Thursday, February 28th 2013
…it’s time for a change.
I have already said on a number of occasions that my mobile phone has become essential to me, especially since “mobiles” have transmuted themselves into “smartphones” and are now virtually pocket computers. Mine acts as my diary and appointments calendar, my word processor and spreadsheet program, my email client, my alarm clock and my instant messaging (IM) client. It even makes and receives phone calls and texts! In a word, I would be lost without it.
Just to give you one example of its essential usefulness: When Tigger and I are out and about taking photos, it often happens that we lose sight of one another. This can be a problem, particularly in a strange city where we do not know our way around. The solution is to pull out one’s faithful Blackberry, open BBM (Blackberry Messenger) and send “Where are you?”
The best phones we ever had, in my opinion, were our Nokia 9300 Communicators. These business phones were wonderful. They could be used in the traditional “candy bar” format or opened to reveal a hard keyboard and a larger screen with desktop icons, rather like MS Windows. On board was a Web browser, an email client and office software comprising word processor, spreadsheets and presentations, all compatible with Microsoft’s office software, allowing you to transfer files between the phone and the PC. Unfortunately, time moved on and so did technology, and the Communicators came to seem slow and clunky, despite their evident qualities. We needed regretfully to move to something more up to date.
If there is one thing I require in a mobile phone, it is a hard keyboard. On-screen keyboards are just not good enough. How anyone can bear to write a blog post or even a long email using an on-screen keyboard is beyond me. Using a hammer and chisel on a piece of stone would be easier. So what mobiles had hard keyboards?
To cut a long story short, we plumped for Blackberry handsets. Tigger has had a couple of models but I have stuck to my original one, a Blackberry Curve 8900, until now, though I have had three of them altogether. Good as this handset is, it is beginning to seem a little dated and, in the meantime, Tigger’s has begun to act up and as we will be going on a trip in a few weeks (more news of that nearer the time), she wanted to get the new one sorted out before we left. Last Monday, then, we drew a deep breath and ordered our handsets through our online Orange accounts. For an extra payment of £0.01 (yes, one penny), we could choose our “delivery slot” and chose Tuesday before 10am. The phones arrived at 9:55, just as I was writing a message to Tigger saying “The b*****s have missed the deadline.”
So which model did we go for? (I know you are dying to ask!) Blackberry has just issued the first model running version 10 of the operating system, the Z10. This phone has an on-screen keyboard so we would not touch it with a barge pole. The Q10, a traditional-shaped Blackberry with a hard keyboard is not due out until April, which is too late for Tigger. We therefore decided to go for a current model. There is another good reason for choosing a current model: last year’s phone is almost as good as the new models and it’s going to be a lot cheaper to buy. We have always proceeded thus and see no reason to change tactics now.
What we bought was the Blackberry Bold 9900. Blackberry publicity tells you that this is the slimmest ever Blackberry, very light in weight and blah-blah-blah. I couldn’t care less. It is pointless to become feverish over a few grams and millimetres here and there. What matters is how well the handset performs, whether it has all the functions you need and that it is easy to use. Would the 9900 cut the mustard? Buying without trying is always a gamble and we had to trust that the new phone was at least as good as the old one.
The 9900 differs from the 8900 in having an updated operating system (v 7) and a touch screen. If you want my honest opinion, I think that putting a touch screen on a device this small was a horrible mistake. It is simply not necessary and, for my money, complicates use of the phone. Blackberry, as we know, feels the need to compete with the iPhone (why, I don’t know, as they are such different animals) and RIM presumably felt a touch screen was necessary. It wasn’t, and it’s a damned nuisance. I only wish I could switch it off.
The screen is over-sensitive and as you move about the menu system, keeps bringing up things you didn’t want or doing things you didn’t intend. Sometimes you have to use the keyboard; sometimes you have to use the touch screen; sometimes you can use either. There’s no consistency. You need the lightest of touches to work the phone: a butterfly would be right at home but a human with normal fingers working at normal human finger pressure keeps sending the thing haywire. No doubt I will get used to this and in a year or two I will be writing that I can’t now see why I had so much trouble. In the meantime, however, the air is blue with imprecations. Funny that none of the reviews I have seen mentions this. Either I am the clumsiest oik on the planet or the reviews are written by people who don’t actually bother to get down and dirty with the handset, but just rewrite Blackberry’s own publicity material and specifications. (Personally, I think that writing good reviews is as much an art as writing novels or poetry, and that far too many reviewers simply lack the requisite talent.)
