Blackberry 8800 Notes
I've created a home page for the browser because the standard one won't let me delete those helpful Cingular sites. It helps to enable tables for this site: menu/options/browser configuration/support HTML tables.
I've finally found a theme I like. It is the Flamboyant theme, and it is free. I use a midnight blue background. You can create any background you like (320 wide, 240 high in pixels, save as jpg or png). Or just go here on your device, save it to your sd card (menu click then save), and then choose it as a home screen (you can do this in one step while saving). I use a midnight blue Yahoo version displayed on the right (which makes the selections on the today screen more apparent); here is a black one and another.
Also consider the Satin theme, which was my previous favorite, using my own background as above (the stock background is a satin sheet).
Here are my criteria for a theme. First, the font must be legible. I like BB clarity; Flamboyant uses an arial type font that renders well. Second, I like a "today" screen that tells me my next two calendar entries and most recent emails. Satin has links to messenger, browser, address book and applications as well. Third, the application icons need to be clear and easy to understand, but more importantly, you need to be able to tell which one is selected. The various iphone style themes fail this -- the selected icon is barely outlined. Both Satin and Flamboyant themes have clear icons with different colors, small enough so high-lighted ones are very clear.
The programs I am using regularly are:
travel clock, free.
B411, restaurant etc. search, free.
Viigo, RSS feed, free.
Dollars 5 Media Player, $20. Plays video full screen.
Google Maps, free.
Scientific Calculator, $13.
Yahoo! Go, free. Over the air.
I took FreeRange off and replaced it with Viigo. I tested Newsgator, but it seems worse than Viigo. It is slower, it doesn't cache much (so I can't read on airplanes) and indeed seems to need to connect just to display results. Viigo lets me delete messages older than a specified day in all feeds, which is a very useful option, one that I use frequently. Finally, Viigo only requires the BB, while one sets up newsgator on the PC and then pipes it to the BB. This might be good if you use newsgator on your PC, but if you don't, it is a nuisance since trying and then deleting a feed requires using the PC.
B411 is a location-aware search engine for businesses like restaurants, with movie times and sports scores. It is pretty useful. You can download it directly into your blackberry here.
This is a simple travel clock. It has the ability to show current time and date for four cities on one screen.
My trackball quit going up. After what, 3 weeks? The normal fix -- spin it fast a bunch of times -- didn't work. What did work was escalation 2, prying the silver ring off, which lets the trackball assembly drop out (careful!), then using compressed air both in the hole and on the assembly. I did not disassemble the trackball assembly, which looks very easy to wreck or lose miniscule parts. This procedure worked fine and it is working like new, but hopefully I don't have to do this every three weeks!
Yahoo! Go for the BB 8800 is out. The link is both the PC site and the mobile (OTA) download. Good mapping, useful information.
The Our Man Flint mp3, for use as a ringtone if you like. Click on it in the browser, it will automatically download, then give you an opportunity to play. It is a bit harsh.
After several false starts and problems, I have developed a means of encoding video which plays back on the BB8800 without stuttering or stopping, which is a common problem. First, download the free program Super@". The relevant output settings for this program are:
Settings that work reliably for me, no stuttering:
Use Directshow NOT checked
Options: H Quality
DVD language: Default
These settings work reliably and don't cause the stuttering or outright stopping of the video I was getting.
The native video player won't play videos in full screen, but there is also a third-party media player app out there that DOES support full-screen vids on the 8800 series....go to Dollars 5 Media Player does. Over the Air Download. This will also shuffle music, a feature lacking in the standard player. Worth $20? You be the judge.
At week two, I purchased a scientific calculator from lygea.com, $13. In a way, Lygea has been quite clever at working around the lack of a touchscreen. But the calculator is clearly a compromise between a financial calculator and a scientific one. I wish it had a "scientific mode" where things like exponentiation and logs didn't require alt keys.
I tried and then dumped telenav, which came installed on the Blackberry. It is probably a bit better than Google Maps in some respects -- it offers voice instructions, for example -- but it isn't worth $10/month over Google maps, and it only supports north America. Google Maps is a pretty nice application on the BB. It is relatively easy to find things and take a larger or smaller view. Dragging the map requires a data download but it does try to preload the map. Pretty nice. It has the problem of the PC version that the directions aren't always optimal, but for finding an address and driving there, it is acceptable, especially since it is free. Google Maps is a big advantage for the phone.
BB Today is a pretty nice application. It creates a Windows Mobile style today screen, with mail, calendar items, stock quotes, weather, time and date, battery status. It has a few bugs -- tomorrow's all day appointments appear today (and tomorrow) -- and is missing the natural feature that clicking on something doesn't take you anywhere, but it is free and has a small footprint.
