The Smartphone Round Robin is finally into the wind down phase. With so many platforms and devices participating this year the event has run a little long and has been a bit confusing to follow, but the content has been nothing less than stellar. If you're in the market for a new smartphone or are just curious to know how the experts perceive each competing platform based on their own favorites, do yourself a favor and check out all of the reviews. You'll be glad you did.
Going into this year's Round Robin I honestly wasn't sure how BlackBerry would be received by the editors of the other sites that comprise the Smartphone Experts Network. We put the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Storm2 into the challenge, which while definitely being better BlackBerrys than their predecessors and all-around solid smartphones, were not leaps and bounds different than the BlackBerry Bold 9000 the editors looked at last year. I was pleasantly surprised though by just how well-received BlackBerry was again this year in the Round Robin. Sure it got beat up a little bit here and there (web browser needs improving, BBM needs to be available on other platforms, etc.) but for the most part every editor had more than one or two nice things to say about BlackBerrys. Read on for some highlights!
SPE Editors on BlackBerry Smartphones Highlights
Round #1 - Nokia Experts on BlackBerry
Nokia Experts' editor Mattew Miller isn't exactly what I'd call a BlackBerry fanboy. He gets them, he's used them, he respects them, but he's never really been a big fan of them having used them in the past. He did think the Bold 9000 was the best full qwerty at the time of its release. Here are some of his thoughts, good and bad, as they relate to the Bold 9700 and Storm2 he tried this year.
- IMHO, the Bold 9700 is a nicer device than the Bold 9000 because it is much more pocketable, has an optical touchpad instead of a trackball, has a nice 3.2 megapixel camera, and has a slightly higher resolution (though smaller) display.... The 624 MHz inside this device makes it fly and I never saw any lag in using the device.
- This device is the second generation in RIM's touchscreen lineup and I have to say I found it to be much improved over the Storm1. I tried the Storm1 and honestly had to put it back in the box after about 15 minutes and send it back to RIM since it was just a very frustrating experience. I was pretty amazed by the way the touch screen does nothing when it is off and then magically turns on and is pressable when the display is turned on.
- I actually hated the Options area on the BlackBerry devices and it seems like there is no real organization or sense made to what is going on here.
- If you are looking for a hardware QWERTY device, then there isn't much better than the BlackBerry platform if you can live with the BlackBerry Internet Service or BlackBerry Exchange Server. In the past when I tried to own a BlackBerry I had issues popping my SIM out and putting it into one of my unlocked Nokia devices because the SIM was provisioned for BB service. I also have an Exchange server at work and since I work at a small company they will not be paying for a BES anytime soon. Thus, I find I am limited to email over the Outlook Web Access (OWA) method and cannot sync calendar and contacts without cabling to a PC and using the BlackBerry desktop manager. These are my two primary issues for not having a BlackBerry device in my collection.
For more of Matt's thoughts on BlackBerry, check out his full Nokia Expert on BlackBerry Review.
Round #2 - TheiPhoneblog on BlackBerry
When it comes to Apples and BlackBerrys, TiPb's editor Rene Ritchie and I both tend to see eye to eye on how the whole BlackBerry/iPhone thing plays out. The devices are more complimentary in nature than competitive - they excel in different areas and appeal to different types of users... though things are slowly coming to a head. Here's some of Rene's thoughts:
- I understand and deeply appreciate how perfect the BlackBerry is when it comes to super-quick, keyboard-driven messaging that can go for days. For many users, and for many types of classical business (finance, sales), that's what matters most.
- ... the general concern in the Round Robin (last year) was that RIM had hit the end of the line with the BlackBerry OS, that they would need to "spend their time in the desert" the way Palm had to transition from PalmOS to webOS, and Microsoft is now doing to grow from Windows Mobile 5/6/6.5 to Windows Mobile 7. RIM has done a lot since to mitigate those concerns. The BlackBerry Developers Conferences have been a huge part of that. New APIs, the WebKit browser, support for widgets and localized WebApps, OpenGL for gaming, etc. will certainly modernize the BlackBerry OS. But they won't make it a modern OS.
- ...if you're trying to choose between an iPhone and a BlackBerry Bold 9700, you're... well it's an easy choice. They're Yin and Yang, day and night, and while there is some overlap their areas of excellence remain so opposite, so complementary, if you think for a moment about what you're actual needs are, it'll be immediately apparent which one you need - and the answer to that could actually be both. (Them dual-wielders we keep seeing).
For More of Rene's thoughts on BlackBerry, check out his full iPhone Expert on BlackBerry Review.
