Today we're featuring the return of Paul Johnson, aka pmjohnson99, where he has come to confess his smartphone sins. Back in June Paul gave us his In-Depth Impressions of Sprint's BlackBerry Curve 8330 from the perspective of a new to BlackBerry user. From there, he strayed into the world of Windows Mobile by way of the Sprint Mogul, but has since come back to CrackBerry Nation. Paul has returned to his Curve a more enlightened smartphone user, and has much to share from his time on WinMo.
As we recently mentioned in an Around SPE post, we'll soon be starting up the 2nd Annual Smartphone Round Robin, where the editors of SPE's network of smartphone sites swap devices and discover, relay and constructively argue about the yays and nays of each platform and chosen smartphone. Paul's article today makes a great primer for some of the in-depth smartphone head-to-head content coming your way via the Round Robin, so sit back, relax and Read Paul's Review!
Confessions of a BlackBerry User Gone Windows Mobile Gone BlackBerry!
by Paul Johnson
I have a confession to make...I have been unfaithful. Everything happened so quickly. The progression seemed uncontrollable. It started with looking at websites, then on my way home from work stopping by places and "checking things out." Then all of the sudden you are waiting for the mail guy in your office to bring you a package and before you know it bam! You own a Windows Mobile device. I strayed fellow Crackheads... I bought a Sprint Mogul.
My foray into the WinMo world was caused by me damaging my Curve and having to wait for a new one. Since Sprint has no official loaner program I went to eBay to find a temporary phone. I wanted to see how the other half lives. Windows Mobile was probably the farthest away from where my Curve stood. With a sizeable market share throughout the world I always wondered if WinMo could measure up to the rock solid stability and ease of use of the Berry. Sites like WM Experts, Smartphone Junkie and XDA Developers gave me plenty of resources to use.
Before I talk about the phone let me take a moment to commend Sprint (finally we can commend them on something) for making device switching for CDMA gear a breeze. I was really weary of their online system. I was sure I was going to be calling in for help after I did everything the website told me to do, but I never did. I entered the IMEI number on the phone, gave it a few minutes, and it all worked. I didn't need to call anyone to ask for help. They even give you a PDF with instructions on how to program your number into any device. The process isn't as easy as switching a SIM card, but it does inspire me to try other devices on a whim.
You have, in the Mogul, a horizontal slider with QWERTY keyboard, 2MP camera with flash and full touch screen. In total, there are 16 buttons on the outside of the phone for you to interact with. Which at times can be annoying when trying to slip the phone into a dash mount. The slider is springy and responsive as one would like. I have not had much physical exposure to HTC products, but it appears they put a lot into manufacturing solid well built devices. My Mogul came to me well used and the screen was starting to tweak a bit by not sliding back flush with the device, but overall it seemed like it had many more years of use in it.
I found using the actual keyboard a bit difficult due to its expansive size. I feel when it comes to thumb typing your hands shouldn't be that far apart. If you interlock your fingers and type (like on a BlackBerry) I feel optimal distance is your fingers interlocking at around the second or third knuckle area. Anything farther apart and your are moving your thumbs too much to get to keys and makes the device unstable to type on. I'm sure with practice this maneuver would be easier, but it is a noticeable difference when dealing with a wider keyboard. I found myself using the stylus and letter recognition more than anything when it came to typing out short notes and messages. After sometime you can become fairly proficient entering text with stylus gestures and rarely slide out the keyboard.
The Mogul's internals are impressive to a Curve owner, but considering the riggers of Windows Mobile the 416MHz processor, 256 ROM, 64MB RAM are very necessary. In fact, at times the phone literally screams at you to free up memory with pop-up windows. You are able to monitor your memory usage on the fly with an indicator next to your clock and a program like Oxios Memory can be used to clear out wayward memory blocks. There is also a Micro-SD slot that is really easy to get to located at the bottom of the phone. Simply push the card in and it pops out. The spring-loaded slot is a nice change over taking my battery out to change my card.