Would I therefore go back to the 8900 if I could? (And why can’t I? I’ll explain that in my next post.) On balance, and despite my criticisms, I think I would prefer to carry on with the 9900. This, of course, is dependent on my eventually making my peace with the quirky interface. Perhaps I will. What, then, are the benefits? The biggest I think, is the Web browser. Blackberry’s Web browser was always, by common agreement, very poor. In fact, it was a scandal that RIM waited so long to improve it. The browser was so slow that I often gave up on it and it frequently failed to load a site at all because it couldn’t cope with it. You might ask why so many people put up with this, transforming Blackberry, from an arcane business phone, into one of the most popular brands in the market place. I can only say that it was because of its other qualities: as long as email is a priority to you, then Blackberry is the only smartphone. No other comes close.
So what about the browser on the 9900? Yes, at last, a decent browser. Not perfect; not excellent; still leaving plenty to be desired; but well ahead of the hated previous browser. When Tigger sends me an email with a link in it, I can now view it on my phone instead of transferring my attention to the PC and firing up Firefox.
Another nice touch is that I used to buy Documents to Go for my phones. This wonderful piece of software includes word processor, spreadsheets and presentation software (compatible with Microsoft’s Office software) and reads PDF files. I no longer have to buy it: on the 9900 it comes ready installed. Hurrah!
What about the other functions? Contacts and phone book, no change; email, no change; instant messages, no change. In fact, most of what is on the 9900 is exactly the same as what was on the 8900. Yes, things run a little quicker, and the interface is different – not always for the better, as I have indicated, but different.
One of the biggest benefits is also one of the smallest physically: instead of the 8900’s trackball, the 9900 has a track pad. The track ball was, frankly, a mistake. It was so easy to get dust in the mechanism, which would render it inoperable. The track ball is also the enter key so you have to press it down to select or activate something. If you were in a hurry, it was all too easy to overshoot the item you were aiming for or to roll the ball as you pressed it, causing it to select the wrong action. The track pad is a lot better. It’s too sensitive for my tastes but it’s still a lot better than the ball. Hurrah for small mercies.
This is not, and not intended to be, a full review of the 9900. The model is old enough for the Web to be loaded with reviews good, bad and indifferent of it, if you want to read some. I am just giving you my first impressions. Seasoned users may object to what I say here or agree with it. I don’t know.
While I was waiting for the new handset to arrive, I was having nightmares about it. Why? Well, because I had to make up my mind whether to port my number (and my email addresses and all my data) to the new phone or whether to simply use the new phone as is, with its own number. Either solution was problematic. If I didn’t port my number, I would have to inform lots of people of my new phone number – and I would no doubt accidentally leave out someone important. Don’t forget, either, that when you do tell people your new number, half of them forget to take note of it. Not least, I would lose any credit remaining on the old phone.
If I did port my number, however, I foresaw that this too would cause problems. Whenever I have done this is the past, both phones have gone out of use for an indeterminate length of time and I have had to keep on trying both of them to determine when the changeover was complete. That’s without even considering the problem of moving my email over. I was sure this would be a painful experience.
In the end, I decided that I would port my number. Tigger, on the other hand, and for reasons that I won’t go into, decided that she would use the new phone as-is without porting her number. Between us, then, we provided an interesting case study: how would Orange deal with our respective accounts when we registered our new phones? I will recount that in my next post.
In the meantime, here are some pictures. (I know you like pictures and didn’t want to disappoint you.) The 8900 has a 3.2 megapixel camera and takes so-so pictures, useful in a emergency but no good for serious photography. The 9900 has a 5 megapixel camera. Is it better? Here are some test pictures I took this morning. In each case, the picture on the left is as it came out of the phone, though reduced in size, and the one on the right is the same picture slightly enhanced by editing (at least, I hope you think it’s enhanced). In each case, click to see a larger version.
The next episode will follow as soon as I can get it written. (I bet you can’t wait, eh? )