Trying to work out why BlackBerries are so popular (I still don’t get it)

Whilst the United States is going iPhone crazy, over on this side of the pond we can’t get one yet… so life goes on.

BlackBerry 7100vA couple of weeks back, I was given a BlackBerry to use at work (until I can get my hands on a Windows-powered phone – one of my colleagues had a greater need than I for the Palm Treo 750v we snagged but there are some new models coming soon on Vodafone
that I can’t talk about but which look pretty cool).

So, if I want a Windows Mobile device (for work) why am I even looking at the BlackBerry? Firstly, I was given it to try (my Nokia 6021 is a bit beaten up these days) and secondly, I’m intrigued as to why these things are held in almost universal acclaim by senior executives, causing chaos in IT departments up and down the country who don’t want to support a (proprietary) messaging platform in addition to their corporate e-mail on Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino (and even leading to the nicknaming of London’s Jubilee line between the West End and Canary Wharf as the Blackberry line).

I’ve re-written this post a few times over the last couple of weeks because as I’ve used it, I’ve warmed to the BlackBerry:

  • At first I hated the interface (what is it about mobile phones that, almost without exception, they have such appalling user interfaces?) but that was improved by a software upgrade.
  • I didn’t like that I had to buy a USB 2.0 A to mini 5pin cable to charge the device – and battery life is poor – I get about day’s worth of (light) use for voice only (I know that smartphones are battery-hungry but I don’t have a data plan to use it properly… all I do was make and receive calls). As it happens, the fact that I can use a standard cable to charge the device via USB is pretty useful.
  • I’ve discovered features like the auto on/off capabilities which could have a real use for me (I have a personal phone which friends and family can use to contact me 24×7 – and even though one of my friends recent described me as having workaholic tendencies the work phone is not normally answered in the evening or at weekends).
  • Once you get used the the scroll-click wheel and the button next to it, the user interface becomes a lot easier to navigate – and the 240×260 screen is excellent for viewing photos, although there is no card slot for additional memory (and getting pictures onto the device without a data plan is cumbersome). It looks quite good and feels comfortable in my hand (size and weight). Unfortunately though, I found the keyboard difficult to use – a pretty major failing on a device like this (I think the problem is that it has a qwerty layout but it feels like a mobile phone, so my fingers and thumbs want it to be arranged alphabetically).

I’m not trying to write a product review (for that, refer to Lord Percy or The Register and anyway this particular device is a bit old now so I’m not sure how useful any review that I wrote would be)… this is more of a “this is what I found when I tried to use it” post – I’m hoping that my experience may be useful for others too:

  • After inserting my SIM card, all of my calls went to voicemail – it seems that before you can use the device as a phone you have to turn the wireless on. Not realising that this model doesn’t have WiFi capabilities I thought that “wireless” was referring to IEEE802.11b/g but no – the wireless in question is the GSM radio that is required in order to connect to a mobile carrier.
  • Not having any manuals, etc., I had to find out what the device was first so that I could Google for some help. IMEI number analysis didn’t help (probably because this was originally an evaluation unit), but I eventually discovered that there is an option/setting labelled about, which tells me I have a Blackberry 7100 Wireless Handheld and a bit more searching confirms that its the Blackberry 7100v.
  • I noticed that I still had the previous user’s contacts loaded, so I wanted to wipe the phone – there doesn’t appear to be a delete all option for contacts, so the resolution I used (found on BlackBerry Forums) was:
    • Install Blackberry Desktop Manager (4.2), followed by the BlackBerry Handheld Software v4.1.0.314 for Vodafone (UK) – both of these were downloaded from RIM after searching Google. Following the software update, the device had a totally different (much improved) look and feel. The installation also worked on Windows Vista, despite not being listed as compatible (I ran the installer as an Administrator)
    • Open the BlackBerry Desktop Manager application and create a connection to the device (Connection Settings… from the Options menu).
    • To delete the old data from within Desktop Manager, select Backup and Restore and click the Advanced… button. Select the appropriate device databases (multiples can be selected by Control or Shift clicking) then click Clear.
  • I don’t have a connection to a BlackBerry e-mail service – effectively I’m using the device as a PDA and a phone, but it ought to be possible to set up the BlackBerry as a GPRS modem (not by Bluetooth, but using a USB connection). Unfortunately that’s not working (it should – using the same SIM in my Nokia 6021 allows me to browse the web using GPRS) but I’m unlikely to get anywhere with Vodafone unless I sign up for a BlackBerry service. My BlackBerry alternates between GSM and gprs (depending on signal strength/cell coverage) but never shows GPRS because:
    • GSM – GRPS is not enabled (contact your mobile carrier to sign up to a GPRS plan.
    • gprs (in lower case) – GRPS is enabled, but not been set up for use with a BlackBerry device.
    • GPRS (in upper case) – both GRPS and BlackBerry are enabled, (the service should be enabled for BlackBerry Enterprise Server if Exchange Server connectivity is required, rather than BlackBerry Internet Server).

Even though I’ve warmed to the BlackBerry (and newer models like the curve and the pearl are attractive), I’m still not a convert. Exchange Server 2003 SP2 offers push e-mail too (as does Exchange Server 2007), without requiring another layer of complexity in the organisational IT infrastructure. The dependency on a data plan for even basic things like transferring pictures to/from the device is also a hassle. The jury’s still out on my choice of handset for a personal phone (an iPhone would be nice… but do I really need something that expensive… or on a carrier other than Vodafone? It would be nice to have a decent camera in the device I choose… like the one in the Nokia N95… but last time I had a Symbian smartphone I didn’t get on with the interface. Then again, there are devices like the HTC touch… arghhh, brain overload… too much choice) – in any case, if I have any influence over the selection of my next handset for business it will be running Windows Mobile 6.

3 thoughts on “Trying to work out why BlackBerries are so popular (I still don’t get it)


  1. Was a big windows mobile fan ever since the 1st devices came out but was forced to move away from them a few years ago after bad experiences with basic functionality:

    # intermittent ‘unable to answer call’ messages when pick up a call
    # alarms would not always go off when scheduled
    # system crashes
    # bulky / battery life
    # slow user interface through having to use a pen

    Blackberry is rock solid reliable, the cost of running a hands off BES server can be offset by the reduced support calls from end users. I wish the windows mobile devices concentrated on reliability at the start rather than jumping in with too many features and taking 5+ years to get the reliablity of core functionality pinned down.

    The 7100 is 3 or 4 generations old, the later models are light and day better :)


  2. What I hate about the 7100v is that it does not support applications such as mxit, mig33 and certain java apps as well. I’ve been having issues with email as well, after just a few months PUSH has stopped working completely! I tired of defending it JUST because its a BlackBerry!

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