operating system versions.
OS4.6 Precision Themes Will Replace the Current Dimension Themes
The rollover effects on the home screen are a nice touch and are actually different from the rollover effects on the Icon view. If you want to see these effects in action check out the BlackBerry 9000 Quick Tour Video.
While not a visual change, OS4.6 packs a much-welcomed feature improvement to the ribbon – the ability to now delete applications directly in two clicks. That’s a lot less scrolling and clicking than Options > Advanced Options > Applications > Hunt through the list for the right app > Menu key > Delete. When it comes time to install and remove 3rd party themes from the device, you will also be saved from the trip into the Applications menu. As long as a theme isn't active, you can delete it straight from the Options > Themes page. Solid changes, but it's almost too bad as the 9000's processor now FLIES through the typically slow task of “Building Application List”.
One thing I noted missing from Options > Screen/Keyboard menu is the “Font Smoothing” option. I guess there’s no need as anti-aliased fonts are used everywhere on 4.6 which give the 9000's GUI an ultra-clean look.
OS4.6 Allows You to Delete Applications from the Application Ribbon
The other major visual improvement to 4.6 is the treatment of layers, and more specifically, the use of transparency within the Precision themes. Open your email, and hit the menu key – as you scroll through options on the pop-up menu, you can still see through to the images behind. These transparent windows are even at work on home screen and icon screen, if for example you pull up Profiles or Connections (note the 2G/3G/2G&3G selection under Manage Connections > Mobile Network Options).
OS4.6 Precision Themes Will Replace the Current Dimension Themes
Throw in some revamped notification icons at the top, including a new one for 3G (sweet!!) and you now have the foundation of OS4.6 on the BlackBerry 9000.
OS 4.6.1 NATIVE APPLICATIONS
Before we get to it, I need to provide a disclaimer here. The BlackBerry 9000 I am using for this review is running OS version 188.8.131.52 (67). I honestly have no idea how close or far this particular version is from what will ultimately ship on the BlackBerry 9000 when released. Based on a two days of use, I think this version *should* be close to the final version, but is not quite there just yet. I’ve encountered a few bugs (nothing too major and I'll make note of them as they pop up), but more critical and of interest to readers is that the web browser on this version of 4.6 doesn’t do the nifty rendering job that was promised in the BlackBerry Device Software v4.6 Incremental Features Document that recently surfaced. I take as a sure sign of more refinements to come before the 9000 avec OS4.1 hits consumer hands.
Disclaimer: Version 4.6 Software Will Likely Be Updated Before 9000 Release
The Precision themes found on 4.6 pretty up (if you haven't caught on yet, "pretty" is my favorite word in this whole Review Series) the Native apps and one of them is completely new, so lets take a look at the new look! I won't cover every single app/screenshot here, but don't worry, I'll do up a longer video to accompany Part IV for the CrackBerry geeks among us that want to see everything (no complaining to me if the next video is a bit long and boring...you asked for it!).
OS4.6 on the 9000 vs. OS4.2.2 on the 8320
The big thing here is the looks! As I snap these screenshots off the 9000, I have my 8320 Curve also in hand (running OS 4.2.2) and am crosschecking to see if there’s any new/different menu options that I may have not noticed at first glance. And every time I switch back to the Curve, it becomes a little less enjoyable for me. As much as I LOVE the Curve (and am EXTREMELY happy for all those CDMA customers who are finally getting their hands on one), I just can’t help but fall in love for the 9000’s slightly bigger, brighter and higher res display. Hopefully the new version of the Plazmic Theme Builder will be released soon, as that will go a long way in dressing up all of the existing devices on the market, as we've seen illustrated by some of the recent themes to hit the net, such as the short-lived Crossbar theme and our own CrackBerry.com User & Abuser themes (if you haven't checked these out yet you should - they're FREE and they rock!).
I *think* BlackBerry Messenger picked up a new feature – inline spell checking. As you’re typing out your messages, anything spelled incorrectly gets underlined. If you do make a mistake you can either go back and correct it (the fastest way) of if you’re not sure you can click the menu key when on the underlined word and access suggestions. If not new, it’s just something I’ve never noticed or turned on before and it appears in 4.6 by default. Heck, the BBOS is so loaded with shortcuts and tricks I’m still discovering new things in OS4.2.2, never mind 4.6.
It's also much easier to add contacts via PIN within 4.6. This functionality will be included in OS4.5, but since we’re still waiting on that it’s worth pointing out. Unlike the current OS where you need to Add a Contact… > Use Once > menu click > Request by PIN, in 4.6 you simply click Add a Contact and can type in a PIN/email address or address book name directly.
The Phone Application Gets the Precision Theme Treatments
Not much new within the phone app other than the classy Precision theme stylings. But since we’re talking Phone here, it’s worth pointing out again that the 9000’s call quality is superb and the speakerphone is MUCH IMPROVED.
OS4.6 Shows Some Bluetooth Love
The Add Bluetooth utility has undergone some revisions, most notably the ability to now Listen for a device vs. just Searching for one. When connected to a Bluetooth headset and a call is inbound, you can also choose how to direct the call - a great feature I could have personally used many times in the past (there have been soo many times when I have answer a call forgetting I was paired and connected to a headset).
There's no doubt the BlackBerry 9000 is the most media-friendly BlackBerry to date. The media apps have all received a slight 4.6 facelift, so let’s take a quick visual walk about. Again, be sure to check out the BlackBerry 9000 Video Overview to see the Music and Movie Player in action.
