Tagged: Blackberry

Up-close and personal with the BlackBerry PlayBook

RIM's PlayBook Tablet was shown to CES attendeesOne thing’s for sure: Android has become the de-facto operating system for every manufacturer looking to market a tablet device this year (other than Apple). There was one notable exception however, and it came in the form of RIM’s 7-inch PlayBook – a device that runs a brand new OS from QNX and which RIM claims is the only example of “true” multi-tasking in the tablet world. Will it be enough to beat the iPad and Motorola’s recently hailed Xoom?

RIM debuts their iPad contender: the PlayBook

The BlackBerry PlayBook
The BlackBerry PlayBook

It’s here – the device long dubbed the “BlackPad” by industry watchers and it’s name is the BlackBerry PlayBook. But most people are now calling it the iPad for enterprise.

It has a multi-touch 7″ screen which runs at a typical netbook resolution of 1024×600 and is supported by a 1Ghz dual-core processor and a custom OS (powered by QNX, who RIM purchased earlier) which can run Flash – a big issue for people who have held off buying an iPad for it’s lack of support for this widely-used web content type.

The other area where the iPad disappointed but that newcomers to the field have been quick to improve on is the integration of webcams. The PlayBook sports two of them – one forward and on rear-facing and both support HD resolutions.

It can run a variety of different media codecs for playback, and though you won’t able to see full-HD on the 7″ screen, the addition of a mini-HDMI port means that if you connect it to an HD-capable display, the PlayBook should serve very nicely as a platform for movies and perhaps more importantly, given the focus on business, slide-shows.

Finally, the presence of a mini-USB port will go a long way to appease those who felt the iPad should have had this feature at launch. Interestingly, unlike the iPad, there is no 3G version of the PlayBook  – at least for now. Instead, RIM is thinking that you will most likely pair the PlayBook to your regular BlackBerry which will give you 3G and a host of other features – an aspect of the device they call “device pairing”. Once paired, you’ll have access to all of your email, calendar, contacts etc.

Alas, no word on price just yet, but it’s a safe bet RIM won’t target too far from the range that Apple has established for the iPad.

Video below. So readers, is this the tablet you’ve been waiting for?

BlackBerry Torch comes to Canada September 24th, er, make that the 30th.

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 Slider Touch-Screen smartphone

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 Slider Touch-Screen smartphone

We don’t have all the details yet regarding full carrier availability, but for those who are anxious to get their hands on RIM’s latest toy, here’s what we do know:

TELUS, Rogers and Bell Mobility are planning to launch the device on September 24th.(see update below) TELUS isn’t offering any rate plan info yet, but Bell and Rogers have said that it will be available for as low at $199 on a 3-year contract. It’s likely that TELUS will offer something similar.

No word yet on which of the other carriers (Virgin, Fido etc.)

The $199  (see update below) price point is a bit of a surprise given that the iPhone 4 is available for $159 on a similar three-year term and actually comes with more memory out of the box (16GB) than the Torch (combined 8GB).  However there is a massive untapped group of users out there who refuse to give up their BlackBerrys – especially the physical keyboard – and are desperate for a modern mobile browser which the Torch certainly delivers.

Marc was impressed but not blown away by the Torch’s specs, and suspects that it’s a case of too little too late. Now that I see the pricing, I’m wondering if it’s going to be a case of too little, too late and too pricey. But that, as they say, remains to be seen since very few people have actually had a chance to try out RIM’s first slider-touchscreen phone.

Update, September 24th: Okay, well here we are on the day that the Torch was supposed to launch here in Canada, but clearly that hasn’t happened. The good news is that all of the carriers have now gotten official with a new date (September 30th) but more importantly, a new price: $179 on a 3-year contract. Now that’s still a premium on the price of a base-model iPhone 4, but only by $20. I’ve had the Torch for just under a week now, and while my initial impressions are good, I think it’s going to be a hard sell if RIM is looking to convert any iPhone users to their platform. Stay tuned, we’ll publish our full impressions soon!

Smartphone players annoyed by Apple's response to "Antennagate"

An image from Apple.com of the BlackBerry 9700 Bold labeled "In weak signal areas, this grip may negatively affect signal strength."

An image from Apple.com of the BlackBerry 9700 Bold labeled "In weak signal areas, this grip may negatively affect signal strength."

When Steve Jobs now famously declared “We’re not perfect“, he was referring to the fact that despite their tremendous success over the past few years since launching the original iPhone, Apple can still make mistakes.

