The Skinny on BlackBerry Smartphones

I have talked to a number of customers and seen a number of blogs where people are asking what device they should buy next? [One example here.] I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about devices based on operating system and my opinion of each.

My first entry is on BlackBerry devices.

The Good

  1. Simple design: screen and menu. Outside of shortcuts, there are very few “hidden” features.
  2. Easy to control with a single hand to look up a number or appointment.
  3. Tight integration between address book, calendar, browser and email to make phone calls and send email.
  4. Nice form factors on the new devices (Pearl, Curve, 8800 series).
  5. Easy to sync data with Outlook via USB.
  6. Standard USB connection for both charging and syncing.
  7. Solid battery life.

The Bad

  1. Improved BlackBerry Internet Service to sync contacts, calendar and tasks to Outlook wirelessly.
  2. Better calendar, address book and tasks integration.
  3. Wider breadth of third-party software applications.


I hadn’t worked with a BlackBerry device until January, when Infinity Softworks started writing software for it. I always saw them as a bit bulky and as an email device for corporate folks. To be honest, I saw the BlackBerry as a step backward. No touch screen? No handwriting recognition? Ugh!

Boy, was I wrong. I have found the devices to be quite nice. I have worked with most of the recent models, while I carry a BlackBerry Pearl myself. I picked the Pearl (8100) because it is the right size for me. I was tired of carrying bulky handhelds and wanted something all-in-one. While the SureType entry method is adequate, it is not as consistent as the QWERTY keyboards on other models. Given that, I understand some trade-offs must be made for the smaller form factor and, after years of writing Palm Graffiti, that is one I am willing to make.

From a software/OS perspective, it is very straight forward. You use a small trackwheel to navigate around and select it to go to a screen, there is a menu button to display the menu, and a back (escape) button to go back to where you were before. There is tight integration to make phone calls and send emails. When any software application detects text that is a telephone number, email or web address, it underlines it. To call, scroll to the text and hit the phone’s send button. It makes the call. Selecting an email or web address pops up the appropriate application as well.

The areas where I can see some improvement is really in the way the core personal information is handled (calendar, contacts, tasks). These three could be integrated better. For instance, I should be able to see today’s tasks in the calendar and be able to click them off as I complete them. If I enter a contact name into a task or appointment, I should be able to click on that contact to see their details and call them.

In addition, I would like to see better email, contact, calendar, task and note synchronization with Outlook. Yes, it synchronizes the latter three when you connect via USB. I would like to see them sync wirelessly. I make a change on my BlackBerry it should show up automatically in Outlook next time I open it. The same is true when I make a change in Outlook. It should automatically show on my BlackBerry. And I should be able to “file” emails and have them sync to the desktop as well (I have had to blind carbon copy myself to get copies of the emails I have sent to others from my device.)

These, though, are minor announces that I have partly solved with existing third-party applications and partly solved with some work-arounds provided by BlackBerry.

To be honest, BlackBerry Pearl is the first device I have found that got me to use an all-in-one device. The biggest complement, though, is what I have seen from others. Customers who use BlackBerry devices seem to keep buying BlackBerry devices. Loyalty: the holy grail of mobile device manufacturers. And RIM, the makers of the BlackBerry, seem to have it.

6 thoughts on “The Skinny on BlackBerry Smartphones

  1. Just ordered a brand new unlocked BlackBerry Curve. I guess it’s an AT&T unlocked. I expect so much from this phone.
    I hope the next BB will have:
    – Touch-screen
    – 3G
    – 5MP camera
    – Office Suite integrated
    – Wi-Fi
    – Voip Client (like the new N95).

    Let’s see if RIM can make the best ever smartphone.

    Florian SEROUSSI

  2. Thanks for responding, Florian. I will be surprised if RIM ever integrates Office suite into the device. One of the things that has impressed me is their focus. Their system, of course, can translate Word, Excel, PDF and others to view on the device, but I would be surprised if they ever bundle an “editor”. I will talk more about Office documents later.

    As for the rest, none of it would surprise me!

  3. I would like to put in a pitch for Windows smartphones. I just bought a Dash from Tmobile (HTC actually), and it is the best phone I have ever used. Wireless syncing with Outlook is a piece of cake, multiple email folders, etc.
    Would love to see a version of PowerOne for it. Any plans in that regard?

  4. Elia: Yesterday (6/15/07) I purchased and installed powerone on my Blackberry 8700. Perhaps this is not the place, but I thought I’d provide a brief comment or two, since I’ve been using for years (and continue to use) the powerone scientific calculator on my ancient Handspring. I like the scientific calculator a lot and use it daily on my Handspring. Are you planning to extend that product, i.e. the scientific calculator, to the Blackberry? I’m really looking for a robust scientific calculator for the Blackberry and thought your new release might be that. I’m not complaining, as it looks like it might be possible to add trigonometric and other special functions as well as programmable templates for specialized conversions and essentially duplicate what I have on my Handspring I just wonder where your headed. Aside from a cumbersome implementation of Excel (eCell) I don’t see anything else available for these handheld wonders (I also tried BizCalc).


  5. Thank you, Larry and David, for leaving comments.

    David, I hope to comment on each platform. There are definitely some great things about Windows Mobile devices as well. I started with BlackBerry smartphones because of the amount of time I have spent with them as we prepare to ship powerOne for these handsets. Info is here:

    Larry, there are a lot of things we hope to do with the product. I’m sure we will add additional math capabilities and look at template creation and other items like that over time. I also think we will work on some issues we never tackled on other handheld products: how do results get communicated to others? What records should be kept to stay in compliance? What data is collected in the field? How do we help professionals stay in touch more effectively while away from the desk?

    And yes, I do hope to tackle these problems on non-BlackBerry platforms as well. If you have suggestions for things we should add, please send us an email and tell us. We do keep suggestions and refer to them as we work on new versions of the software. Email us here:


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