The screen is your standard QVGA 240 x 320, 65K color touchscreen. It is pressure sensitive, not capacitive like the iPhone which means you are able to use with a gloved hand. Images were clear and crisp, but definitely not going to approach the beauty of the newer screens coming on the scene with the HTC Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch HD or even the Blackberry Bold.
One of my main curiosities was how well would EV-DO Rev.A perform versus EV-DO Rev.0 we use with the Sprint Curve. I will say this... if you think that your data is fast enough with EV-DO Rev.0 don't ever use a device that uses Rev.A, you will be ruined by it. And if you use EDGE, just leave the room. My average speed tests would range from 600kbps on up to 975kbps! Occasionally I would have something as low as 200kbps but overall you really do notice the snappiness of what can be considered serious competition for HSDPA. Google Maps and Sprint Navigation really benefited by updating maps quicker, giving you a more useful navigation tool. Being on the Sprint network made higher data speeds far more available than other networks in Southern California (*cough ATT & T-MO).
With these increased speeds coupled with the Skyfire beta I downloaded, you are actually experiencing the web at desktop levels, including flash support through Skyfire. Pages like YouTube and Break.com perform normally and let you watch videos in the browser. This is even better than the iPhone browser. I would love if they made Skyfire for Berry but I am sure that is something really far off. RIM seems to be putting more effort into their browser as of late and in my opinion needs to push even further with their browser development efforts and make this thing a non-issue for phones.
But this experience wasn't spurred on by my interest in the device, more over, my curiosity about Windows Mobile. I grew up on Windows everything. For me the idea of a Windows phone seemed cool. I wanted to see if having a computer in my pocket could make my life easier. With the forth coming HTC Touch Diamond and Touch Pro on the horizon there are going to be some pretty powerful devices showcasing this OS.
Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional is the most recent incarnation of what some curse and swear by in the same breath. For a BlackBerry user you notice the immediate difference of a WinMo device. It turns your phone into a computer (or Pocket PC)! Berry's are powerful devices, but that is just it, it's a device, originally purpose-built by RIM for communication. RIM is becoming better about making their devices more "computer" like, but that will take time. A WinMo phone is a machine much like your desktop computer. It has the same type of file system, registry and operating architecture like any Windows computer. Being familiar with Windows allowed me to pickup the Mogul and have no problem integrating it into my arsenal.
Email was easy enough to set up. There is a slight bug when you set up a Yahoo! Account and you have Yahoo! Plus, but a little finagling took care of it and emails were problem free. My work email has pop access so that was seamless and since I'm on Outlook at work I was able to see all of my Outlook folders. This is a real advantage over using BIS. I didn't see any kind of limit on accounts and with no BIS to consider I doubt there is. You can pay for GoodLink or other 3rd party push-email solutions, but realistically with checking every 5 minutes I never missed anything.
Windows Mobile Pro. 6.1 gives you threaded text messaging which is nice because you can go back and look at what you wrote to someone days ago. It actually reminds me a lot of BB Messenger with out the contact list. You are limited to 160 characters like normal SMS however, so typing out your recipe for Coq Au Vin is out of the question.
Your organizer is based off of Outlook, though it looks like Outlook from a years ago. I did like the fact that I could cut/copy and paste calendar entries, which is something you miss on BlackBerry. When you have a recurring appointment that doesn't always happen the same time and day it's nice to just copy and paste it on the days you want.
Like your BlackBerry, a Windows Mobile device has an operating system, also know as the "ROM", setup by your carrier by default. The carrier tailors the ROM to match their services. Updates are passed out through carrier ROMs and the latest version from Sprint gave my Mogul and upgrade to 6.1 Professional, recent ROMs gave us GPS and EVDO Rev.A support.
The real trick to mastering your WinMo device is to find the right Custom ROM. Like Window's Desktop Platform the registry can be tweaked to make things run faster, change defaults, or make the phone just plain better. With a Custom ROM setup by an experienced tweaker you can get all the optimized registry settings, patches, software, add-ons, and anything else you want to pack into the device. Loading the Custom ROM takes some time and know how, but once it's on the device you realize the real power of WinMo. In a little under an hour you have a phone that is optimized and ready to. Since the Mogul has been out for a while a lot of the tweaks I saw were developed over months of everyday use by thousands of people. Custom ROMs aren't perfect, but they do give you a jumping off point to make a device very close to perfect.
