I maintain a Blackberry 9700 as my workphone as its combination of battery life, portability, security and quick messaging made it just that much more convenient than my Samsung Galaxy S. As much as I adore my Samsung, it is just like that sexy babe that is extremely high maintenance and needed your constant attention. The Blackberry on the other hand, as unsexy as it was, remained that reliable and faithful platonic buddy.
So when I received news that there was a leaked version of OS6.0 for the 9700, I immediately jumped on it and installed it. Here are my experiences on the leaked 188.8.131.524.
GENERAL FEEL AND HOME SCREEN
BB OS6.0 is very snappy. It appears that the new engine powering the device renders things a lot quicker even with the animations in between. Things of course might seem a wee sluggish when the device first boots up as it redownloads all your friends’ BBM avatars (why does it need to do that?) and scans your media card, but after that it’s all smooth sailing. Boot-up time unfortunately is still pretty long in the range of 5 minutes ish.
The home screen feels new yet familiar. The major thing you’ll notice is that pressing the Menu button doesn’t open up a list of Apps. Instead, they have several drawers of different categories of stuff. I’m not sure if I like the new layout as it feels I have to do more to get to my application but that’s probably just how used I got to the old Blackberry OS.
The drawers are divided into All, Favorites, Media, Downloads and Frequent which are more or less self explanatory. Frequent automatically fills up with the apps you use a lot while Favorites is possibly your only customizable drawer where you can add your Apps there. In the old Blackberry OS, it felt like you had more control over how your Apps were displayed but in OS6.0 you’re pretty much locked down. Not that the layout doesn’t make sense and I think for most people especially those new to the Blackberry, it will work fine.
What I really liked was the ability to Manage Connections directly from the Home Screen so I could turn on and off my wi-fi quickly. Well done and about time!
Search has improved a lot in OS6.0. Looking for all e-mails that were sent by someone? Just type in his name and you’ll be presented not only with his contact, but all e-mails/messages and memos with that search string.. Looking for an app that you don’t know where it is? Just type the app name in! This used to be an arduous and slow process but results now appear almost instantly.
The browser is pretty solid. Considering you’re working on a processor that’s only half the speed of your Android/Iphone 4, the browser loads things in reasonably good time. It was definitely not as fast as say an IPhone or Android Froyo but interestingly, in one of my tests, a simple webpage actually loaded faster on my Blackberry than on my Galaxy S on Froyo. Autofit to text works pretty well which is pretty crucial for those of us on smaller screens. Tabs also are new and work pretty well.
Flash is still absent which is not surprising considering the 624 Mhz processor on the device but there are lower end Android phones that can do Flash (albeit rather slowly) so it would be nice if this was implemented down the line at least for displaying webpages with Flash.
In this build there were still some bugs including the ‘this webpage is too large for the device’ which seemed to occur on more complicated pages but was resolved with a refresh. Another thing that was lacking (or at least I couldn’t find out how to do it) was an option to ensure that webpages were displayed in their full mode rather than in mobile mode.
I believe this was implemented pretty well. It’s not a new thing as it was implemented on HTC’s Sense interface but the difference is that the Blackberry’s version works on push without the need for polling which was sometimes buggy on the HTC/Samsung. Updates were easy to read and it has a handy word limit that adjusts itself according to where you wish to post your status update.
This is rather subjective but I have a feeling that battery life has suffered quite a bit. Now with the new OS, I find myself using it a lot more so it is hard for me to say but it does last through the day even with heavy use (I receive more than 100 e-mails a day and BBM/Facebook/surf a lot). It does take a few reboots and days for battery life to stabilize however after the new OS reload and now it lasts throughout the day without any problems. Why this happens I have no idea but it’s certainly not a problem limited to Blackberries (remember that weird HTC Desire trick?).
That’s the awesome thing about Blackberries, you aren’t generally worried about battery life even when on 3G. Use it as much as you want but here’s hoping that this will improve when either the OS stabilizes or the new official version comes out.