If he had left it at that, it’s likely that Friday’s press conference would have been seen as an appropriate demonstration of humility on the part of a company that had released a product which if nothing else, has a flaw that turned out to be bigger issue than expected. Most observers would likely have concluded that indeed, no one is perfect, and that Apple’s offer of a free case was the right thing to do, assuming that they would follow this measure up with more due-diligence to determine if the antenna problem had affected all of their iPhone 4’s or simply a small batch.

Unfortunately, Jobs elected to follow up his statement with a declaration that all smartphones to a greater or lesser degree, suffer the same problems as the iPhone. In essence, “We’re not perfect” became “We’re not perfect, and by the way, neither are our competitors”. It looked as though Apple had committed the classic mistake of trying to lessen the focus on their mistakes by pointing the finger at someone else. If this were a schoolyard squabble you could imagine Jobs saying to a teacher “Yeah, well I know I started the fight, but Johnny started a fight last week – why don’t you punish him too?”

Jobs cited RIM, Samsung and HTC’s smartphones as just as vulnerable to antenna problems when held in a certain way. He even showed some videos demonstrating what that looked like.

As you might expect, it hasn’t taken long for the companies that were dragged into the fight (and even one that wasn’t) to respond to Apple’s condemnation of an entire industry.

Gizmodo is reporting that Samsung has this to say following Apple’s demonstration of  a reception-impaired Omnia 2 smartphone:

“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future”

The message to Apple is clear: Go ahead and defend your product, but don’t implicate our product when you do it.

RIM was far more direct in their reaction, not mincing any words:

“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”

And somewhat suprisingly, Nokia, who wasn’t mentioned by name in Apple’s press conference, felt the need to make a few clarifying statements lest anyone think that their products suffer from Apple’s “Smartphones have weak spots” remark:

“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.
Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”

  One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of “Antennagate” whether Apple recognizes it as a problem or not.

Rumour: Slacker Radio coming to Canada?

slacker-in-canadaIt’s always a little dangerous to speculate on the meaning of media-teaser emails, especially in advance of the biggest tech show on earth (CES), but I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you I think that Slacker Radio will be available to Canadians shortly.

Admittedly I have very little on which to base this rumour, except for an email I received today from Slacker’s PR agency FortyThree PR:

Hi Simon,

 

I wanted to contact you regarding a pre-briefing with Slacker during CES. Slacker, one of the top personal radio offerings for iPhone, Blackberry and Android (as well as Macs and PCs) with millions of listeners, will be making a major expansion outside of the U.S. that would be interesting to your Canadian audience. Some recent coverage of Slacker is below.

In addition to the expansion, Slacker also has many major, first-in-the-industry developments coming in January 2010.

That’s all she wrote.

So, is this a thinly-veiled confirmation that Slacker is Canada-bound? Or just a tease regarding international expansion, but not necessarily to Canada? Kindle fans, does this sound familiar?

If this pans out, you read it here first. If not, well, I’ll be as disappointed as the rest of you.

BlackBerry vs. Palm Pre: Should you switch?

bb_vs_preAlong with almost everyone else who attended this year’s CES down in Las Vegas, I was surprised by Palm’s debut of a new smartphone – one which not only seemed poised to take on the iPhone, but was also a complete departure from the company’s previous mobile phone offerings.

As the first looks started to filter in, followed later by the reviews coming out of the U.S. from folks like Walt Mossberg, David Pogue and CNET, my interest intensified and I found myself lobbying the gang over at Bell Mobility to get my hands on one as soon as possible.

Of course, that put me in the same boat as every other Canadian tech journalist who had yet to spend some hands-on time with the device.

My turn finally came in the week following the phone’s August 27th launch here in Canada.
The biggest question I had before using the Palm was this: Could I see myself swapping my trusty BlackBerry Curve for the Pre… would it enable me to do all of the tasks that I have become so used to being able to do while on the road? This was my primary yardstick as I put the Pre through its paces.

Form Factor
My review unit came with the phone itself, as well as Palm’s innovative Touchstone desktop charger – a tiny USB-powered black pedestal that recharges the Pre without wires. Simply place the Pre on the Touchstone’s angled surface and it magnetically secures itself in place and begins charging. Very slick. Not that I mind plugging my BlackBerry in at night, but there’s a distinct cool factor to the Touchstone.

My only critique of the Touchstone is that it doesn’t go far enough… now that I have had a taste of cable-less charging, I want it to sync with my PC too! Perhaps in the next version?

