First and foremost, I would like to emphatically state that I am not, NOT an iPhone fanboy. In fact, I pretty much detest all touch-screen phones. That being said, I may get a free G1 as part of a the perks of a new gig I am doing so please don’t consider me a hypocrite. I love Blackberry because, as many RIM (Research In Motion) enthusiasts will tell you, when you get a smartphone you either buy a toy or you buy a tool. The iPhone falls into the foremost and the Blackberry is definitely more in the latter category (BTW, as of 2010, I have a Blackberry 9700 and I love it.. No more pesky trackball!)
Of course, like with any powerful computing tool or data device, there are technical issues, hidden costs, and routine maintenance to be considered. Blackberrys have become a lot more clunky as they have become more mainstream and loaded with bells-n-whistles. The more capabilities you get, the more possible issues you introduce. That’s just how the metaphorical cookie crumbles, it would seem.
All I can say is that I am a very happy Crackberry user. My love affair with RIM started back in the PALM IIIx days, when Blackberrys were very simple and strictly business. A client of mine, an investment/venture capital bank going by the acronym TWCO at the time, gave me a RIM mainly because they wanted a leash on me and couldn’t afford to pay me for all the work I did for them (go figure). I knew it was a trick but, hell, what self-respecting tech geek will turn down a free gadget?? Certainly not I!
Well, I am here to provide fair warning to anyone considering getting any sort of Blackberry or smartphone. If you are not particularly tech savvy and you do not have spare money laying around, stick to a pseudo-smartphone (something that your carrier does not require to get an expensive “data package” with perhaps). My Blackberry, as resilient as it has been (it survived an extended dip in the pool back when I lived in San Diego), finally crapped out and through no fault of my own…This story really goes back a few months ago when I started to notice that a lot of my messages were disappearing randomly. I did a little research and it seems that the Blackberry 4.x platform has been a notorious OS known for deleting messages to make space. Being as resourceful as I am, I ran the “wipe” maintenance tool only after hand-picking unnecessary files and removing them one by one. Several hard resets and Blackberry forum visits later, I was still losing messages. I ran a backup and continued the clean-up but it only minimized occurrence.
Fast forward a few months later and here I am receiving a red-texted message stating that I HAD to upgrade to the latest OS on my Blackberry. I was already contemplating it but now it was mandatory so who was I to say no to the ubiquitous system message? It was time for me to make the Blackberry 4.5 transition. I did a little research and it seemed rather safe and worthwhile. You gain new capabilities and better performance. Seemed like a no-brainer but was it safe? I read on and I was assured that my data would be backed up and I would be fine. No worries, right? VERY wrong.
After restarting my computer and booting up clean, I killed all needless TSRs and background apps, then proceeded to launch the Blackberry Web App Loader process. Just getting this started was a nightmare. Being on a 64-bit platform, I had to start IE in 32-bit mode so the necessary controls and extensions would install and run. Of course, the actual update was nested within a few pages before I could finally get a working link (anyone ever heard of a stand-alone installation??). Finally, I get the Blackberry App Loader to come up. As it starts, I verify that it does back up my data before it starts. This gave me a false sense of security because, as I found out in the last percentile of the installation process, a hosed Blackberry OS upgrade pretty much kills the data backup. YAY! There go all my business leads, important notes, contacts, etc.
Naturally, I was beyond pissed off when I booted up my Blackberry and found that I had absolutely no OS. I got the lovely Error Codes 507 and 561 on my Blackberry Curve 8310. Of course, it had to fail in the last minutes of the installation so I had no time to troubleshoot. I tried to restart the installation. No dice. I make a mad dash to my local cell phone store to grab a loaner phone. They say they don’t do that and suggest a pre-paid phone. Ummmm… No. I’m paying for service and might as well use it as it’d be more cost-effective. Fortunately, I was up for one of those evil two-year-agreement “free upgrades”. I snatched a Nokia 2600 after the inept salesperson failed to tell me that the LG Envision actually costs $99 today (I guess she didn’t get the phrase “cost out the door”). Mail-in rebate? No thanks. Stick the MIR up you-know-where!
