Hoping for a happy Winter

Yesterday after work (and a nap) I figured I’d make my bleak Blackberry a bit more merry for the season.

This is the most cheerful this phone will ever get, I fear

This is the most cheerful this phone will ever get, I fear

I still haven’t been able to get rid of Bing (which wasn’t there when I first got the phone) thanks to Verizon sneaking in crapware, but aside from that, being my primary email phone and second line, it’s doing pretty well. Battery life is still abysmal though and I’ve been told this is an existing problem in the 9930 and 9900 series. Lovely!

Meanwhile my voice phone is the Samsung Galaxy Stellar which, contrary to nay sayers is actually pretty good despite not being as powerful newer models. I got it free with my renewal plan.

And this was taken with the Blackberry’s allegedly superior 5MP camera.

And these are the same lighting conditions. Can you believe it?

And these are the same lighting conditions. Can you believe it?

Grainy and out of focus? Check.
Tweaking settings have no effect? Check.

When Blackberry builds better products and stop riding on the coattails of its past achievements, it will be a successful company once again. I won’t be holding my breath.

Reception of the Stellar is on par with the Blackberry. I even lose high-speed internet, and all the bars even, at exactly the same locations while on the train (before the tunnel’s in sight). 4G — and Blackberry’s 3G — is confined to my apartment most of the time, when I don’t need it, and only at certain spots in New York. Because Verizon lies through its teeth about the 4G coverage. I noticed this happens mainly around Crestwood, back to full strength at Tuckahoe and Broxville, down again at Fleetwood and Woodlawn, back again at Williamsbridge through Botanical Gardens, somewhat spotty at Fordham and finally down again at Tremont and Melrose.

After Harlem the train is right about to enter Grand Central underground so naturally there should be no signal. Yet somehow, I get 2-3 bars around 10 seconds after we enter the tunnel.

I guess poor people really don’t need 4G.

Edit.

Just realized, this post’s ending was anything but happy, so here’s the balcony decoration my neighbors put up. Think they went a wee bit overboard?

It's a deer!

It’s a deer!

New Phone II

Well, it’s only been two days since I started using the new BlackBerry 9930 and I can now honestly say… I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong; for what it does, it’s very, very good. I can write my emails more easily, text faster, attachments are painless, though I can credit this to our IT department, which *cough* includes yours truly. I can modify office documents painlessly, take better notes, organize practically everything. I can properly multitask during a call, which was pretty shaky at best on the Vortex, and perform many other acrobatic feats.

But there remains one overriding fact that until now I wasn’t able to put my finger on.

It’s Sterile

When I go over my old LG Vortex : It’s slow, has abysmal local storage, a less refined GPS, no GSM capability (the BB can switch networks from CDMA to GSM on-the-fly) so it’s stuck to Verizon, no QWERTY keyboard. The camera is blurry on most photos without an excellent light source, no LED flash, has an average sound quality, freezes constantly when editing documents, doesn’t properly sync or syncs very late with my email (sometimes by hours). It’s got scratches all over from being shoved into my pocket with my keys.

Most of the time, when I really needed to depend on it for some heavy lifting, I couldn’t.

This is usually every Tuesday

By every conceivable measure, my LG Vortex is an order of magnitude inferior to the mighty BB, so I should be falling head over heels for it.

But I can’t love this phone.

A BlackBerry device just doesn’t have a soul, as arbitrary and cheesy as that sounds.

Using a BlackBerry is really like walking into a board room. You can be extremely productive depending on your dexterity and competence as well as the cooperation of the tools co-workers, but you’re still in a board room. It’s not your home, your room, your fortress of solitude. In the end, it’s all about work and productivity and a hefty dose of chest-thumping at owning the gadget (BRIAN!) and no amount of multi-color clips, cases, stickers, bedazzles or desktop themes will fix that.

Then there’s the Market

Or Google Play as it’s called now. No amount of browsing on “App World” for BB returned anything as interesting or creative as on Google Play. Granted, Play has a huge advantage due to the sheer volume of Android devices in the market drawing more developers, but App World draws crowds that just want to do work most of the time with a minor diversion here and there in between.

By far, the most interesting thing I came across App World is the Ghost Radar.

It’s taps into all the sensors of the phone, effectively turning it into a Star Trek style Tricorder of sorts.

And I’ve been living under a rock apparently, because this app has also been available for Android and on iTunes for some time now.