I got Zagat transferred. It requires a data download for every use, storing almost nothing on the Blackberry, so is slow. It can't be used off-line, on airplanes, etc. I can't see renewing it, since it isn't that much better than using a web search; the thing that made it valuable was off-line search. I miss vindigo.
I put music and video files on the card. The music files were easy and sound quite nice, better than the native Windows Mobile player. There doesn't seem to be a random or shuffle play. I find this peculiar and often used random on previous phones. Video is frustrating. It claims to support windows media files (wmv) but these would not play. I converted the settings to match the specs and it didn't work. The same was true for avi files using an mpeg4 engine, created with ulead video. On the other hand, using this free program created files that played just fine, with good audio, although the video was compressed to about half the screen in both dimensions. I've posted a better solution above.
I've completed my first week with a Blackberry 8800. I was forced into this by employer, who currently isn't supporting any other portable device for email. This means I have switched from a Palm Treo to a Windows Mobile 5 to the Blackberry all in the space of 15 months. I've just finally gotten the T-Mobile MDA where it does everything I need to be mobile with just that device, and now I have to abandon it?
Here are my initial gripes.
- There is no place to attach a strap on the BB 8800. I generally carry my phone in my shirt pocket with a strap to keep it from falling out. I'm not the only one; what phone, camera, small losable gadget doesn't have a spot for a strap?
- It uses a non-standard mini-USB charger. This means my 3 mini-USB chargers don't work and I can't walk into a Radio Shack and buy one if my travel one breaks. I might be able to walk into a phone store, if they sell Blackberries. In addition, to charge from a PC, you have to run a program (the BB desktop will do it, but if the PC doesn't have the desktop, there is a driver that will do it). Thus you can't just plug in a BB into any computer, but only to a computer configured to charge a BB.
- The 2.5mm earphone jack has a non-standard connection, so that my $100 headphones don't work, nor do any normal 2.5mm to 3.5mm converters to use better headphones. This is simply infuriating -- the shape of the plug is the same, but the connections are different. BB has a better excuse than it has for the USB charger, since they had to decide where the microphone connection would go, but did it have to go where the left speaker connection normally goes? As far as I can tell, Blackberry itself is the only company selling a compatible headset, although Seidio has a converter so that you can use normal headphones with the Blackberry.
- I had lots of programs -- Zagat, a diet program, organizers, an RSS reader, etc. -- on the windows mobile device. Not only do none of them have Blackberry versions, but there aren't even equivalent programs. Plus, the programs that do exist are wildy expensive compared to equivalents for Windows Mobile. This is really extreme in Word, Excel, etc., which come included in Windows Mobile but are $200 for the Blackberry. FreeRange, a free RSS reader, is pretty good. I may eventually succeed in transferring my Zagat subscription to BB, but it is online only, so no reading on the airplane.
- The desktop media program doesn't write to the media card by default, instead giving a "space full" complaint.
- I can't figure out how to synchronize my contact list, tasks and notes wirelessly with MS exchange. The options that show up in the manual just aren't present in my device. I managed to do it using the desktop synchronization software, but if I could do it over the air, I wouldn't ever need to synchronize with the desktop, since it also synchronizes with exchange. (Note: I eventually accomplished this with the desktop synchronization software.)
- Adding a second email account is klugy.
- There seems to be no mechanism for adding an automatic signature in a reply email, which WM5 had. In fact, the signature file doesn't seem to work at all, even though it is visible and set to 'enable=yes'.
- It is kind of a weird shape for a phone, not that this is uncommon in the market.
- I haven't found a scientific calculator that I like. There were lots of free scientific calculators for WM5, but I'll probably wind up paying $20 for half the calculator.
Here is what I like
- It is really easy to use. After adjusting the top screen to have the number of icons that fit, everything I use regularly is immediately reachable and visible.
- The trackball works amazingly well.
- The device is really solid and slender. I can carry it in the same front pocket that holds my wallet.
- It is very fast with data transfer. Windows Mobile pushes a lot of data to accomplish simple tasks. I got a couple of these programs that measure GPRS data flow, and they indicated that downloading 10 4KB emails used as much as 200KB of data. Indeed, my data usage -- doing the same things -- was TEN TIMES the usage of the Handspring Treo. The blackberry loads websites so quickly that it is clear it has less overhead than the Windows Mobile operating system.
- It synchronizes wirelessly and push email works very well.
- It synchronizes with the PC smoothly and correctly -- Windows Mobile always had synch problems and there are large help sites devoted to fixing activesync failures.
- I like the ability to color code email by which account it came to, since I use two accounts, but is there a way to eliminate the stripes?
- The free RSS reader, FreeRange, is pretty good.