Monday, February 22, 2010

BugMe! BlackBerry Edition Updated

Electric Pocket Limited is announcing a significant update to the BlackBerry version of BugMe!, the simple and fun-to-use mobile app for staying on-task and on-time.

After the initial launch of the BlackBerry version of BugMe!, the company began work on the next version in response to user requests. The most significant new features include:
  • Reminder Alerts (nags) for notes so they will repeatedly alert you until acknowledged.
  • The ability to schedule BugMe! alarms on a monthly basis - both on the same day of each month and "First Tuesday" style.
  • Alarms set to repeat on a recurring basis will now display their next scheduled alert time.
  • The option to set a snooze time, which is ideal for those who use BugMe! to wake them up or who may not be able to act on an alert right when it sounds.
  • A daily email summary of notes with alarms for the next 24 hours.
  • Auto-backup of notes to SD card (if present).
  • Automatically checks for app updates, with a link to download the latest version.
BugMe! for BlackBerry makes it easy to quickly jot notes, ideas and tasks on-the-go and set any note as a reminder. BugMe! will automatically sound an alarm and pop-up an alert at the exact moment a reminder is needed.

BugMe! for BlackBerry is available for US$4.99 at BugMe.net. For additional information, visit the ElectricPocket website.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

BlackBerry Storm 2 Hands On Review

I have just wrapped up my test drive of the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm 2 9550 smartphone. I’ve been testing out a selection of some of the more popular CDMA phones to help find the phone that will replace the corporate fleet of Palm Treo 755p’s that are in service at the company I work for.

The Hardware

The BlackBerry Storm 2, is Research In Motion’s second smartphone without a physical keyboard. The first was the original Storm. The BlackBerry Storm 2 measures up as being 4.43 x 2.45 x .55-inches and weighs in at 5.5 ounces. In practical terms, it is about the same size as an Apple iPhone. The Storm 2 has all of the standard hardware buttons that you would expect to find on any other BlackBerry smartphone. Unlike the buttons on the Tour, Bold, or Curve, the buttons on the face of the Storm 2 are concealed beneath a smooth sheet of plastic. The green, BlackBerry, escape, and red buttons are part of the bottom of the touch screen and the power and silence buttons are part of the top molding. Another nice touch is that there is a small, clear strip of plastic that protects the Storm 2’s 3.2MP digital camera lens and flash. The Storm 2’s battery door takes up the entire back of the device and snaps into place. Unlike the battery door on the Motorola Droid I recently reviewed, I don’t see the Storm 2’s door accidently being popped off during normal use.

One thing that I don’t like about the Storm 2 is that the bottom extends beyond the top of the device. This gives the Storm 2 a cool, rounded edge look, but I found it hard to reach up with my left index finger to turn the screen on when I was holding the device in my left hand. The uneven edges where less of a problem when I was holding the Storm 2 in landscape mode.


The Touch Screen

The big difference between the BlackBerry Storm 2 and the BlackBerry Tour is that the Storm 2 is a touch screen device. There is no physical keyboard on the Storm 2 and this may turn off some people who have used BlackBerry phones in the past and prefer the hardware keyboard. Part of the reason why I wanted to test the Tour and the Storm 2 was to compare the user experience between the two devices and to see if I could use a Storm 2 for the long haul.

The unique difference with the Storm 2 and other slate smartphones that don’t have hardware keyboards is that the Storm 2’s screen is “clickable.” Take for example the HTC Magic or the Apple iPhone 3G. Both of these devices have touch screens that dominate the face of the phone. When you tap an object on the screen, the screen remains stationary with virtually no tactile feedback. With the BlackBerry Storm 2, when you press down on the screen to tap an object, the entire screen presses down and clicks similar to the tactile feedback you get when you are clicking an icon or hyperlink on your computer with a mouse. You can hear and feel the click. It is a nice gimmick, but does it really help when you are trying to use an on screen keyboard?

After having played with the Storm 2, the Tour, and the Motorola Droid recently, I have found that the spacing of the keys on the keyboard are more important to me than whether or not the keyboard is virtual or not. I have found that keyboards on the Palm Treo Pro and Pre are very easy to use. Similarly, the keyboard on the BlackBerry Tour was a little too close – however, the shape of the keys did help improve my accuracy. For the Storm 2, Research in Motion decided to pack in four flavors of the virtual keyboard. They are: Qwerty portrait, Qwerty landscape, two-key portrait, and three-key portrait. I found the two and three-key portrait keyboards completely unacceptable. While I completely refuse trying to peck out a SMS or email message by pressing the same key two or three times to type a letter, the younger crowd who might buy the Storm 2 as their first smartphone may find these keyboard modes familiar, more comfortable even, if they are moving up from a flip phone. With the other two Qwerty keyboard modes available for use, I see professionals selecting the formats that more closely resemble the keyboards on their desks that the ones that resemble those found on flip phones.

