My Phone is Smarter Than Your's

I got a Blackberry last December. I blogged about it then, but I haven't really talked much about it. There's been a bunch of hubbub recently about the iPhone finally getting Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) support, and this has spurned some thought on my part about smartphones and mobile technology, and all that jazz. It's a big space in the technology world, and most of the time I just ignore all of it, because I don't much care about it. I'm a "big computing," kind of guy, and I don't much like the whole "talking on the phone thing," but this doesn't--you're surely not surprised to learn--mean that I don't have opinions on the subject.

Despite my disdain for telephones, I really like the whole Blackberry thing. The physical keyboard means I'm way faster at typing up messages and notes than I would be otherwise, and that's incredibly useful. Blackberries aren't, "sexy" as smartphones go, and frankly the software is sort of insane with regards to how it all works, but in comparison to how other phones work, I'm pretty happy with the way things are. Here are the Pros:

  • I like that I can run applications in the background on the Blackberry. Being able to get alerts when emails come in. Being able to leave a message that I'm writing, and go respond to another message, or make a call, or get an instant message or twiddle with Google maps, is really great.
  • I enjoy that the phone is messaging centric. Furthermore, I really like that all messaging: Blackberry Messaging (IM), GoogleTalk (jabber), SMS Texting, and email all appear in one great queue. There's one big list of things, to check and that's it. The key to making this work is good filtering, but that's another point.
  • I really enjoy the ecosystem of applications available for the phone. Blackberries like many smartphones (including the Android platform, after a fashion) use the J2ME (java) platform, which means and the platform is rather established. Sure the sexy things that people do with iPhones aren't there for my phone, and there are applications that I wish I had (better SSH, a text editor, some sort of file synching ability,) but the apps I have all work well, are stable, and integrate well with the system (ie. the messaging thing.)
  • There are host of little things that are great. The charging cradle is an awesome thing. The fact that it's "smart" enough to alter its behavior based on if it's in the case or not in the case, so that if it's on your belt it does something different than if it's laying on your desk. It also has a "bedside" mode which I think is similarly brilliant. Not a huge feature, but exceedingly useful.
  • So Google does this thing with their Sync Tools where your contacts from Gmail end up on your phone, and the sync is pretty seamless. No more futzing around with adding people by hand, no more worrying about backing up your database. I'm not thrilled about this reliance on Google, but it just works, and that is an intensely good thing. I do kind of wish that more things on the phone were like this.

What I don't like?

  • The twitter apps don't integrate well into the messaging, and I can't think of a sane way to use twitter with my phone.
  • There is no real XMPP/Jabber application aside from Google Talk that I've found to be useable. (Though I'd love to be proven wrong.) It would be nice to be able to connect to my general use XMPP account under a different resource and go from there.
  • I think, as an interaction modality the trackball is a horrible idea, and I think something more joystick-like would be a much more useful and quick. Even, perhaps something that used the keyboard more effectively. As it is, all navigation and system operation uses the trackball, and that's kind of annoying. It's done as well as it could, but I think it could be better.
  • Email filtering is non-intuitive and difficult. Possible, certainly, but difficult. I'd like an interface to be able to exclude and block various senders on the phone itself.
  • Configuration options are Byzantine and difficult to navigate. There are so many options particularly around the various noises that the phone will make that I've not bothered to really modify any of them. I might load up the beginning of "Thick as A Brick" for my ring tone (and part two for the alarm clock?), but for the most part there are too many chirps and chatters that the damn thing does, that it's hard to really modify it in any real way. It makes it interesting to be in close proximity to other Blackberry users for any length of time, because those noises get embedded in your consciousness.
  • The Blackberry is pretty unfriendly to Free Software stuff, which is a shame, partly because of the whole lack of freedom issue, but almost more because everything else I do with technology uses free software stuff, that it's annoying that my existing stuff doesn't work right on the phone.

Would I get another Blackberry? Probably. Though the lack of a good SSH client is a bother, and I'd like something that did a bit better with things like PDF/electronic-text reading, but all in all I'm pretty happy.

The interesting thing is that at this point I can't fathom going back to some sort of "non-smartphone:" this just seems, to me, to be "the way a phone should work." That's a pretty strong endorsement, I'd say.

Onward and Upward!

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