Round #3 - PreCentral.net on BlackBerry
Dieter Bohn. He's the Editor-in-Chief of Smartphone Experts and PreCentral.net and has an opinion on everything... and it's usually a very well thought opinion that makes a lot of sense. When it comes to the BlackBerry operating system, at the end of last year's Round Robin he concluded they needed to scrap it and start fresh. Though after using the Bold 9700 and Storm2 (which he was naturally amazing at typing at on Storm's glass - better than me even) and learning about all of the new and announced APIs and tools and stuff coming to BlackBerry, he's now actually thinking RIM will be able to keep trucking along successfully with what they have in the works. Though he did go on a BlackBerry Messenger rant of epic proportions. Some highlights:
- I can type really fast on the Storm2 with a surprising degree of accuracy. Believe it or not, but in the world of touchscreen keyboards, only the iPhone beats the Storm2 for accuracy.
- The Bold 9700 is so full-featured that it's almost boring. It's
difficult to imagine what more I'd want added to it given the
constraints of the BB OS and the size of the device.
- Moving from the BlackBerry Curve to the original BlackBerry Bold to the BlackBerry Bold 9700, you can tell just by looking at them that we have what I mentioned at the outset: relentless incremental upgrades to both the hardware and the software. A BlackBerry user from three years ago can pick up the latest and greatest and feel quite at home. Some might call this boring, but not me. It's a form factor that works and that means business.
- My problem with BBM is quite simply that it's tied to a single platform: BlackBerry. You can only use it to communicate with other BlackBerrys - no other platform gets to play. You could easily (and understandably) call this sour grapes: that I'm simply jealous of the feature and since I can't have it on other platforms, I don't want anybody to have it. Perhaps there's a bit of that - but philosophically I don't like the idea of any method of communication being tied to a single platform and in control of a single company. As an example of where I'm coming from: one of the reasons I've begun using Google Voice is because of the convenience of text messaging from my desktop - even the standard way of text messaging feels a little to restrictive to me
For a whole lot more insight, be sure to check out Dieter's Palm Expert on BlackBerry Review
Round #4 - WMExperts on BlackBerry
This one was really interesting as Phil Nickinson, Editor of WMExperts.com, previous to this year's Round Robin had never actually used a BlackBerry Smartphone. He was a blank slate.... here's some takeaways:
- The Bold 9700 is the quintessential BlackBerry messaging device. It's what you think of when you think "BlackBerry." The keyboard -- solid as a rock. They keys have excellent spacing and travel, typical for a BlackBerry phone and better than just about anybody else out there. And the screen has an incredible resolution for its size -- 480x360 pixels, crammed into a space just 2.4 inches in diagonal. That. Is. Sick.
- Oh, no. Not the Storm 2. Seriously? With as bad as the Storm 1 was received, we're giving it another shot? OK. And, truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised with the sequel.
Phil had A LOT more to say about BlackBerry, including some good thoughts on what makes it a CrackBerry. Be sure to jump over and read his WMExpert on BlackBerry Review.
Round #5 - AndroidCentral on BlackBerry
Casey from AndroidCentral.com secretly loves BlackBerrys. I know he does. He won't always admit is straight away, but after a few drinks you can always get it out of him. I really liked his McDonald's analogy this year:
- To analogize it, Blackberry is really the McDonalds of smartphones. Sure it may not be the highest quality of food or offer the most variety but it's always consistent. You eat at McDonald's in California or in Florida or in New York or even in Canada, you know what to expect. That's Blackberry--from the Curves to the Bolds--it might not offer the highest quality of experience or different form factors but you know what to expect. And really, that's saying something. In order to build a device that's consistently better each year but still falls in line with previous iterations, that means you absolutely built a great base to build on. That's where the 'crack' lies, at the core base of Blackberry. No other phone matches its nod to its history.
Casey had a lot more things to say, both good and less good, so be sure to jump over and check out his Android Expert on BlackBerry Review.
Some Closing Thoughts...
All in all, I thought all of the Smartphone Experts did a great job this year putting the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Storm2 and the BBOS platform under the microscope. They quickly discovered RIM's strengths and zoned in on the areas where RIM needs to work harder still. Some are obvious, like the web browser. Other gripes are more of a matter of preference - to be a BlackBerry user you do have to buy in a little bit to the BlackBerry way of doing things, which for some power users isn't something they want to do. Everybody seems to be in agreement that RIM has successfully continued to breathe new life into the BlackBerry platform, while at the same time everybody seems to be on the same page that at some point RIM will need to make a more drastic update - something that seems a little less incremental and a lot more giant leap.
As for me, I'm glad to be off the competition on back on my BlackBerry(s) 100%. In my next and final Round Robin article for the year, I'll revisit some of the things I simply find sooo compelling about the BlackBerry experience and look at my take on what RIM will need to do moving ahead to remain successful in the smartphone space.