After using the Storm 2’s Qwerty keyboards, I can say that I prefer the landscape keyboard the most. It offers the largest key cap clickable area of all the keyboards and the clickable screen did a good job tricking me into thinking that I was pressing a key on a physical keyboard. That isn’t to say that I didn’t make any typing mistakes, but I think that the Storm 2 offers the best on screen keyboard of all the smartphones I’ve tested so far. My one basic gripe about the landscape Qwerty keyboard is that when it is displayed, it takes up a significant portion of the screen; which can severely limit the space on the screen to see what you are doing.

The Software

The BlackBerry Storm 2 runs BlackBerry OS v5.0.0.320 (Platform 4.2.0.124), yet I didn’t find any noticeable difference from the BlackBerry Tour running BlackBerry OS v4.7.1.61 (Platform 4.1.0.81). One welcomed difference is that the Storm 2’s application launcher screen shows you the name of the application just below the icon. To see the name of an application on the Tour, you had to use the scroll ball to highlight the icon for the name to appear at the bottom of the launcher screen. For the most part, I didn’t see any major differences in the software bundled between the two BlackBerry’s I tested for this evaluation.

Conclusion

I have always stated that the decision to purchase a smartphone is very much a personal one. What works for me may not work for you. The BlackBerry Storm 2 is a capable BlackBerry smartphone that has many of the features made popular by Apple’s iPhone and you won’t have to jump ship from Verizon to AT&T to get a cool looking touch screen phone. As a BlackBerry, the lack of a physical keyboard may be a deal breaker for some corporate types, while others may welcome the increased screen realestate that comes from not having the keyboard. From a software standpoint, I found little difference between the Storm 2 and other recent model BlackBerry smartphones.

The BlackBerry Storm 2 is available now from Verizon Wireless for $279.99 when you purchase a qualifying two year service agreement. If you order the Storm 2 from the Verizon online store, Verizon will knock an additional $100 off the price tag. For more information about the BlackBerry Storm 2 9550 smartphones, please visit the BlackBerry website.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Up Next: BlackBerry Storm 2

I have received a Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm 2 for review today. As with the recent reviews of the Motorola Droid and BlackBerry Tour, I am reviewing the Storm 2 as a potential replacement for my company's fleet of Palm Treo smartphones.

The BlackBerry Storm 2, also known as the BlackBerry 9550, is a CDMA, GSM, Wi-Fi "world phone." My demo unit ships with a Vodafone GSM SIM card pre-installed. The Storm 2 is running BlackBerry OS 5.0.0.320 out of the box.

As is no doubt obvious from the picture, the BlackBerry Storm 2 does not have a physical keyboard. For this device, RIM has opted to include four variations on the soft keyboard. While I find the "full keyboard" usable in landscape mode, I'm not a big fan of the other three keyboard modes that can be used while the phone is held with a portrait orientation. The "clickable" screen does add a nice tactile feel that is missing from the iPhone and iPod touch, though I still much rather have that hardware keyboard.

In my initial testing, the device responded quickly and the screen is bright and readable. I also thing that it is easier to control the Wi-Fi radio on the Storm 2 verses Wi-Fi on the Droid. Oddly, this phone seems to be heavier than the other two I've looked at recently. While it doesn't bother me, it may be a deal breaker for some.

In short, if you are a 'Berry addict, the BlackBerry Storm 2 is your iPhone.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

BlackBerry Tour Hands On Review

As with the Motorola Droid that I recently reviewed, I had the opportunity to take Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Tour 9630 out for a few days for a test spin. The following is my hands on review of the Tour.

The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is a CDMA/GSM “world phone” that works on popular wireless networks both in the United States (CDMA and EVDO Rev A) and aboard on 3G networks (GSM/GPRS/EDGE). The Tour is currently available on the Verizon Wireless and Sprint networks. My demo unit is from Verizon and has been loaded with a Verizon/Vodafone SIM card. As far as I can tell, the Verizon and Sprint handsets are the same, however, the service terms will likely vary. There is also a version of the Tour available for sale without a digital camera.