Another part of customizing a device is what software you put on it. Software can be a sore spot for us Crackheads. Though there is an extensive library out there for your favorite BlackBerry, it really is dwarfed by the amount of Windows Mobile wares available. A lot for free and all designed to give your handset some sort of functionality that you didn't know you needed; like a program that turned my phone into a barcode reader. Or a free app that put GPS info on my home screen along with location based weather reports.
Installing programs in WinMo is very similar to BlackBerry, you just download a file (a .CAB file usually) and install. A big difference from Berry is WinMo actually allows you to install to your media card to free up on-device space and you can choose to save the installer first and use it when you want. Saving installers is nice because you can save .CAB files on a memory card as a backup. When you lock up your device with a questionable download (and you will) you will have to do a "hard" reset. This will completely wipe out the device to the latest ROM install and removes any new software.
WinMo can also use themes. Themes are pretty much the same idea as Berry, they change look, feel, and functionality of your device. WinMo themes can also change the overall UI of the phone. A WinMo theme coupled with a particular plug-in will give you a device that is a far cry from the generic-ness that you receive from the carrier theme.
The idea of using a different theme is to make Windows Mobile more livable. I feel most people really don't want to deal with so many menus and folders in order to open a program. The standard WinMo theme will make you have to activate a "Start" menu or use a button setup to open a particular program. This becomes painfully slow when compared to just going to your "Applications" screen on your Berry and activating a program. Simple.
New WinMo devices being developed have you use a particular theme, skin or interface by default. The HTC phones have "TouchFlo 3D", Sony Xperia has "Panels", Samsung Omnia will have something other than a default WinMo layout. Themes help Windows Mobile counteract one if its biggest negatives. All these themes are pretty, cool and vaguely reminiscent of the iPhone. The guys over at WM Experts say that these themes are all good, but they just dump you into Windows Mobile eventually and you are back at square one, a PC in your hand (the analogy of "lipstick on a pig" applies here, yes?).
WHAT DO I WANT?!
So you have ask yourself "What do I want from my Smartphone?" Imagine a line, one end you have complete Smartphone freaks. People that own, two or three devices of all types. Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, iPhone and even Symbian (like me). On the other end of the line are people who never update their phone software. They don't have their contacts backed up. They don't even know when their contracts are up. In the middle of that line are those who use most of the Smartphone functions, but would be okay with any brand of Smartphone. They either purchased their particular device based on friends' suggestions or prices.
A WinMo device with the plain operating system UI sends it down the line towards the freaks. Not exciting, just functional, almost uninteresting. But if you throw a skin or interface on it so that the person doesn't have to think too much to use it AND it looks cool, like the Touch Diamond, it will send the device towards the middle of the line. Ironically if said person hacks the phone to get a different UI on it they are sent back to the freak end. It's a slippery slope.
A BlackBerry will put a person somewhere pretty close to the middle. It has a lot of the technical strengths that people, who care, look for in a Smartphone. But it also has the ease of use of just picking it up and using out of the box. Extra features are explored at your own leisure. However, you can also experiment with OS's and themes, so you may float into freak territory easily. With WinMo you could try and ignore the extra functionality, but you eventually will ask yourself "what does this do?" Then all of the sudden you are customizing the interface, installing apps that you didn't know existed for a phone and (as I did) crashing the thing to the level of needing a hard reset.
Now that my time with the Mogul is over I have constructed a few suggestions for BlackBerry to help give it some of the bonuses of a WinMo device, and some of my suggestions are being met by future devices, but RIM needs to push these out to all:
1. Calendar: For the love of all things holy! Can't we get a cut/copy and paste function on our BlackBerry calendars? Seems pretty basic and there's no reason why I should have to install something to make this function right. And why does the calendar look like it was made on an Etch A Sketch?