There's Always Room for Improvement
After having used 3rd party music player apps like FlipSide and now MiuTunes, the BlackBerry music player still leaves a little something to be desired. The very visual nature of these 3rd party players would do well with the 9000’s display, but I guess havinng iPhone-like cover flow on the native music player isn't happening just yet. In addition to the newish look, improvements include skip/previous buttons, automatic playlist creation, an exclude folders option, and headset equalizer settings (most of these coming in 4.5).
Camera & Pictures Library
Eyecandy of the Camera App!
The camera runs very smoothly on the 9000. The flash is still blindingly bright and picture quality is ok. Max resolution is still at 1600 by 1200 pixels. It would be nice to see RIM up the camera to 3.2 mega pixels – I’m pretty sure the 9000’s hardware could support it and then some. As for the camera app itself, the only thing that caught my eye here was the option for Geotagging photos. Very cool. I know a lot of CrackBerry users out there were hoping for an option to turn off the picture taking / shutter sound, but no dice. However, the photo taking sound is at least slightly quieter on the 9000 when compared to my 8320 and 8300.
A Quick Look at the Pictures Library
Within the Pictures Library, users can now view all pictures stored on both the device’s internal and external memory right from the main Picture Library screen. I'm not sure this feature was working quite right for me though as I wasn't getting the same list of files on the main screen as depicted in theOS4.6 final specs document. When viewing the properties of an image, you can easily tell if it has been geotagged.
Video Camera & Movies
The most interesting thing to report about the Video Recorder on OS4.6 is that there is NO application shortcut on the ribbon for it! I can’t quite decide if this just an oversight for now and a shortcut will be in place for it come final release or if this has been done to simplify things, since in our modern day world of digital cameras, the video recording aspect is almost assumed. Likewise, Video Camera is not an option on the Convenience Key settings list. Personally I’d prefer to see a dedicated shortcut, as right now four clicks are required to begin recording: Open Camera > Menu > Video Camera > Record. I’m also finding it easy for myself to get confused – am I in the Camera or the Video Camera?!
Video Camera and Video Player Eyecandy!
While typing this I realized I actually made a mistake in my Video Quick Tour – when flipping between the camera and video recording I said you can record video in full screen mode. That’s actually not the case – for snapping photos and video playback you can take advantage of full screen view, but video recording still takes place within the smaller window. My bad. But in retrospect I’ll blame the lack of a dedicated shortcut!
The video player itself seems very smooth, even when viewing large movies. With my current device, things often get a bit “glitchy” if I try and scroll to specific points in a long movie. The increased horsepower in the 9000 seems to take care of that. And though I’ve already made mention of it five times, I’ll say it again – between the 9000’s LCD and superb speakers, watching videos on a BlackBerry is a much-improved experience.
Ringtones & Voicenotes - These are two other apps that fall into the Media Folder on the BlackBerry. Nothing big to report on here, so let's move on to the two apps that receive the biggest makeover in OS4.6
It looks like the biggest app to receive a change in OS4.6 is the native Alarm application, which has now been re-branded to CLOCK! The app is no longer a simple alarm, nor is it only a clock. The new app is now an Alarm, Clock, Stopwatch, Timer and Bedside Companion in One!
When you click into the Clock app, you are greeted by a full screen clock which can be set in any of three styles: Analog, Digital and my favorite, Flip Clock. You also have the option to set the Clock to automatically display whenever the 9000 is plugged in for charging, a nice touch for those of us who have their BlackBerrys on their computer desk during the day...the BlackBerry now serves double duty.
There is also an option on the main Clock menu to toggle your BlackBerry between Bedside Mode On and Bedside Mode Off. Within the Bedside mode options you have the ability to Disable the LED and Radio. RIM must have finally realized that nearly everyone (at least all the BB addicts I know) sleep with their BlackBerry at side and have responded!! The app is smart too – if you have Bedside mode turned on and go to exit the app, it will prompt you to disable Bedside mode.
The Alarm app itself is still the same old application - a single alarm that can be set to On / Off or Weekdays. Good News for those who like to Snooze - in addition to the standard 1, 5, 10 minutes an additional 15 and 30 minute snooze has been added! Overall, the alarm clock is basic and gets the job done, but is a little too basic for my liking, especially since I’ve been using BBSmart’s new Alarms Pro! application which is feature packed and I absolutely love.
The Stop Watch is just your basic Start /Stop / Reset, but it looks cool and my favorite – it allows you to Forward Results on to a contact via Email, BlackBerry Messenger, MMS, PIN or SMS. I have a feeling this could easily turn into the next BrickBreaker-like phenomena in the corporate world – colleagues will be PINing eachother back and forth all day long with all sorts of useless task times: fastest to get to work, run to Starbucks, go to the bathroom, get the A1L645 forms filed, etc. etc. etc. Just watch – it’ll turn into a competitive thing.
The Timer is a simple countdown app (you set the time!) but it’s extremely helpful. I’ll never over boil my eggs again!!
The other Handy App in OS4.6 to get a Extreme Home Makeover is the Calculator. It's still the same old basic calculator underneath, but it has a hot new look!
There's still lots left to talk about in OS4.6! Coming in Part IV will be a lonnnng video walk through and we'll check out the items I haven't touched on yet: web browser (remember, I don't think the OS I'm running has the final release browser on it - so I'm not in a rush to show it off), other native apps including Slideshow and Word To Go, utilities like the built-in Memory Cleaner and we'll also check out some 3rd party apps to see how they look/work on OS4.6. Keep it locked to CrackBerry.com!
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