Though things looked a bit shaky for a while, BlackBerry manufacturer, Research In Motion, finally settled its longstanding dispute with NTP Inc. and recently shipped new versions of its Enterprise Server software and, more importantly, its software development kits (SDKs). If we learned anything from the company's legal mess, was how much people rely on these devices to stay in touch.
Ease of use
The darling of corporate America (and many areas of government) wouldn't be so universally adored if it was complicated. Although an interface driven entirely by a thumbwheel might seem awkward and slow, users invariably find it easy to learn and quick to operate. Admittedly, the lack of a stylus and a touch screen--staples of other PDAs--slows down certain operations (like hitting a link on a Web page), but the beloved built-in keyboard accelerates others, such as composing e-mail. Ultimately, the BlackBerry interface may not be the most efficient, but it's certainly one of the easiest to use.
The BlackBerry operating system does a better job managing your contacts than managing your calendar. The Address Book applet offers all the amenities you'd expect, plus contact grouping and unsurpassed integration with the phone and messaging applications. To send someone an e-mail, for instance, you simply highlight the person's name, press the click wheel, and then select "E-mail Joe Smith." There's no need to open the contact's record and navigate extra menus.
The calendar on BlackBerrys is a bit unwieldy by comparison, perhaps due to the awkward process for navigating between different days and views. The Week view is particularly cumbersome, requiring serious "wheeling" to move the cursor from one day to the next. The Calendar applet itself is sufficiently capable, but it suffers under the weight of the wheel-based interface.
RIM also supplies the obligatory memo pad and to-do list, along with an alarm clock, a calculator, a photo viewer, and a password manager--all functional but rudimentary applets.
Like a traditional PDA, a BlackBerry can synchronize with your PC, swapping data with Outlook or Lotus Notes; the bundled Intellisync utility makes this possible. Of course, the BlackBerry operating system also provides robust wireless synchronization, meaning new appointments, contacts, memos, and tasks can be "pushed" from your office to your handheld (and back again), just like e-mail. That gives BlackBerrys a fairly major advantage over PDAs that rely on more-traditional synchronization methods.
Although the BlackBerry operating system supports the big three Office applications--Word, Excel, and PowerPoint--it limits you to viewing documents. You can't compose new ones or do any editing, which is surprising given the presence of a perfectly good thumb keyboard. As for PDFs, the operating system can open them as well, but it strips most graphics and formatting in the process, leaving you with little more than text.
They don't call them CrackBerrys for nothing. The RIM BlackBerry Curve showcases the great e-mail capabilities of these devices.
Ever wonder about the origin of the "CrackBerry" nickname? In a word: e-mail. It's what the devices were born to do, so it should come as no surprise that they excel at it. Ironically, it's not the e-mail applet itself that's so addictive (though it deserves kudos for its streamlined efficiency), but rather the "push" method of e-mail delivery. Instead of having to be retrieved manually, new messages just appear like magic on the device. Although Palm and Microsoft have engineered similar systems for their smartphones, BlackBerry remains the undisputed e-mail champ.
Fully cognizant of the BlackBerry's reputation as a serious business tool, RIM has limited multimedia features on its devices in the past, but that's all changing now. Starting with the first RIM BlackBerry Pearl, all current devices include built-in media players for playing music and videos, and with the exception of the most business-oriented models, all have integrated cameras, the latest featuring video recording capabilities. While the capabilities of the media player and camera are slightly limited, BlackBerry is certainly making strides on the multimedia front.
Software developers haven't shown BlackBerrys the same love that users have. We found only a few hundred third-party applications, a drop in the bucket compared with the thousands available for the Palm, Symbian, and Windows Mobile platforms. The essentials are there--a password manager, a Sudoku game, the popular RepliGo document viewer, and so on--and RIM promises plenty more. But for now, the software pickings remain somewhat slim when compared to the other operating systems.