So for my new job, I have to carry a Blackberry Bold. It was that or a second iPhone, and not even I am enough of a buffoon to pack two iPhones everywhere I go. Plus, having the Bold will be helpful when it comes time to support Blackberry users, and it’s always good to have a diversity of experience when one is a Computing Support Analyst. I’ve been packing the Bold for a couple of weeks now, and I have come to the conclusion that it resembles nothing so much as a SIGARMS P250, the state-of-the-art pistol that can be switched to any of four calibers with no tools but the replacement barrel and slide, can be made sub-compact or full size just by swapping frame components, has a reduced number of parts for increased reliability, and will put five shots through the same quarter-sized hole from twenty-five yards.
The problem is, if the Bold is the world’s finest pistol, the iPhone is a lightsaber.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, the Bold has MMS and speaker-independent voice dialing, and I presume cut-and-paste is in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet and I’ll tell you why: the interface is utterly non-intuitive. They include some setup assistants for things like Wi-Fi, which is good, because the settings are damn difficult to find otherwise. There are all sorts of ring profiles you can modify, with about 50 settings for all the possible things that can ring or vibrate, and set them depending on whether it’s in the holster or not*, the camera takes video and has digital zoom and an LED that does for a sort-of flash, and the battery is removable, covered by a back panel in a naff sort of faux-leather which is reasonably grippy or at least non-slippery. And honestly, the screen is gorgeous.
Of course, it’s a screen half the size of the iPhone’s, because you also have a physical keyboard, with keys the size of a mustard seed** that will almost certainly send my thumbs into premature arthritis even worse than the iPhone. Say what you like about tactile feedback, but I don’t find myself any more accurate with the Bold’s physical keyboard than the iPhone’s virtual one, and in many ways I’m worse on the Bold because I haven’t figured out how to turn on text-complete or spell-check or whatever they offer to make up for the many, many times I fat-finger my typing.
Plus, while the “pearl”-type trackball is a genuine innovation, it basically demands that you use the thumb. And I’m not kidding – I am starting to have problems with the knuckles of my thumbs, from crooking them too much to use smartphones. The difference is, with a touch-driven UI like the iPhone’s, I can hold the device in one hand and navigate around (if not type particularly well) with one finger on the other hand. The Bold, by contrast, has a physical design and control mechanism that basically demands the use of thumbs in all circumstances.
There’s no nice way to say it, so I won’t try to sugar it up: the Bold’s default browser is shit. For some reason, it seems extraordinarily sluggish, even when in 3G coverage (and that’s another thing: 3G is a massive battery suck, and largely superfluous for email, but there’s no way to turn off 3G and just use EDGE. For a business device that’s email-centric, this is a major shortcoming). And what’s worse, the browsing experience – and this extends beyond the browser to things like the Facebook app as well – seems much more like a glossy, tarted-up version of the cellphone browsing experience of 2005-06, rather than the smartphone browsing experience of the iPhone or the G1 or (presumably) the forthcoming Palm Pre. The fact that everyone recommends I install Opera Mini – the same proxy browser I ran four years ago on a Motorola flip phone – is not encouraging.
Finally, and non-trivially, the battery only gets me through the day. So does the iPhone battery only get me through the day, but I can turn off the 3G and then use it for following all my RSS feeds, playing my podcasts, getting texts, and exactly as much mail and phone and Twitter-app use as the Bold. And the iPhone will charge off the USB line out of the PC, whereas if the Bold is getting power off its USB, it’s sure not doing it fast enough to top up during the day.
Long story short: I think that if you’re somebody who needs to carry a Blackberry for work, the Bold is legitimately a world-beater and the best of breed for RIM’s signature product. And I’m not alone – Stephen Fry, who owns and travels with seven iPhones, thinks the Bold is RIM’s best device ever (handily pwning the disastrous Blackbery Storm). But the fact is, our team gets a choice between the Bold and the iPhone, and nobody who didn’t already have an iPhone took the Bold.
Of course, I’ll be carrying both for the foreseeable future. Or at least until the Pro Bowl when my turn as the hotline emergency response tech ends. Hazing is fun, isn’t it?
* I don’t care how cool you think he is, Barack Obama – and there’s a zinger coming on his middle name, wait for it – still looks like a tool with that thing clipped to his belt. There is no way anyone can clip on a cellphone and not look like a paste-eater, and I say this as a man who once priced a shoulder holster for a Palm III.
** Our Lord gets a nickel.