But I digress…
I ultimately figured out how to fix the problem with the aide of RIM (Research In Motion) Support. They were actually very helpful and knowledgeable. And I got an American helpdesk, not some overseas person with a hard-to-understand accent (YAY!) so I was very happy. Joel from the Texas office was especially helpful. Of course, I had to have the issue escalated by my cell phone carrier before I could get to the people that actually had any real technical knowledge and weren’t just script monkeys.
I did lose a lot of my data but my Yahoo GO! backup along with my last Blackberry Desktop backup did help me recover most of my stuff. Fortunately, I’m a worst-case scenario kind of guy so I was ready for one such event. Even so, this cell phone is my lifeline and I know the same goes for a lot of you folks out there so I must stress this: back up your smartphones often!
Do not rely on one method of backup either. Using web-based backups along with native backups is a smart thing to do. Many e-mail and productivity suites allow you to sync just about any smartphone. Use these methods as they are effective and usually completely FREE! Do not rely on your insurance because, even if they will cover the issue, there are deductibles and all sorts of red tape to go through and that means needless downtime and monetary cost for you.
There are a few lessons I learned about owning a smartphone over the past few years. The last few days only made these lessons more pervasive. Here are some I’d like to share with you:
- Always Back Up Your Data: Did I mention this? Just think about all the data that is on your smartphone. Same with your computer. Back it up because, if anything happens, you need a contingency plan that will work for you on-the-fly to minimize downtime.
- Don’t Assume Tech Support Can Help: Most tech support folks read from a script and will only go over what you already probably know. Their end-game usually involves you buying a replacement phone for a “reduced cost”. That does nothing for your precious data, of course, and they don’t really care either.
- GPS Doesn’t (Have To) Cost A Thing: Many GPS devices, smartphones inclusive, require subscriptions to get service. GPS is always enabled on most devices and, with the right application (a’la Yahoo GO!) you can get reliable GPS for absolutely NO COST to you (other than data access on your smartphone, of course). This often includes traffic reporting, dynamic rerouting, branded points of interest, and other things that are usually charged at a premium.
- Data Packages Are (Usually) Optional: Standard GPRS and WAP transmissions can count against your minutes rather than data rates but you have to know what you are doing and have a smart device that is more “open”. Blackberrys fail in this area, sadly, so you have to get the data package but that’s mainly because of the need for EDGE/3G and SRP, protocols needed for the Blackberry to be happy. Don’t ask your cell phone carrier because, of course, they want everything to be billable up the wazoo.
- Blackberrys Can Handle Massive Amounts of Data: I thought I had a ton of contacts, calendar entries, and memos but I’ve seen people with over 20K in contacts alone. Good luck fitting those on a SIM card.
- SIM Cards Can’t Handle Extended Data Sets: Saving phone numbers to SIM cards helps but you don’t get all the extra data fields and namespaces. On most devices, you choose saving to the SIM card or the device memory. I go for the latter because I like to put notes for my various clients, colleagues, friends, and family. Of course, you lose this stuff if your device commits suicide. D’oh.
- Phone Numbers Are Mated To SIM Cards: In a pinch, you can pop your SIM card into a pre-paid phone so you don’t have to rely on your phone carrier to provide a loaner (some will, as they should, but some won’t because they’re too busy counting beans).
- Blackberry Backups Are All Inclusive: All data is backed up in these handy IPD files unless otherwise specified. Just about the only thing not included are some multimedia files, especially those located on your memory card. Device settings, contacts, notepad entries, message histories, and all that fun stuff is backed up.
- Blackberry OS 4.5 ROCKS: The 4.5 upgrade is definitely worth it. It fixes some serious memory management bugs, emergency service issues, and ease-of-use issues. The interface is a lot cleaner and much less clunky, going back to the old-school RIM device days. You can customize just about anything and now web pages are even easier to peruse. It feels like everything loads faster, whether you have vanilla EDGE or 3G. Definitely worth risking the 507, 561, and other pesky errors!
