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Thinking about getting a Blackberry?

Nov 5th 2009

If you’re anything like me your mobile phone is an essential business tool that you couldn’t live without and you probably spend a lot of time out of the office and return to spend the next hour catching up with email.

I heard that a Blackberry was a great way to pick up email and stay in touch out of the office so a month ago I took the plunge and picked up a brand new Blackberry Bold (9000).

So what’s it been like?
In a word, great! Why didn’t I do it years ago!

The first thing you’ll probably want to do is get your email set up. This is straightforward and can be done in a couple of minutes on the website of your mobile phone provider (in my case Vodafone).
Once, that’s done, a couple of hours later for it to activate and you’re off!

Using the Blackberry
Being a staunch fan of Nokia phones and a heavy user of pre-emptive text messaging, I found it a little odd to get used to at first, but it didn’t take long. If you’ve got fat thumbs like me, the keys can at first seem to small, however you quickly get used to tapping all your messages out with two thumbs. It was surprising how quick you can get at typing in such a short space of time. The track-ball navigator is intuitive and takes no time to get used to, and the context menu button always has a surprising amount of features. I’ve not found anything yet that where I felt it falls short.

Using it as a phone
It’s easy to dial and even has a voice activation feature which doesn’t seem to need training and is surprisingly accurate. The phone list is easy to use, and it has a great little feature where it recognises phone numbers in emails and messages and hot-links them meaning you simply click and you can make a call.

Using email
This is a breeze. First thing to note is that you get a copy of your email to your device, so you’ll still get the original email when you get back to the office. You can send email, forward and reply as expected, and it makes life easy if you’re on the road and need to send a brief reply or forward to a colleague to deal with. Writing long a email is a chore, but then this isn’t what you’d use a Blackberry for anyway. The Blackberry supports all common mail formats including POP3, IMAP and Microsoft Exchange.

Browsing the internet
The browser is pretty capable and renders even the most complicated web pages surprisingly well.
Google launches straight in to a mobile version of the service which is very useful and straight forward to use.

As a developer
As a developer there are three options.
1) you can create cut down mobile web pages that are designed to run on a small screen
2) If you program in Java, it’s very easy. The J2SE toolkit will get you up and running in no time and there’s a great developer IDE called JDE packed with good examples. You’ve got full control over every area of the device and I can already see so many great opportunities for linking online content straight through to your phone
3) the MDS platform is a half-way house allowing you to create light-weight mobile apps that link with web services. If you need to interface directly with features of the blackberry such as the camera, this isn’t the way to go, however if you wanted to build a database driven application that integrates with the web, look here first. There’s also a plug in for Microsoft Visual Studio for the Microsoft developers!

Anything else worth a note?
There are a stack load of applications (apps) that can be used. Notably Nav4All (a free sat-nav system) Google Maps and facebook. I’ve only scratched the surface here, but the Blackberry serves as a pretty fine GPS enabled sat nav too. The games are pretty reasonable too, so that will keep the kids happy!

If you’re looking for an effective way to keep in touch out of the office, you’re in luck. Expect to have to recharge at the end of every day, if not more if you’re a heavy user. It’s addictive though, so if you don’t have the will-power to ignore that email you’ve received late at night, you might want to think carefully.

Is it better than the iPhone?
Well I’ve been testing one of those too, so watch this space…