My Weekend with a CrackBerry

BlackBerry 8700

Longtime readers will know that I’ve spent much of the last few years looking down my nose at the BlackBerry. Research In Motion’s (RIM) made-in-Canada success story has pretty much become the de facto standard for mobile communications amongst the white collar crowd — as a quick example, the BlackBerry has achieved 100% market penetration with my two brothers and their wives.

I, on the other hand, have been consistently bewildered by people coveting such an ungainly, camera-less device — that is until I actually tried one.

With my beloved hiptop beseiged by mounting service outages and Fido’s new owner quashing all hopes of new hiptop releases I thought I should at least give the “CrackBerry” a chance — especially since the push email service is now available to Fido subscribers. So I found myself a cheap, refurbished unit online and have been using it as my primary sidearm for the past four days. Here’s what I think…

First off, Windows Mobile users will probably be better off hooking up to a Microsoft Exchange account — BlackBerry Connect on a Pocket PC adds a bunch of extra mailboxes to your mobile version of Outlook, which I found tiresome to cycle through on my TyTN. Plus the Microsoft take on push email seems to work just as well.

The advantage of a BlackBerry proper is the Messages app, where all your email, texts, PINs (?!) get lumped together on one screen. Should you wish to check your email on a specific account you can do that as well, through a series of shortcuts on the home screen. I wish I could show you some actual screen grabs, but BlackBerry falls way behind Windows Mobile in that department.

Setting up your email accounts on BlackBerry Connect (or your carrier’s BlackBerry Internet Service) is dead simple — easier, in fact, than on a hiptop! No mail server info is needed, you just enter your address & password and RIM does the rest. Only copies of your messages are sent to your device; the original messages remain on your mail server for archiving to your desktop email app. And near as I can tell, messages on your BlackBerry are auto-magically deleted after thirty days, so you don’t even need to worry about manually trashing them!

Like the hiptop, the only true real-time delivery of email comes with a custom address; your other email accounts are polled for new messages at ten to fifteen minute intervals. But unlike the hiptop, BlackBerry doesn’t require you to have a custom, real-time, push email address if you don’t want it.

Most people get a CrackBerry specifically for email on the go — but the device also has a very capable web browser, sporting a fast (for GSM) EDGE connection and the ability to download apps directly to the unit. And if you’re running Internet Explorer for Windows on your desktop computer you can even make use of some ActiveX wizardry and a USB cable to do the very same thing, saving additional data charges along the way!

BlackBerry’s other killer feature (apart from email) is BlackBerry Maps. It’s pre-installed on newer units and available for free for older models — on any BlackBerry it will map any address from your contact list with only a couple of clicks, and if you’re the proud owner of a new 8800 model with built-in GPS then you’ll never be lost again.

If, like me, you’re a techno-snob and are forever loyal to the Apple Macintosh you will be absolutely floored by the fact that RIM has licensed the desktop sync client from PocketMac and are offering it as official Mac software free of charge. Even better, it actually works!

The only hiccup is with synchronizing tasks with time stamps — the BlackBerry takes its cues from MS Outlook and makes tasks due by date and time, whereas iCal on the Mac only supports tasks timed by date. As a result, tasks with due dates on the Mac will only sync one way to the BlackBerry, and tasks with due dates on the Blackberry will be wiped completely when synced back to the Mac. But this is far from a deal-breaker — an easy workaround is to enter your time sensitive tasks as all day events on your iCal calendar, and leave your to-do list for all those things you’ll never get to anyway, like “write your autobiography”, “solve world hunger”, “cure cancer” and so on…

PocketMac will faithfully sync your calendars and address book without a hitch, sync your sticky notes to your BlackBerry and actually make your Safari browser useful again (you’re all using Firefox, I hope!) by syncing its bookmarks to a dedicated app on your handheld.

By now you’re all thinking I’ve fallen under that CrackBerry spell, and you’re absolutely right. My ugly little brick has been shipped back to the vendor for replacement (it had a nasty not-so-little scratch across its screen) and going back to my hiptop hasn’t been the visceral thrill it was when I first started using it.

Of course I think every mobile should have a camera on it, but I must confess that I’ve actually made very little use of my hiptop’s built-in imager. It’s still a wonderful thing to have your data auto-magically synched to a network server and available to any connected computer on the planet, but unless you use Windows your precious info is forever locked in to the hiptop’s walled garden. As someone who’s fairly anal about making backups, it’s nice to own my address book again!

And if could just get my hands on one of those new 3G CrackBerries then people in Japan and Korea could look down their nose at me!

By Andrew

Mobile phones, Linux and copyright reform. Those go together, right?


  1. This is very helpful. I’ve been considering joining the scores of Crackberry addicts. I still remain undecided, but better informed! 🙂

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