- Other Smartphones Smell: I am a bit biased here but I’ve tried out and owned some of the other smartphones out there. Blackberrys have stellar support to back them up and they are workhorses. These are serious tools, not the little trendy toys you see out there. I had to laugh when people pulled out Sidekicks and G1’s saying they are/were the best phones on the market. LMAO! Seriously… Stop it.
- Smartphones Are Not For The Faint-Hearted: Smartphones have a way of becoming central in your life once you get used to them. If you’re not very technically-proficient and complex devices overwhelm you, keep it simple and skip the smartphone, no matter how much of a wow factor you think it has when you show it off to your friends. They can and will crap out on you. End of story.
- Blackberry Data Has A Small Footprint: It’s amazing how so much data can occupy so little space. The average Blackberry backup file is around 3-5MB. That’s pretty darn impressive! This allows the Blackberry to efficiently handle massive amounts of data without tanking. Be sure to clear out your cache and delete unnecessary modules to make the most of your smart tool!
There is good news to my story. I fixed everything in the long run and it didn’t leave me waiting for my phone to come back from RIM for a few weeks. Fortunately, I had foresight and had transferred my most important contacts to paper formats and synched with Yahoo GO! Sadly, it didn’t catch everything. I am still a very happy Blackberry user. Most phones crap out and the fatal errors are unrecoverable. In this case, I was able to recover after just a little aggrevation and very little reassurance from my cell phone carrier.
Here are some things to do when you are preparing to upgrade your Blackberry for any reason:
- Install the latest Blackberry device drivers so that your device is not detected as a generic smartphone or incorrect model.
- Boot up clean and close all background apps possible, especially web browsers and security software that may block certain processes.
- Connect directly to the USB root hub, avoiding any external hubs or daisy chains (they can be fickle, even if self-powered).
- Run Blackberry Desktop Manager’s backup service, from more than one computer if possible.
- Verify the existence of and copy the data backup file (it’s in IPD format and should look like Backup[DATE].IPD or something to that effect) to a jumpdrive or disc, just to be safe – you never know!
- Load the installation process in Internet Explorer 5.5 or greater. Other browsers may work but are not fully tested!
- Check App Loader settings and options, making sure you load only the bare essentials to conserve device memory – don’t forget to make sure the automatic backup is checked off!
- Do not interrupt the process or multitask while it loads.
- Carefully monitor the OS upgrade process. It tends to fail when the OCD files are being copied. This issue can be resolved by your cell phone carrier since some of these OCD files are carrier/vendor-specific. If most of the installation completes, that’s usually a good sign, which is what happened with me, but I still needed RIM to step in.
- Be careful not to power off or lose battery power while you are upgrading as it can ruin your Blackberry. If the boot RAM flash process is interrupted, you will have an expensive paperweight on your hands.
If your Blackberry upgrade botches up and get a hosed smartphone like I did, try this:
- Perform a hard reset of your Blackberry phone by removing the battery.
- As your Blackberry starts to boot up, immediately connect it to your PC and make sure it is detected.
- If the Blackberry device is not detected, try to manually select the connection method (usually USB/PINxxxx) and see if you can establish a connection.
- If the above fails, reinstall the Blackberry device driver using only reliable files from Blackberry.com and retry; otherwise, you may have a bigger problem at hand.
- Find the Research In Motion folder in your Program Files or Program Files (x86) folder, and copy it’s contents to a seperate path/directory, for safe measure.
- Delete the Vendor.xml file in the Research In Motion folder but only after making a successful backup/copy.
- Attempt to restart the Blackberry App Loader process. If it takes you to the screen where available updates are shown, you’re in good shape. Pick the preferred update to play it safe (other updates may not be stable/verified ones).
- Monitor installation once again and note where it fails and any error codes you get, if applicable.
