The blogosphere is awash with the new iPod touch and the iPhone just got $200 cheaper, so now is a perfect time to talk about another phone entirely. I've just upgraded to a Blackberry 8310 - that's the new Curve that also has GPS, and I'm very impressed. Let me explain.
My Vodafone contract has been ready for renewal for while, and I had been very seriously considering switching from my Blackberry 8700 to a Nokia E61i as my "free" upgrade. As well as the phone, I use the PDA functions heavily, and need the qwerty keyboard. I use email and SMS a lot on the road. Dennis and others use have started to use Fring on their Nokias for Skype IM and calls, as well as the wifi capability, and I've wanted to be able to do that to join in. I did loads of research on the hardware, and got emotionally attached to the mix of functions and style of the E61i, but then discovered a major flaw with support from my provider. Vodafone have stopped supporting Blackberry Connect on non-Blackberry devices in favour of their own Vodafone Business Email. Firstly this service isn't really push email - the device polls for mail at defined short intervals. Second, it only works with 1 mail account! If you work like me you may have 5 or 6 accounts to keep up to date with, and Blackberry does that for up to 10 in a really neat way - with the latest software you can even email from the device from each of your mail accounts. I did find a sensible guy on Vodafone technical support who talked me through downloading Vodafone Connect from a German site, and assured me he had it working on his own Vodafone/E61i without any problems, but if anything went wrong you would be on your own. I won't name names - he'd probably get fired.
So that meant the only practical device for my purpose was a Blackberry. I really wanted to use Skype, but I'll solve that with the Blackberry version of IM+ for Skype - not installed yet, but seems to do the job. Sadly Vodafone UK won't have wifi enabled Blackberrys for some while, and 3G doesn't even seem to be in the product plan. However, this Monday the new version of the Curve was released, and mine arrived 2 days ago on Tuesday. I chose the Curve because the keyboard seems to work better than the 8800 series, where the keys are too close together. The new 8310 has a camera, which is OK, handles multimedia nicely, and has GPS which seems to work quite well, with a decent mapping application. The directions application look a bit suspect, taking you via the shortest route as the crow flies, so doesn't look as intelligent as Google, Map24 or others, but I'm looking forward to testing this out properly. I bought a 2Gb SD card to expand the memory, but discover that Vodafone ship it with a 1Gb card anyway.
I've got to get over the major hurdle of switching from the 8700's click wheel on the side to the 8310's trackball on the front. The trackball, combined with the menu key and escape key either side definitely works better for one thumb navigation... It's just a little frustrating to keep activating the volume control on the side and wondering why the cursor isn't moving. My brain will catch up soon.
However, the really great thing about this choice is that the user interface has been improved again. I've said before that the Blackberry operating system is intuitive and simple in the way that the iPod is. The next logical option is usually only 1 or 2 clicks away. The Trackball means you move around the menus quicker. For example, assuming you aren't in a field in an application, when you start typing the device assumes you want to find someone to call, takes you in to the phone application and builds a list from your contacts. As you type the name the list zeros in on your choice, but also opens out with all of the listed contacts' phone options - work, mobile, home, making it easy to select and call the right one. These are subtle things, but that is exactly why the Blackberry platform has the fans that it does. Sutha Kamal of the mysterious planQ was trying to tell me this a few weeks ago over some Japanese food at the height of my enthusiasm for the Nokia E61i. I'm really glad I've seen the light and chosen the 8310, which looks particularly cool in its new grey livery and smart leather sleeve.