The Hardware

The BlackBerry Tour is a candy bar styled smartphone similar to the BlackBerry Curve. The Tour’s dimensions are: 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.6-inches and weighs in at 4.58 ounces. To put that in perspective, it is slightly thinner, taller, and wider than the popular BlackBerry Curve 8330. The Tour has a half VGA+ 480x360 pixel display; which I found very easy to read; and is powered by a removable 1400 mAh battery.

All of the familiar BlackBerry hardware buttons can be found on the Tour. Just below the screen, is the button bar that is home to the call send/end buttons, the BlackBerry button, and the escape button. Nestled in the middle of the device is the trackball. After spending a few days using the trackball on the Tour, I thought it felt much sturdier than the one on my Curve. That said, I have heard reports from a local cellular retailer that their store has had a number of returns of the Tour early on in its distribution run due to faulty trackballs. The review unit that I used had no such trouble with the trackball. Below the button bar is the hardware Qwerty keyboard. Since this BlackBerry is slightly narrower than the one I’m used to using, I found the keys to be tight initially. The keys on the Tour, for all intents and purposes, have no space between them. After using it for about a day, I had gotten my keyboard bearings and was happily emailing away.

Walking around the smartphone, you will find the camera convenience key and the volume up/down buttons, the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the microUSB charging port. On the top of the Tour, is the ringer silence and screen lock button. On the left of the Tour is the voice command activation button and the speaker. On the back of the phone you will find the 3.2MP, auto focusing digital camera lens and flash. The phone’s mic is located on the bottom left of the phone.

Inside the Tour is 256MB of RAM, a microUSB card slot, a Bluetooth v2.0 radio supporting A2DP, and a GPS receiver supporting assisted, autonomous, and simultaneous modes. The GPS module also supports e911 and digital camera image geo-tagging.

Interestingly, unlike the Apple iPhone and Motorola Droid, the BlackBerry Tour does not feature a capacitive touch screen or a Wi-Fi radio. This could be a deal breaker for some, however, in my opinion, you get much better battery performance without those two features.

The Software

The BlackBerry Tour 9630 runs RIM’s Java based BlackBerry OS 4.7.1.61 (Platform 4.1.0.81). If you have used a previous BlackBerry running OS 4.3 or 4.5 you will have little trouble using OS 4.7, however, for this edition of the OS, there is a wire frame style to all of the icons. They are easy enough to figure out and the icon’s name appears at the bottom of the screen when you use the trackball to highlight and icon. Personally, I liked the old style icons better. The good news is that there are literally tons of themes for BlackBerry available for download from the Internet.



I was able to quickly and easily connect all of my Google Gmail accounts with the Tour. I was also able to use Notify Corp’s NotifyLink 4.5 client without trouble on this BlackBerry. If you want to sync the BlackBerry’s calendar with anything other than Microsoft Outlook, or a corporate messaging system like Microsoft Exchange using a BlackBerry Enterprise Server or Notify Corp’s NotifyLink Enterprise Server, you will need to get a third-party tool like GooSync for your Google calendar. Mac OS X users will need to download the BlackBerry Desktop Software for Mac or purchase Mark/Space the Missing Sync for BlackBerry.

Research In Motion has also opted to bundle DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition on the Tour. Unlike the view only editions that come bundled with the Palm Pre or the Motorola Droid, the BlackBerry Standard Edition allows you to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. You can also transfer files to and from the smartphone using the BlackBerry Desktop Software. I was able to read and update the same files that I used during my Motorola Droid test.

If you plan on using Documents To Go on your BlackBerry, you will want to install the free maintenance release from version 1.006 to 2.0. Heavy users will want to consider purchasing the Documents To Go Premium upgrade to gain access to the stand alone Documents To Go desktop synchronization application, native Adobe Acrobat viewing, the ability to create new Microsoft Office documents directly on the Tour, the ability to spell check Word documents, and additional document formatting features. One thing that I did find annoying about the upgrade process to version 2.0 of Documents To Go was the requirement to uninstall the bundled version and reboot the phone prior to the upgrade. While it isn’t the end of the world, it bugged me to have to leave the browser, uninstall the phone, and then return to the upgrade web page. (You did remember to bookmark the upgrade page before uninstalling Documents To Go, right? See how annoying that is!) Documents To Go 2.0 Premium for BlackBerry retails for $69.99, and is on sale for $29.99 until December 20, 2009. For more information about DataViz Documents To Go for BlackBerry, visit the DataViz website.

