Regular readers may remember that back in June, I wrote a post taking the pompous “tech press” to task for characterizing the maker of the BlackBerry as headed for extinction (Earth to the tech punditocracy: Research in Motion is still very much alive). That post ended up being very well-received. Though The Advocate is not a business blog, the post got a mention from Forbes and was circulated by investors on message boards, which gave it a wide audience.
Several months have elapsed since that post was published, and as I and many other defenders of RIM had hoped, the company has finally succeeded in pushing out its new line of smartphones to market, in partnership with its many carrier partners in the United States and Canada.
In my view and that of other BlackBerry users, these new devices more than live up to their expectations. Unfortunately, some tech writers are unfairly giving them lackluster reviews. Rachel Metz of The Associated Press decided to try out three of the new BlackBerrys at about the same time. Rather than offering an unbiased discussion of strengths and weaknesses, her review consisted of a series of random observations and impressions — mostly negative.
Take this tidbit, which was not only negative but uninformed:
I did notice, though, that at least with The New York Times’ website, the older Torch [last year’s model] would load entire articles on a single page while the newer phone [the just-released Torch 9810] only gave me the first chunk and forced me to click for the rest.
Metz implies that this is RIM’s fault. But that’s not the case.
The New York Times Company has opted to forcibly redirect BlackBerry users who type in nytimes.com in their browser’s address bar to the New York Times mobile site (probably using user-agent sniffing). And bizarrely, they don’t provide a link on their mobile site to switch to their full site — as many other websites do.
The full New York Times site does load by default on the BlackBerry PlayBook.
Metz also didn’t like the voice search on the BlackBerry — and devoted three paragraphs to critiquing it. Her principal complaint is that voice search isn’t a hands-free experience. Admittedly, this functionality could be improved (and it surely will be). But most people don’t buy a smartphone expecting to get an automated dictation assistant. Voice search is a nice-to-have feature, but it’s not something that will make or break a smartphone for most users.
Perhaps the most aggravating part of Metz’s review, though, was this:
Another problem is the lack of apps. The BlackBerry App World includes more than 40,000 apps — a smidgen of the more than 250,000 apps available in Google’s Android Market and 425,000 apps available from Apple’s App Store. And many of those 40,000 have yet to be updated for BlackBerry 7 phones. I couldn’t get one for the review site Yelp when I checked the other day.
As far as applications go, quality is more important than quantity. I and many other users have no use for a hundred thousand applications, let alone the available memory to store and run them all. I’m sick of reading review after review that obsesses over comparing the grand total of applications that are available for one platform with those available for another … as if that were all that mattered.
I get the impression that Ms. Metz doesn’t use a BlackBerry as her primary phone. I do, and I disagree with her contention that there are a dearth of applications for BlackBerry. I’m quite happy with the existing application selection (though I wouldn’t mind seeing more improvement).
Several of my favorite applications are actually made by Research in Motion, which doesn’t seem to get any credit for stepping up to the plate to support its own platform with a line of well-designed BlackBerry apps.
For instance, nowhere in her review does Ms. Metz say anything about BlackBerry Travel, which can automatically scan emailed travel itineraries, assist users in booking hotels or car rentals, convert currency, and track flights, among other functions. Of interest to Ms. Metz, it also includes Yelp search functionality built-in.
Also unmentioned by Ms. Metz is BlackBerry Traffic, which works with BlackBerry Maps to help users find the smoothest commute to and from work (or some other destination). All it needs is an address to start calculating the best route, identify alternatives, and provide ETAs for every option.
It’s an extremely useful application. And, like BlackBerry Travel, it’s free… a gift from Research in Motion to its users.
Then there’s BlackBerry Mobile Conferencing. This application — another goodie from RIM — makes participating in conference calls easy. It allows users to automatically join calls without dialing any telephone numbers or punching in access codes. Users can also reconnect with one click or tap if they’re dropped from a call. Recurring calls can be saved to a profile on the phone for easy access.
In addition, RIM distributes apps for Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger, besides BBM, its own stellar instant-messaging solution.
Some of the best applications made by other developers include Bing Maps and Bing Search (from Microsoft), ScoreMobile (handy for checking standings, scores, or upcoming games), Nobex Radio (for streaming), WordPress (for blogging), Poynt (for finding restaurants, service stations, and movie times), and The Weather Channel (for perusing forecasts and checking current conditions).
There are a handful of nifty tools that are available for the iPhone that I wish would be made available for BlackBerry (CardMunch comes to mind, though a BlackBerry version is forthcoming), but I get by quite well even without those.
The ending of Metz’s review is actually pretty funny.
It’s evident to me that she went out of her way to find something wrong with each of RIM’s new BlackBerrys. The Bold 9900⁄9930 “is so expensive”, she says. The Torch 9850 “seemed to lag behind”. And the Torch 9810 “looks tired”.
I find these criticisms to be unwarranted. If the Bold (RIM’s flagship phone, priced at $250) is expensive, then so is Apple’s iPhone 4, which costs $200 if you get the 16 GB version and $300 if you get the 32 GB version. The Bold actually will cost Verizon customers who have a New Every Two upgrade left to use only $200.
Three of the four nationwide carriers have now released the Bold (Verizon, T‑Mobile, and Sprint), and sales appear to have been extremely brisk, with T‑Mobile and Sprint selling out their stock.
Only AT&T has held back from releasing the new Bold, prompting the creation of an online petition that already has more than a thousand signatories.
The new Bold is perhaps the best BlackBerry RIM has ever made. I got it as soon as it became available, and it’s just amazing. It’s fast, responsive, and jam-packed with useful features that were missing from my previous BlackBerry. It also pairs well with the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM’s groundbreaking tablet.
RIM has really hit a home run with this phone.
I have not had a chance to play with either of the new Torches (one is a slider, the other is touchscreen-only), but I’ve heard good things about those phones, too, which suggest Metz’s criticism is off-base.
Like the Bold, they have solid specs and run the BlackBerry 7 OS.
One of the best things about BlackBerry OS 7 is the improved web browser. It supports tabbed browsing (unlike Apple’s mobile version of Safari, which won’t get that functionality till iOS 5 is released) and is capable of faithfully rendering web pages very quickly. The bookmarking interface is also smoother.
In just a few days, the latest incarnation of RIM’s BlackBerry Curve will go on sale, also sporting the BlackBerry 7 OS. Sprint will supposedly begin selling the Curve 9350 this Friday for only $80 after rebate. The Torch 9810 (the slider version) is arguably a better deal since AT&T is letting it go for only $50, though.
The sudden availability of all these new BlackBerrys is great news for BlackBerry enthusiasts and anybody who has ever wished that RIM’s devices offered more than just exceptional messaging capabilities.
It’s too bad these phones are being unfairly knocked by reviewers who seem to think Apple and Google’s offerings are all that matters. RIM has a future, and analysts or reviewers who suggest otherwise shouldn’t be taken seriously.