The Pre itself is a very attractive gadget. Its glossy black surface and rounded shape make it look more like a case for an exotic watch or pair of sunglasses than a phone.  It feels fantastic in your hand; its size and shape makes touching it oddly irresistible.

Keyboard
This may be the most controversial feature on the Pre: its slide-out QWERTY keyboard. For seasoned BlackBerry users, this – pardon the pun – is a key area of comparison.

I’ll reiterate here what so many others have already observed: The edges of the keyboard are sharp. Though you get used to it, you can’t help but wonder if there was any way the designers could have come up with a different solution, perhaps a rubberized edge made from the same material as the phone’s back plate?

Compared to the Blackberry Curve’s raised plastic ‘keys’, the Pre’s keyboard feels more like a blister-coated film. Typing on it often required the use of the tips of the thumbs as opposed to the pads. The pleasant surprise was how much tactile feedback these tiny bumps were able to convey when pressed. I was expecting a hollow, thin feel as though I was forcing the curve of the blister to invert and then pop-back, but instead was greeted with a positive and solid click. While the keys themselves are small and tightly spaced – if you can get used to them – you should be able to type almost as quickly as on a BlackBerry.

What you will notice – at least I certainly did – was that my thumbs kept bumping into the lowest portion of the main body of the phone. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but it did get annoying at times.
Also, if you ever find yourself trying to type while reclined or lying down, you’ll soon give up: It’s nearly impossible to counter the phone’s top-heavy balance when in this position, and it has a tendency to fall towards you. Not recommended.

If you have gotten into the habit of writing lengthy emails on your BlackBerry, the Pre – well let’s just say you’ll start favouring brevity over bombast.

Integration with Outlook/Exchange
For as long as I’ve used a BlackBerry, I have found its seamless integration with Outlook simply outstanding. And once full wireless syncing for all Outlook folders became available, I was hooked. For me, working in an enterprise setting with the full BlackBerry Enterprise service at my disposal, it has been mobile nirvana. The only tasks I ever feel compelled to do on my laptop is composing long emails that require attachments, or doing folder management whereby I move items from the server to my local machine. Everything else is possible from the BlackBerry, and best of all, it’s automatically reflected in my Outlook when I shift back to my PC. It’s this experience that I think turns people into crackberry addicts, and I was skeptical of the Pre’s ability to emulate it.

The good news for prospective platform-jumpers is that, with a few exceptions, the Pre delivers.
Palm makes use of Microsoft’s Exchange Active Sync (EAS) protocol, which enables mobile devices and other non-Outlook apps to swap data with an Exchange server. If you work for a company that uses Exchange, check first with your IT department to make sure they both support and can enable EAS on your Exchange account. Without this, you’ll be stuck with basic POP email support.

Fortunately I was able to get EAS activated and within minutes my Pre had sync’d my Contacts, Inbox, Calendar and Tasks, all without connecting a single cable.  This was a great relief since my last experience syncing a Palm device to Outlook was almost 8 years ago using a Palm Pilot V. It wasn’t pretty.

I was delighted to discover that the ability to search our company’s Global Address List (something I have come to depend on) is available on the Pre, as is the ability to email all the attendees of a calendar event.

Email
Skimming through your inbox is effortless on the Pre; a simple upward or downward finger swipe on the list of emails scrolls the items as quickly as you wish. The Pre displays time, sender and subject lines by default and also gives you a 1-line preview of the body. One area where the Pre excels is in text display and no feature shows this off better than reading an email. Not only does the Pre render full HTML messages they way they were meant to be seen, but just as in the web browser app, you can pinch and um, unpinch to zoom in and out of the content. Fonts are rendered beautifully. If you find it difficult to read an email in the standard portrait orientation, just flip the Pre on its side and it automatically shifts to landscape mode.

One thing I did notice when it comes to email – and indeed most of the Pre’s features – when compared to the BlackBerry, actions feel slightly sluggish. For instance, when you open an email on the Blackberry, clicking on the item immediately switches the screen to the full text of the message. Because the Pre is a multi-tasking device by design, opening items is the same as opening a new window – there is a brief pause while the screen opens the email in order to display it. Considering the flexibility of being able to have multiple windows open at once, and being able to render full HTML, it’s worth the slight lag. But if you’re coming from a BlackBerry, it does take a little getting used to.

Contacts
Although I didn’t get to fully take advantage of this feature, the Pre can pull contact data from Gmail, Facebook and other sources to create a merged view of your entire social sphere.

Whether this is something you’ll want to do really depends on how separate you like to keep your work and social lives.