Just for the Fun of It

All work and no play is boring. So I also played with some of the fun aspects of the BlackBerry Tour. Social media junkies will be happy to hear that the Tour comes included with a Facebook and My Space clients. (Facebook users will want to upgrade to the latest mobile client version right away.) The camera took nice pictures at a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. The music player application worked well and I was able to watch Iron Man which I converted from DVD to an Mpeg-4 file.

I also installed some other free applications from the BlackBerry App World, including USA Today Mobile, The New York Times Global Edition, Google Maps, TweetCaster, UberTwitter, The Weather Channel, and Fictionwise eReader. (Fictionwise eReader can be downloaded from the eReader.com website.)

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Tour is a great upgrade for previous BlackBerry owners. If you are looking to upgrade from another smartphone platform to the BlackBerry, you will want to sync your old phone to Microsoft Outlook before making the jump to BlackBerry to ensure that all of your data makes it over. The BlackBerry Tour, like most other BlackBerry phones does not have a touch screen. That detail, and the lack of Wi-Fi may be a deal breaker for some, however, you will be repaid with longer battery life. If I don’t charge my Palm Pre, or the Motorola Droid I was testing every night, I would wake to find two phones with dead batteries in them while the Tour was still ready to work with about 45-50% battery life left in it.

The BlackBerry Tour is a solid business smartphone, however, if you are using a Microsoft Exchange email server, you will need to install a BlackBerry Enterprise Server or other third-party middleware server such as Notify Corp’s NotifyLink Enterprise Server since the BlackBerry does not support the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol as do most of today’s other smartphones.

Pricing and Availability

The BlackBerry Tour 9630 is available now from both Verizon Wireless and Sprint for $149 with a qualifying 2-year service agreement. For more information about the BlackBerry Tour, visit the BlackBerry website.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

BlackBerry Storm 2 Coming to Verizon

Verizon Wireless today, along with Research In Motion, has started sending out emails to customers letting them know that the new BlackBerry Storm 2 will be going on sale at retail location, online, and through Verizon business sales channels on Wednesday, October 28, 2009. Starting today, BlackBerry Storm customers will be able to upgrade their handsets to BlackBerry OS 5.0 over the air, via the BlackBerry Desktop Manager, or as a download from the Verizon Wireless website.

The BlackBerry Storm2 with BlackBerry® OS 5.0 evolves the BlackBerry® touchscreen platform with hundreds of hardware and software enhancements – including new SurePress™ “clickable” display technology and built-in Wi-Fi® – delivering the exceptional multimedia experience and communications capabilities customers have come to expect from their BlackBerry smartphones.

Key Features:
  • Smooth design and premium finish with sloped edges, chrome accents, glass lens and stainless steel backplate
  • Large (3.25”), dazzling high-resolution 480 x 360 display
  • Capacitive touchscreen with integrated functions (Send, End, Menu, Escape) and new SurePress technology that makes clicking the display practically effortless
  • 3G and global connectivity support for making phone calls in more than 220 countries and accessing data in more than 185 countries (with more than 80 destinations in 3G)
  • Network Connectivity: EV-DO Revision A; UMTS/HSPA (2100 MHz); and quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM networks
  • Supports Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
  • 256 MB of Flash memory
  • 2 GB of onboard media storage and a microSD™/SDHD memory card slot with a 16 GB card included
Pricing and Availability

The BlackBerry Storm2 smartphone is available beginning Oct. 28 for $179.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a new two-year customer agreement on a voice plan with an Email and Web feature or an Email and Web for BlackBerry plan. Customers will receive the mail-in rebate in the form of a debit card. plans for the BlackBerry Storm2 smartphone begin at $29.99 when added to any Nationwide voice plan. Existing BlackBerry Storm customers will be able to update their handsets to the new BlackBerry OS 5.0 software via Web software load (www.blackberry.com/update), BlackBerry Desktop Manager, or from Verizon Wireless’ download site (www.verizonwireless.com/storm). The software update is available today.

You can read the full press release on the Verizon Wireless website.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Retail Editions of Windows 7 Go On Sale Today

While the final version of Windows 7 has been available to select Microsoft customers and TechNet subscribers for some time now, October 22, 2009 will be remembered as the day that Windows Vista was finally replaced.

Starting today, Microsoft has started selling four of the six editions of Windows 7 online and at retail locations. (Windows 7 Starter edition and Windows 7 Enterprise edition are required to be purchased under special conditions that we wouldn't normally have access to. Think netbooks and large corporate account holders.)