2. Web Browser: RIM, I want you to walk around your main software development floor with a well mixed Rubik's Cube. Now give it to everyone. The 5 people that finish it fastest I want you to take them to Antarctica, lock them in a well heated shed and make them produce a browser that I can feel proud to show my iPhone totin' friends.
3. Storage/File System: Anyone who uses a computer has a basic idea of most file systems. Main drive, secondary drives...etc. Storing, installing and running things should be the same everywhere. Why? Because it works. BlackBerry smartphones have this, but it's not as obvious as it should be. There really should be some sort of obvious file explorer, and a way to choose to save installers to my media card. When I would crash the Mogul to a point beyond repair I felt okay since I had all my .CAB files saved on the media card. I would just go through and reinstall, never really losing the things that worked best for the device.
4. Touchscreen: This is a hardware thing, but I think it's an important one. I firmly believe that every device that calls itself a "Smartphone" should come with a touchscreen. It makes things so much easier to navigate. It didn't matter how small the icons were I was always able to efficiently use the touchscreen on the Mogul. And I am not talking about the fancy-schmancy capacitive touchscreen of the iPhone, just the simple and cheap resistive touchscreen that relies on pressure and not actually touching your skin, which is better to use with a gloved hand anyway. If I had a touchscreen on my Curve I would fly through the various screens. Suffice to say, I am excited about some of the upcoming (Storm) and rumored devices coming from RIM.
5. Software: Get the announced App Store in action ASAP and fill it with a huge selection of apps, preferably free ones to start. Apple is doing the app store thing with great success, they have proven the concept works, and they have proven the demand for free applications - the phone is just the starting point and the apps take it to the next level. With WinMo there has been so much development for it that there are sites set up specifically to distribute free software. RIM's best bet in addition to rallying the troops (as they did at their first Developer Conference) is to just bite the bullet and buy as much software as it can to offer free. I feel Berry's are becoming prominent enough to where these things are becoming consumer must-haves. It's not enterprise anymore. But consumers need apps to be easily accessible and they want them for free. You can add pay items later. Just give us a taste.
When you consider purchasing a smartphone you must honestly determine your need and abilities for said smart-gear. I feel that most people would find a BlackBerry as the perfect beginner smartphone, as well as something that will carry you into the future. With the Storm, Bold and Curve 8900 on the horizon you have devices that put you on par with most smartphones for a while. Advancements being what they are I am sure that BlackBerry will offer things like huge storage space, more RAM and ROM memory, better screens (hello, Bold). And hopefully a larger selection of software that makes the device even harder to put down.
Windows Mobile is really fun to play with and the abilities are amazing, but I found if you really want to have a life outside of your smartphone it's a hard operating system to be around. You get so caught up in tweaking and adding and tweaking you really lose track of the real world. You are perfectly fine just using it out of box, but if you are at all technical you are going to start to ask your self "I wonder if I can do...?" and then it begins. You are reading forum after forum, downloading CAB's, cheering the improved functionality and cursing the hard resets.
I have gone back to the Berry, it's nice and familiar. I can add useful apps and update newest "leaked" OS's, but I'm not spending nearly the same amount of time I did on WinMo stuff. The Mogul has been retired back to its box, I might sell it or keep it around for "emergencies". I love my Berry, it is what I consider a great daily commuter. It gets good mileage on a charge, is reliable, and doesn't bog itself down with a lot of extra options I'll barely use. I think of the Mogul as a late 60's muscle car I keep in the garage for weekend wrench sessions. Nice to pull out and impress the friends with cool things you added on, but if you had to drive it everyday you are going to be guaranteed a break down at inopportune times.
I will stick with the BlackBerry for the time being. I am finding my attention being pulled by the deluge of WinMo devices that are coming out on several different manufacturers, however. RIM needs to make sure they are staying competitive and have more "cool" factor added to their devices. Smartphones are becoming more of a default in cell tech, which means this market is going to get a lot tighter and there will be a lot more crap devices to buy. Having reliable, efficient and easy to use devices out there can insure a commanding position in the market place. You just have to make sure you keep people interested and I believe RIM is just beginning to move into the "keeping people interested" segment of the market.