Whenever possible, the Pre pulls down image information associated with a contact which give the address book a much friendlier, personal feeling than the BlackBerry’s all-business ‘rolodex ‘ style of contact management.

Web surfing
Surfing the web is one of the areas where the Pre truly shines. The browser renders full web pages the way they would be seen on your computer, and lets you zoom in and out with ease. If you’ve ever seen the iPhone’s web browser and wished you could have that on your phone, the Pre is without question the device for you. But more relevantly for this article, if you are a BlackBerry user and have found yourself wondering why it is that RIM can’t seem to deliver a decent mobile browsing experience, you may not be able to go back to your old BlackBerry once you get your hands on the Pre.

Issues
Of course, no product is perfect and the Pre is no exception. Notwithstanding its amazing range of features, there are some things the Pre lacks.

Search: Though using the Pre’s Universal Search feature is good, it only comes with the ability to search the phone itself, Google, and Wikipedia from the search interface. Oddly, there is no way to add additional search providers.

Profiles (or lack thereof): One of the BlackBerry’s strengths is the ability to manage all of the various types of alerts for emails, calls, IMs, text messages, etc. You can set the behaviour for each one and specify that it do something different depending on whether it is in or out of its holster. The Pre on the other hand, lets you set the ringtone, and choose between silent and regular notifications. That’s it.

Out of Office Message: I love being able to set my Out of Office notification message from my BlackBerry, but the Pre doesn’t support this. Still unsure if this is a problem with the Pre itself or a lack of integration on the EAS side.

Notes: The BlackBerry treats its Notes section as an extension of Outlook – any notes you take on the BlackBerry are synced to Outlook and vice versa. The Pre’s notes function is divorced from the sync operation and doesn’t talk to Outlook at all. We’re not sure why this is.

Calendar Invites: This was a big surprise – you can schedule events in your calendar on the Pre, but you can’t invite anyone in your contacts to attend. It’s an especially puzzling omission given that it gives you the option to email all the attendees of a meeting to which you have been invited. Hopefully this is a bug that can be corrected on future releases of the Web OS.

Battery Life: It’s been mentioned by many reviewers already so I won’t belabour the point, but if you’re used to the BlackBerry’s incredible battery life, you will need to get used to recharging the Pre religiously every day. For some people, especially heavy mobile users, this is going to be an issue. One way to deal with it is to carry a spare battery with you (it can be swapped easily by remove the back cover). The other thing you can do is turn off any unnecessary connections e.g. Bluetooth, which could eat away at your battery.  It’s also possible that Palm will be able to improve battery life with a combination of Web OS tweaks and perhaps a longer life battery.

Conclusion
Despite its drawbacks, the Pre is an amazing smartphone. Fun to use and even addictive after a while, it brings a sexy look to a category long-known for its function-over-form tendencies. For BlackBerry owners who can live with the compromises the Pre requires, it is an attractive option – especially given its new lower price of $150 on a 3 year contract. However die-hard BlackBerry fans who don’t want to give up any of its superbly integrated Exchange server features – or its legendary battery life – will find the trade-offs just too much to deal with.

Must you tweet your dinner? Really?

73232241I just read Rhonda’s post on the future of social networking etiquette and it reminded me of something that happened recently.

Over the Labour Day weekend, my wife and I spent a few fantastic days in Quebec City. The weather was perfect and we wandered the streets for hours just taking in all the sights and sounds. If you haven’t been, you should go, it’s a national treasure.

On our first night, we had dinner at a superb five star restaurant called L’Initiale. The food was sublime. It was a pricey meal, but well worth it.

Midway through our appetizer, my wife looked over my shoulder and said in a whisper “I think that guy over there is tweeting”.

As discreetly as I could manage, I looked over to the table she had indicated. I saw a thirty-something couple about to enjoy what I assume was their appetizer. The guy had his Blackberry out and was typing intently.

He then took a photo of his food. And typed a few more lines.

Now, ordinarily, I couldn’t care less what people at another table do so long as they aren’t disturbing others, and they certainly weren’t disturbing us in the least.

But I couldn’t help thinking that some things should never be considered acceptable in certain situations.

It’s rude to answer your phone if you’re in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with someone, unless it’s an emergency.

It’s not okay to cut someone off when you’re driving.

And I think snapping photos of your dinner and tweeting your thoughts on each course isn’t acceptable in a fancy restaurant. I’m not even sure if it’s okay at a McDonalds, but I realize there’s a pretty big difference.

What are your thoughts on the growing question of tech-etiquette in public places?