So what does that mean for smartphone users? Probably not much. Microsoft has worked hard to ensure that any software package that works on Windows Vista will also work on Windows 7. I've been using Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise editions for the last few months now and I haven't run into any serious show stoppers.

Palm Pre, Pixi - Palm webOS devices

Palm Pre customers (and Palm Pixi customers shortly) won't have any sync problems out of the box because Palm webOS, unlike Palm OS, does not sync directly with a desktop computer. People using webOS phones and third-party sync solutions like Chapura PocketMirror for webOS and Chapura Echo will want to check for any updates that may be made available. At the time of this posting, I did not see any updates mentioned on Chapura's website.

Treo 755p, Centro, Palm OS Handhelds - Palm OS 5 Devices

Customers using Palm's older generation smartphones and PDA handhelds, including the Palm Treo 755p, Centro, and Palm TX handheld PDA, things can get a little bit sketchy. Most of the issues with Palm Desktop versions 4.x and 6.x will likely continue. You will still need to be a member of the Windows Administrators group to install the software and all manors of HotSync voodoo will likely be needed to perform successful HotSync operations. In my limited Palm Desktop 6.22 testing on my Windows 7 Ultimate machine, which was upgraded from Windows Vista Ultimate, I have been able to HotSync my Treo 755p. However, I will caution you that 3-5 HotSync operations is hardly conclusive.

Windows 7 also won't correct the USB driver issue. Neither Palm nor ACCESS (the company that owns the Palm OS 5 and Windows Palm Desktop source code) has released a 64-bit USB driver. In short, that means if you have a 64-bit edition of Windows XP/Vista/7, you can't sync your Palm OS 5 device with USB cable. You will need to turn to a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth solution to sync. I don't expect either company to release a 64-bit compatible Palm OS 5 driver at this late stage in the Palm OS life cycle since Palm OS 5 is no longer being used in new devices from Palm.

RIM BlackBerry Smartphones

I recently installed BlackBerry Device Manager 5.0 on my Windows 7 machine and was able to sync it with my BlackBerry Curve 8330. After installing Device Manager, I learned that there was an OS update for my Berry and I was able to apply the update without issue. The BlackBerry USB mass storage mode also worked without a hitch.

Windows Mobile 5, 6, 6.5

There really isn't much to report here. Microsoft's latest desktop software is expected to sync with their mobile operating systems. While I haven't tried to sync my Treo 750 (Windows Mobile Professional 6.0) with my Windows 7 machine yet, it did sync (mostly) error free with Windows Vista.

What about everything else?

While I don't have an Apple iPhone or Google Android phone, I am not anticipating any serious problems. The iPhones and the iPod touch sync with Apple's iTunes software, which is still listed as being compatible with Windows XP and Windows Vista should work fine under Windows 7. If an issue does come up, I'd expect Apple to have a fix out shortly since there are so many people walking around with both devices at this point.

You can learn more about the various Windows 7 editions on the Microsoft website.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Sprint BlackBerry OS 4.5.0.175 for Curve Released

Over the weekend, I activated a second smartphone on my Sprint account, a BlackBerry Curve 8330. (For those keeping score, I was using a Curve 8330 as my primary phone between December, 2008 - June 6, 2009; the day that the Palm Pre was released.) While configuring BlackBerry Device Manager 5.0 on my PC, I noticed that there was an OS upgrade for my new Sprint BlackBerry.

Sprint customers who use the BlackBerry Curve 8330 can upgrade from BlackBerry OS 4.5.0.131 to BlackBerry 4.5.0.175. As far as I can tell, the .175 build of BlackBerry OS 4.5 is largely a maintenance release as all of the BlackBerry applications in the package build are still listed as version 4.5.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

OS 5.0.0.216 Leaked for Storm 9500

Hey BlackBerry Storm 9500 addicts, CrackBerry.com has apparently gotten their hands on the latest OS upgrade for the BlackBerry Storm, OS 5.0.0.216.

If you are the type who absolutely must have the latest and greatest software, consequences be damned, then here is your chance to get the new Berry software. If you are the more cautious type, like me, then you may want to skip leaked OS upgrades until a generic upgrade is made available from Research In Motion or one specifically customized for your device by your wireless carrier.

Ready to take the plunge now? Head over to CrackBerry.com for the download link and install directions. Proceed at your own risk!

[Via CrackBerry.com...]

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