Camera functions have been improved with more effects and modes which is nice (Auto, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Close-Up, Snow, Beach, Night, Text) and also tightly integrated Geo-Tagging. I haven’t had the time to test all of it but here’s a sample video to test the video quality. Note that Youtube of course will downgrade the quality but its pretty decent. My friend swears it has improved but I don’t know, it does seem that way though I can’t be sure, I’ll leave that to you to decide.
I was pretty excited when I saw a dedicated Youtube icon but was disappointed when it still redirected me to the mobile Youtube page. In effect, Youtube is just a glorified mobile link with an option to upload to Youtube. What was even more annoying was that to stream Youtube, it would turn off your BIS connection and use your regular carrier network’s connection which was ok, but upon closing Youtube, your BIS connection isn’t re-established requiring you to turn off your wireless network and then turn it back on for it to establish. For many newbies to Blackberry, this will be a major problem as suddenly their e-mails/bbms won’t go in or out and many won’t know what to do. This was a problem that is not new to OS6.0 as earlier builds of OS5.0 also had this problem so let’s hope that RIM will get this fixed in the official release of OS 6 for the 9700.
WIRELESS MUSIC SYNC
I haven’t had the time to test this out but it appears that your Blackberry can wireless sync with your computer over wifi! This syncs with your ITunes or Windows Media Player playlists and has to be done over Blackberry Desktop Manager 6.0.
GRIPE: STILL CAN’T USE A NUMBER TO COPY TO AN EXISTING CONTACT
This feature is still surprisingly missing. You can add a recently dialed/texted number to a New Contact, but you can’t do so to an Existing Contact. You would have to manually copy, go to the contact list, edit and then enter the new Contact in. This is really unforgivable as it is a basic function of phones even so called dumb phones have this feature.
There are still a few bugs here and there, besides the Page is too Large error. During my 1.5 days of use I’ve encountered one random reboot while fiddling with my video camera, USB mode not working suddenly and the occasional (but still very rare) stutter. We hope this is just due to it being unofficial and hope this gets ironed out when it goes to official.
You may have remembered my post on my gripes with the Blackberry where I was disenchanted with Blackberry. Looking back, it seems that most of the issues I posted there have been resolved in a period of a year. OS6.0 brings to Blackberry a bunch of major changes the most critical being its browser. Although it was widely criticized as merely a facelift to an outdated OS, I beg to differ. Having used IOS 4, Android 2.2 for extended periods of time, I still find the BBOS making sense and being exceedingly easy to view/send messages and stay in touch. Its mixture of portability, long battery life and security still make it ideal for people on the go. An added benefit is that it is more likely to look like you’re doing work if you’re checking a Blackberry as compared to an IPhone. 😛
Although the Blackberry may lack in sex appeal with its small screen and slow processor, these things can also be seen as its strengths with it being extremely portable and more importantly pocketable and also its trademark long battery life. Your screen may look absolutely fancy and you can surf through pages quickly, but that’s pointless if your battery dies halfway through the day. The value of a good qwerty keypad (and Blackberries have arguably the best in the business) also cannot be underestimated if you message a lot. Touchscreen keypads are reasonably fast nowadays but you often still have to think, look and correct, while there’s an aura of certainty when typing on a QWERTY. True touch typing. These factors have to be weighed in when evaluating the Blackberry as your mobile device.
Lastly, although there are apps to do this, it would be nice if Blackberry implemented remote wipe and location functions natively into their OS. I understand remote wipe is available for Blackberry Enterprise Server users but with more and more of our data going into our mobile devices, I think this is becoming a necessity. HTC has recognized this and implemented such functions directly into their new Sense interface and I’m sure other phone manufacturers will follow suit soon too.
In short, Blackberry OS6.0 breathes a fresh new life into the 9700 and it feels like I’ve just got myself a spanking new phone! I haven’t stopped using my Samsung Galaxy which is my time-waster and media phone but for everyday use or work use, in this author’s opinion, the Blackberry still reigns supreme.
HOW TO UPGRADE
I hold no responsibility for any mishaps/lost data/bricked phones from following my instructions. I have merely documented the process in which I did to update mine. Note that this does not have EastAsian character support and this is a LEAKED OS so there are no warranties.
I recommend a backup then a full Wipe.