From the App World page,

Ghost Radar™ is an portable application designed to detect paranormal activity. Ghost Radar™ attempts to detect paranormal activity by using various sensors on the device on which it is running. Like traditional paranormal detecting equipment Ghost Radar™ employs sensors that measure electromagnetic fields, vibrations, and sounds. However, traditional paranormal equipment can be easily fooled when simple mundane bursts of normal electromagnetic fields, vibrations and sounds occur. Ghost Radar™ sets itself apart by analyzing the readings from sensors giving indications only when interesting patterns in the readings have been made.

Please visit http://www.spudpickles.com/GhostRadar for more information.

Note: results from this application can not be verified scientifically and therefore should be used for entertainment purposes.

I love the disclaimer at the end. But see, apps like these are numerous on Google Play, which makes its appearance on App World stand out a lot. Reading the comments on some of these apps, I somehow felt that most BB users, or at least the app reviewers, are unhappy people… even on the 5 star ones.

No Rooting

You can’t modify your BB software or OS in any way like you can on an Android. Even on an iPhone, it’s still a bit tricky due to the propietary setup and I have no experience with Windows Phones. You can even get an Android OEM phone (no label or label removed directly from the manufacturer) and got to town on it by modifying anything you please. You can even write your own apps for it if you wish so the possibilities are endless. The walled garden of App World, while it makes things more secure, leaves an odd taste in my mouth. Or maybe it’s just the color scheme?

It’s a bit like feeling like a boarder in your own home. Why am I a stranger, forbidden from exploring every nook and cranny where I live?

And Verizon didn’t help

Leave it to this company to add aggravation when there’s no room for more. After the 5th time deleting its junk applications from the Service Book, I finally managed to keep them out, I think. They haven’t reinstalled themselves yet, but I don’t think I’ll keep the service on the phone around any longer to find out. I still can’t seem to get rid of Bing search.

Just having Bing on the phone, when it didn’t before and now against my will, somehow makes it seem defiled.

My wireless provider in Sri Lanka is Mobitel (I got sick of Dialog even though they’re more popular) and when I switched to GSM on the BB, it automatically connected with AT&T. Apparently Mobitel roaming is provided by them here. I think I’m still able to receive text messages from SL on the Mobitel sim, so I’ll leave it in for now and use an AT&T prepaid SIM on this phone to make calls later.

I’m not too exited about about signing up for a 2-year contract again with Verizon just to get another Android phone, but it’s a better alternative than shelling out more cash to buy a different phone. Besides, on a few of my client locations, Verizon is usually the only provider with enough coverage.

Now if only I can figure out how to remove bloody Bing search from my phone.

New Phone

After 2 years of solid service, my trusty LG Vortex was betrayed by my own butter fingers; a 4 foot drop was all that was needed to ruin the old man. I can still use WiFi, take photos and make calls, but everyone else just hears mangled audio and I hear nothing. Ah well…

LG Vortex

I’ve been hounded by everyone on Earth, it seems, to get an iPhone, but my aversion to the newest and shiniest kept me from diving in. Might as well, since this whole Apple Device ID hack came to light. My boss at the night job is rubbing it in to everyone with iPhones “well, you know something like this would never happen on a BlackBerry. Hooaugh, hooaugh, hooagh, hooagh!” … Yes, Brian, that’s really how you laugh.

But since he’s stuck to one brand for ages and BlackBerry does have a reputation for security (plus it’s easier to tie into our email and send encrypted messages), I went with his recommendation and bought a 9930.

First impression

The GPS is exceptionally accurate, quick to lock on (with network location on) and both Google Maps and BB Maps work well. BB Maps is definitely simpler and has a nifty speedometer, which kept my attention as I walked a brisk 5mph to catch the train this morning, and almost fell off the platform (now I know how those accidents happen).

The camera, despite the 5 megapixel claim to the contrary, is still rubbish on closeup photos (even with settings tweaking) as seen above when I took a pic of the old phone with it. Compare that with the one taken with the Vortex of the BB at an even closer distance.

I think I’ll still keep my Vortex around for closeups.

