Is a BlackBerry the best productivity and messaging device available?

Its my wife’s fault, really. Frustrated with the persistent unavailability of the Nokia X6 which she had her eye on for several months, she switched to a BlackBerry Storm 2 (her first choice was the Bold but the MTN store she visited didn’t have any in stock). BlackBerry devices hadn’t really interested me until she brought her Storm home with her and I took a look at it. In the time that she has had it, we’ve stopped sms’ing each other and switched to Google Talk instant messaging instead (free for her and a lot cheaper for me). I’m not too sure what the parameters are but free on-device data is pretty appealing in itself.

When it comes to my next mobile device, I’ve been pretty fixated on an Android device, largely because an Android phone will allow me to access all of my calendars and other information from my Google services on the device. That is a big productivity win for me because I’ve been reliant on a series of reminders and mobile Web-based access to my calendars to see a full picture of my day till now. I’ve used Mail for Exchange on my Nokia devices and while its kept my contacts in sync, calendar support is very limited. I used my wife’s iPod Touch to test that OS’s support for multiple calendars across Exchange and while I read that I should be able to add all my calendars and keep them in sync, when I set the device up, it just didn’t seem to work as I’d hoped.

That said, I decided to wait a couple more months before doing anything to see what the new HTC Bravo (aka the Desire and closest we’re going to get to the Nexus One in South Africa) will be do and perhaps even the next iPhone iteration. I am not a fan of the degree of control Apple exercises over its devices but the iPhone is an excellent device on the whole.

Still, BlackBerry devices and services started to appeal to me more and more. I received some great feedback about the Storm 2 and the Bold (9700) from some of our sharpest tech journalists. I like the touchscreen Storm but the Bold has received more accolades and seems to be a preferred device. I then discovered that, using Google Sync, I could synchronise all my Google calendars for one of my Google accounts (I have a Google Apps account for work and my personal Gmail account – both have a set of shared calendars so accessing either calendar gives me a view of all my calendars) together with my contacts. Mail is taken care of using a Google mail app/add-on for the BlackBerry that seems to add quite a lot of Google Mail functionality. That capability really got my attention and prompted me to reconsider what it is I want from a mobile device.

9700_sideAngleRight.jpgI realised that I use my phone primarily for various forms of messaging including email, IM, sms, Twitter, Facebook updates and, more recently, Foursquare. My Nokia N97 has the latest version of Ovi Maps which, in my opinion, is probably the best maps application around. I can do almost all of those things pretty well with a BlackBerry (with the exception of Ovi Maps which would be a real loss if I moved away from a Nokia device). BlackBerry’s App world seems to be fairly well stocked but it isn’t a match for the iTunes App Store or even the Android Marketplace but it may just have what I need. I should also point out that I use my phone largely for business purposes and the fact that most of my clients (and friends) have BlackBerries makes it a logical choice from a communication ease and cost perspective (it really seems that everyone has a BlackBerry these days).

One big issue for me was the unavailability of the Evernote app for the BlackBerry locally (I tried to download it to my wife’s Storm and was told that the app isn’t available here). This is a big issue for me because I am a fairly heavy Evernote user and want a device that supports an Evernote app. If the BlackBerries were blocked from accessing that app locally, that may just push me towards an iPhone or Android phone after all. Fortunately, Joe Diedericks over at MyDL came up with a solution which may just do the trick.

So all of this pretty much leaves me thinking that a BlackBerry may just be a device for me. Its UI isn’t as good looking at the iPhone’s or Android phones’ UI but in terms of raw functionality, it is pretty impressive. Add benefits like free messaging and a cost benefit begins to emerge. Nokia does have some pretty good messaging devices. The current Stuff magazine actually has a comparison between the E72 and the Bold and the E72 comes out on top, although it seemed to win by a fairly narrow margin. Unfortunately Nokia devices don’t have the free data benefit or the tight messaging integration that the BlackBerry platform seems to have. The N900 does have fantastic messaging integration and if it would allow me to sync my calendars properly, I’d give it serious consideration despite the absence of a free data option. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get it to sync my calendars properly and that is important to me given how I work.

I’d love to know what people think about the BlackBerry platform and the Bold in particular. Everything I have read is very positive. I have a tendency towards touch screens since I got my N97 but going with a BlackBerry may nudge me to update my aging iPod with an iPod Touch and the app ecosystem that comes with that (I really want to be able to use the OmniFocus app and take my tasks on the road with me without having to open my laptop to accomplish anything). That also opens the door to the iPad but I really need to see one of those in person, see the price tag and get some real world feedback.

In the meantime, please let me know what you think? I have a tendency to focus intently on what I am looking at and sometimes need a little help pulling back and looking at the bigger picture.

Image credit: OrigamiPod : Let’s start! by hawkexpress, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial, No Derivatives 2.0 license.



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