- Sit back and enjoy a successful installation.. Or call your phone carrier’s tech support line if DYI fails you.
These are just some simple rules of thumb. You want to do the basic stuff first so that, when yo uget on the phone wtih tech support, you can speed things up along and not have to spend hour upon hour trying to resolve the issue. I’ve heard of Blackberry support calls lasting 22 hours over the course of two days. The good thing is that they are not like most call centers where they rush to get you off the phone due to silly performance metrics. They will stay on the phone with you until the issue is resolved, which rocks. This gives me added confidence in Blackberry and makes me realize that there is good reason that there is such huge mark-up on these seksy little things. ;o)
If all else fails, there is plenty of free information out there. You can always Google to find the answers you need but here are a few sites worth checking out:
Good luck and enjoy your Crackberry – I know I do! Heck, 4.5 is so great that I don’t feel a need to upgrade to the Blackberry BOLD now. Besides, something about dropping $700 on a volatile device that can easily walk away at any time doesn’t sit right with me. Heck, for some, that’s more than their car will trade in for. =oX
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… but upgrading to v4.5 on your Blackberry is worth it. Just be prepared for it to take longer than you may think!
Quick Blackberry And Smartphone Tips For 2011
It turns out this is one of my most popular (and most stolen) articles so, in my efforts to add more polish and value to community favorites, here are some tools, apps, and tools every Blackberry or smartphone owner should consider (whether it’s an Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, or other):
- Google Mobile is a must-have, especially if you use Google stuff frequently like I do. The most important tool here is Google Sync. Most folks do not realize just how valuable their smartphones are until they lose them. Google Sync makes sure you don’t lose valuable data.
- If you’re on the go a lot or like to stay productive no matter where you are, chances are your phone is a vital lifeline and work tool. Blackberry Protect is one of the few apps I’ve heard of that offers complete security for your smartphone for FREE. With Blackberry Protect, you can track your phone’s location, turn the ringer up (great if your sofa eats your gadgets often), lock your phone, and even wipe your personal data if need be – remotely!
- Make your phone virtually invincible with an Otter Box case. Most Otter Box products combine multiple layers of tough plastic with a rubberized shell. It makes sense to invest $25-50 on a case for a phone worth $200-500, especially if you’re rather clumsy.
- WordPress for smartphones is as close to the full console as it gets. If you’re an avid promoter, chances are this will be your most handy app – I know it is for me!
- UberSocial is possibly the best mobile social media client. It’s one of the best ways to tweet and manage your social lifestyle. I’m still learning about some of the features but I really dig using lists to filter tweets depending on whether I’m in work or play mode!
- If you spend a lot of time on the road, Trapster is another must-have. It’s best to have your co-pilot viewing Trapster as you drive but, either way, this handy-dandy app helps you plan for trips by figuring out where speed traps and law enforcement points are most common.
- While I haven’t played with the Hootsuite beta too much, I can see the potential here. HootSuite allows you to combine popular social media tools/platforms for instant sharing across the board. Pretty darn neat.
- InstaPaper is a great way to save useful articles and web pages for later viewing. You can file away and sort tweets, messages, and virtually any content on your smartphone. Awesome for us life-long learners and avid fact finders!
- Opera Mini is a great alternative to native browsers. It lacks some features but the tabbed viewing and solid performance works well. You can also sync bookmarks between Opera browsers on other devices and your PC. Woohoo!
- AppLock (and tools like it) allows you greater control over password protection on a folder, media, and file-level. Some phones do this natively but the granular control AppLock Pro offers (as the paid version) is worth looking into; after all, your most sensitive data is worth protecting, is it not?
As always, tools are meant to make you more efficient but do not use them as a crutch; after all, you never know which of these tools can be shut down at any given time. Even so, I hope these goodies stick around. Now, while I am partial to Blackberry these days, I’m sure there are similar solutions on other platforms so hopefully now you’re more aware of the true potential your smartphone holds! 8)