The keyboard, which is very, very, very nice still took some getting used to. But the experience it makes when sending an email, and sounding coherent and professional, is exceptional. Even on a touch phone, I don’t see why it’s so hard to type “you” instead of “u”, but I guess it’s just not fashionable compared to spewing Txtspeak.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the vibrant Google Play ecosystem for apps, even though I only have ten installed, but the “App World” on BlackBerry feels really sparse by comparison. Also, having to restart the phone after app install and uninstall is a terrible bore. I’ve only had to do that with one app on the Vortex, which is running Android 2.2. BB OS 7 on the 9930 takes a loooong time to restart, with a minute being normal after app install/uninstall and it took a full 4 minutes after an OS update to 7.1.

BB gets around that by making an ordinary shutdown, not really shut the phone down. I.E. It puts it into something like a sleep mode. To “fully” shutdown the phone, you first “fake” shutdown (hold down power or use the shutdown app) and then pull the battery. And that’s a bit silly. There’s an app available to “fully” shutdown the phone, but I don’t know why RIM can’t just can’t include it in an OS update.

Everything else was all hunky dory, until I took a gander at the manual. Specifically, page 29 :

Carrying solutions, including RIM approved carrying solutions and carrying solutions not approved by RIM, that do not come equipped with an integrated belt clip SHOULD NOT be worn or carried on the body.

Oh, brilliant. Now I can get a tumor in half the time as my old phone. So I need to get a different clip instead of the nifty “clip-free” case that came with the phone or wear a helmet, vest and underwear made of Depleted Uranium.

The extra transmission power and receive sensitivity does make a difference in call quality though. Everyone I’ve spoken to so far says, my voice is much clearer than before. I get more bars in the kitchen and bathroom (not that I use the phone there) and there were no interruptions even in the elevator.

Verdict: It’s… different

I’m not quite sure whether I’m going to be as enthusiastic about it as my boss, but then again, I’ve never been all that Gung Ho about phones to begin with. In my view, the prime function of technology is to be functional. All else, including aesthetics, can be extra, provided they add to functionality and not hinder it. The 9930 is very good phone, but a bit too expensive for what it really is: A secure mobile computer with a few bells and whistles that also happen to be able to make calls.

The phone is capable of both CDMA and GSM technology, which is excellent if you want to travel outside the country or feel like swapping carriers. Both networks can be on standby, so you should be able to receive a call on either one. You can switch networks by going into Options (wrench/spanner icon) > Networks and Connections > Mobile Network and selecting the “Network Technology”.

1XEV is CDMA, in my case Verizon, and of course GSM/UMTS is for AT&T, T-Mobile et al.

If you’re on Verizon, you can login or register at verizonwireless.com, and go to My Verizon > Activate or Switch Device and follow the instructions. The required IMEI number can be obtained by going into Options > Device > Device Status Information and scrolling down. I had to enter the MEID (hex) version with no spaces since the others didn’t seem to work on the site.

To make sure GPS works, go into Options > Device > Location Settings and set “Location Services” to “Location On”. Or if you’re worried about privacy, then set it to E911 Only so at least the emergency services will be able to track you in case you fall off a cliff or get lost in the woods or something.

Side note: Verizon still sucks

Verizon is, as usual is the biggest annoyance. They decided to push VZ Navigator and a bunch of other junk apps on the phone as soon as it was activated. Deleting them (Options > Device > Advanced System Settings > Service Book, and pressing the Menu key (the BB logo button on the phone) > Delete) only gets rid of them temporarily. After the next restart or sometimes after an hour or so, the apps will find themselves back on the phone. And I bought this phone unlocked, not from Verizon, so they really have no right to do this to my property.

Worse yet, I’m sure these are being pushed over 3G and not my WiFi, so it may be eating into my data plan.

I feel like filing a FCC complaint.

This reminds me of something a friend told me in Sri Lanka. “Americans don’t seem to understand the concept of owning a phone”. You see, in the rest of the world, when you go to the shop and buy a phone, it’s really yours. I.E. You pop in a SIM for a carrier of your choice and chat away. Get bored of the carrier or the number? Switch the SIM to something else and change numbers just like that.

I don’t know if this is unique to Sri Lankans, but the island folks take this to the extreme as even people with little means seem to have two or three numbers and in some cases, two or three cellphones.

My aunt has four. Seriously.

Now there’s no freedom like that here. You’re not only a slave to a contract,  you have to quietly accept whatever is being pushed on you without your consent. Try that there and watch out for the pitchforks and torches. Which, unlike here where it’s just a saying, they really do have pitchforks and torches.