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Blackberry 101

Despite my protests to never become “one of those Blackberry owners”, I have, for the past three months, sadly and somewhat hypocritically, become a proud owner of a Blackberry Curve.

After three months of fairly heavy usage, I’ve compiled a list of 12 suggestions and impressions for people who are looking at making a purchase or wondering what the big deal about these devices is:

  1. Get a good high-speed unlimited Internet wireless service. The Blackberry Curve is cool because it is one of the only Blackberry devices to have a camera. But, if all you wanted was a camera on your mobile device, you could’ve gotten any number of cell phones. What the Blackberry excels at is in email and Internet applications. Thus, unless you have a service that allows the Blackberry to do what it’s supposed to (mainly, email and Internet), then you shouldn’t even consider getting one of these. It’d be like buying a car but never intending to buy gasoline.
  2. Check with your firm (if this is for work) if they have a Blackberry Enterprise Server. If they are (which is probably the case if your firm uses specialized Microsoft Outlook features to handle email and scheduling), check with your firm’s tech group about which type of Blackberry service you need to purchase. Not listening to them will mean, at best, that your Blackberry device won’t be able to use some of the cooler features (i.e. scheduling meetings through Outlook), and at worse, it means your Blackberry might not work at all. Note also, that while many devices support some type of Blackberry service/software, most of these emulated Blackberrys can’t read from a Blackberry Enterprise Server.
  3. Download Gmail’s Java Application. I assume you’re using gmail, because it’s the best, free web-email I’ve seen. If you’re not, go get gmail (for the reason, refer to the previous sentence). Then, go download the Gmail Java application which allows you to use the Gmail UI features (ie labels for email, organize mail by conversations, large space limit, forwarding at will, etc.) while accessing your gmail. If your job is going to be pinging you all day, then you might as well have access to your personal email while you’re at it.
  4. To combine your Blackberry and your phone, or not to combine, that is the question. I personally don’t want to lug around two mobile devices wherever I go (assuming I only want to pay for one voice plan — which, I do, because I don’t want to pay for two completely separate phone lines for two separate yet overlapping purposes), so I bought the Blackberry and swapped out the SIM card from my old phone and popped it into my Blackberry. This meant that I didn’t get the new service plan discounts on my Blackberry purchase, but on the upside, I did not have to change my cell phone number or anything. The major downside to this is . . .
  5. The Blackberry ties you to work. On the one hand, this has been a major time-saver for me and my team. I rarely turn on my work laptop on the weekends, now, because all the essential functions (checking email, firing replies, scheduling meetings/appointments) I can do from the Blackberry — and I can do any time and in any place that has phone service. On the other hand, especially because the device is the same as my phone and hence I don’t turn it off, I never get away from the email. This of course is mitigated by . . .
  6. Turn the email notification off. For the first couple of months, I left the notification on — which meant that every time I got an email from the office, no matter what the hour (and I discovered that some workers send emails at the oddest hours), my phone would vibrate at me. It got to the point where I could feel my blood pressure rise and the stressed out “fight-or-flight’ feeling build up every time I heard the darned thing vibrate. Now that it’s off, I feel much better. But, don’t you miss out on emails that way? No, because . . .
  7. You’ll check the Blackberry compulsively. I wouldn’t say that the device is necessarily addictive — although some people would disagree — if anything, I’d say it’s a godsend during boring interludes in conversations or when I’m riding a bus or a train and I have absolutely nothing to do. You just get in the habit of checking the device for no good reason. I’ve gone hours without looking at the device without any sense of withdrawal, of course addiction is partially genetic, and maybe I just lack the “easily addicted to small handheld smartphones” genetic makeup.
  8. GPS? Some Blackberries these days come with a GPS device which makes the mapping programs (I use the Google Maps applet) much more useful and much cooler. For those devices that lack a built-in GPS, you can use the device’s Bluetooth system to connect to a nearby GPS device to feed your Blackberry your position information.
  9. Buy a microSD expansion. These devices come with more or less no memory. If you plan to use any of the features at all (including downloading big attachments, using mobile Java applets like the Gmail and Google Maps ones I just described, using the camera, or using the music/movie player features) you’ll need more memory.
  10. The device charges on USB. Very useful for charging when you have a laptop and laptop cable but didn’t bring the bulky Blackberry adaptor.
  11. Consider how fat/clumsy your fingers are when you pick a device. I’m only partially joking here. Case in point: I really liked the Blackberry Pearl, the Blackberry’s general consumption model — it looked like a phone, was much smaller than the other models. Yet, it had two letters to a key, as opposed to the standard QWERTY keyboards that the other models had. That device, while cool-looking, was just not usable for me — and I have fairly small hands. I know people who say that it’s easy to get used to, but given that these smartphones already have tiny QWERTY keyboards, I feel strongly that if your fingers are large or maybe a little clumsy, that you avoid the Pearl and buy one of the QWERTY keyboard-bearing ones.
  12. Most of you actually reading this will probably get a Bluetooth hands-free headset thing. You will look like a big dork with no life outside of work. You will probably be a big dork with no life outside of work. You have been warned.

Incidentally, if anyone’s wondering why these things are called Blackberry’s, from Wikipedia:

RIM settled on the name “BlackBerry” only after weeks of work by Lexicon Branding Inc., the Sausalito, California-based firm that named Intel Corp.’s Pentium microprocessor and Apple’s PowerBook. One of the naming experts at Lexicon thought the miniature buttons on RIM’s product looked “like the tiny seeds in a strawberry,” Lexicon founder David Placek says. “A linguist at the firm thought straw was too slow sounding. Someone else suggested blackberry. RIM went for it.”

The “Strawberry”, huh? I picture my curve, but in pink. . .

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