Technophobia is a column by James Hardy. Views expressed are not necessarily those of Digixav.
In spring this year, I bought a new phone. I’d looked around for a while for the best deal. As it turned out, I got a pretty decent one. Free phone plus £12 pounds per month, 1GB of internet, around 100 minutes and some (but not enough) texts with a 24 month contract on Virgin. I had a choice between a BlackBerry Curve 8520 and a HTC Wildfire S. I went for the BlackBerry. Not a good decision.
For starters, it turns out Virgin are a bunch of wankers. Over the summer, I went on holiday abroad. For this, I rang Virgin up and got them to turn my internet off so when I returned I didn’t have a phone bill which was in the squillions. After numerous phone calls, this went OK. When I got back, I rang them back up to get them to switch it back on. Two weeks later, nothing had happened. Many hours of frustrating phone calls to some call centre in Uzbekistan later, I finally got through to someone who seemed to know vaguely what they were talking about who assured me all would be sorted. Almost two months after my initial phone call, I still didn’t have internet. After many stressful hours of my life which I will never get back, finally my internet got switched on. And the signal I get is pretty horrendous. And a 24 month contract! What was I thinking? I am now stuck with a phone which I don’t like for the next 18 months.
Virgin hatred over, I shall move on to the phone itself.
First of all, the BlackBerry App World. It is appalling. The free apps you find which are actually worth keeping for more than a week are all but non-existent. I have found one so far: Pixelated. The fact that graphics, quality and controls are pretty limited on the phone is going to be a pretty big drawback for any app developers.
The internet on the Curve is slow. Seriously slow. It can take upwards of a minute just to load a page like BBC Sport. For a phone to be released in 2009 without a GSM 3G radio was an abysmal oversight by RIM, and it was something that I assumed would be present when I signed my contract. The camera on it is also pretty dire. I think it’s 2MP. The picture quality is very poor and it won’t let you record a video unless you buy a memory card. Some people do not have a microSD card handy, and I wouldn’t even want to film in jerky and blurry whatever the crappy resolution is.
The phone struggles with multitasking. Far too often that irritating little timer appears in the middle of the screen, signalling the fact that I won’t be able to do anything until it disappears, normally at least 30 seconds later. At times the timer just doesn’t go away, so I am forced to take the battery out and put it in again, which means the phone decides to take a good five minutes to restart itself. Sometimes, when it’s doing god knows what, it takes more than half a minute just to respond to me pressing the unlock key.
And there are annoying little niggles with it. When I press the mute button to unlock the phone, it takes me straight to the music screen. It’s small, but annoying. Although it has fixed itself now, for a while the zoom on the camera didn’t work. And when you open the QR code scanner, if you don’t scan a code then you can’t close it, so you are forced to take the battery out and put it in again.
As you no doubt know, a couple of months ago, BlackBerry service shut down, for no apparent reason. And it wasn’t a complete internet thing; I could still use a Flixster app to get movie reviews, even though it needs the internet to work. The communication from RIM was a nightmare. I thought it was just my phone until I asked other BlackBerry owners. Then, they announced it was back up and running. Which it wasn’t. A few days later, it finally got back on. There was no explanation from RIM, just an apology with a few crappy apps, most of which refused to run on my 512MHz CPU.
I am focusing on the bad bits of the Curve here. There are good points too. BBM is a very good service when nobody flicks a switch in Slough. The phone looks great, and feels sturdy and well-built. The trackpad works very smoothly, and the layout of the phone is great.
RIM can change for the better. With QNX and the promise of Android apps coming to BlackBerry devices will vastly improve the shoddy software experience. If the next generations of phones come equipped with ‘4G’ LTE and HSPA+ radios then the internet problems will be gone. If BBM can stay up and running whenever we need it and they open it up at last to owners of Android, iOS and other smartphones then it will become the dominant mobile messaging platform. iMessage and ChatOn will die. Design quality seems to be getting better as I would say the new Bold 9900 looks very nice and the touch interaction is useful and the cameras are much improved on newer devices. Dual core or even quad core chips will bring the hardware specs in line with the high end Android handsets and will make the software less laggy and therefore more desirable. It’s not all doom and gloom for RIM.
So, I wouldn’t say that BlackBerries are terrible phones. My 8520 is not bad. It just needs a lot of work on it. RIM need to give it a better processor, a better camera that we expect from new smartphones, a much better wireless antenna like the Pearl and fix the software bugs. They should speed up the internet and give the graphics an upgrade, and find a way to encourage app developers to use the App World more. When BBX launches, it will entice developers but RIM need to make some massive overhauls for them to stay around and forget about iOS and Android.
But, for now, I’m just stuck with this phone for the next 18 months of my life.