John Galea's Blog

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Blackberry 8520 review

Blackberry ingrained itself into the enterprise early on. This has been a savior and protector to the core business that RIM has built. It has also been a hindrance to RIMs penetration into the consumer space. When you get a personal blackberry from your Carrier you actually are still existing inside an enterprise, that of the carrier. That’s why you see “Blackberry Plans” from carriers. This infrastructure consists of a Blackberry Enterprise Server (called a BES) and Blackberry Internet Server (called a BIS). A Blackberry is actually quite entwined into the BIS/BES. I am not on a Blackberry Plan so I wanted to see how a Berry would fair without these and how much Blackberry is attempting to address this new market while still keeping the carriers happy. The carriers want the extra cash of the Blackberry Plan.

Right off the bat the 8520 I bought came with 4.6. There is a 5.0 upgrade that is a pretty good size improvement, but low and behold, it is ONLY available to those on a Blackberry Plan. Ridiculous and I would even go so far as to say shameful.

I put the device on my WIFI at home which supports WiFi Protected Setup and was amazed at how easily it was setup and working on my network!

I put my SIM card in it on a data plan and had some difficulty getting the internet going. Turned out I had to maually go into Advanced Options host routing table to get it going. No idea why. With this solved I was up and running. I also had to add the APN for Fido in the TCPIP settings, which is bizarre to me as this is a Fido 8520.

Normally when you have access to the BES/BIS mail connections rather than being setup on the device itself are setup on the backend. Standard POP3/SMTP/IMAP accounts are tied into the BIS which acts as an intermediary insuring your mail gets to you using Blackberry’s legendary push technology. It’s what makes a Blackberry one of the best email experiences. Not being on a Blackberry Plan means I don’t have access to the BES/BIS. I was shocked to discover that there is no way to setup a standard SMTP/POP3/IMAP account on the device itself. Or if there is I can’t find it.

I am on GMAIl for my contacts, calendar, mail. Google has written a terrific sync utility for contacts and calendar that is free and runs on the device and just works. Nicely done!

Google have also created a Gmail app. This app is in terrible shape. It is in need of a total rewrite and almost unusable. It is archaic to say the least. Mail takes forever to make it’s way to the device. This is so far off the Push experience I am use to on Android it’s sad. No support for the priority inbox either. If this was the ONLY way I could use this device I would be VERY disappointed. I could go on slagging this ap and pointing out all the things wrong with it, but I won’t. Let’s just leave it at this app is TERRIBLE.

Ok let’s just go ahead and admit it, the iPhone is the King of Apps. There’s an app for everything. Android has been getting better and better penetration into the app space. Blackberry still lags both. And the marketplace called AppWorld is not great. Search within it is terrible and almost frivolous.

Speaking of apps, I loaded up the facebook ap, only to discover that it requires a Blackberry Plan to use. Your kidding right? Your trying to attack the consumer space and you make this blunder?

If Blackberry are going to make continue inroads into the consumer space they have a lot of work to do. Berrys are well known for anemic processors and pathetic screens. But they do get good battery life. But these two are not unrelated. Also, the lack of Aps, fast processors, good browsers and the like mean the berrys don’t get used as heavily for multimedia stuff that more full featured smart phones do.

One of the reasons for the success into consumer space is what berrys have been well known for. Good keyboards. My kid asked for a berry for just that. And she uses it as a text messaging machine. And man can she type quickly on it. She doesn’t even have an internet plan, and doesn’t seem to need it. But keyboards and form factors only go so far. At one point or another you want to have some fun with the device.

The music player on the device is basic but works well. I plugged in my 32G card with a ton of content on it and after a while of indexing the card the music player was able to show me the tagged data and organized the music well enough. You can create playlists on the device, but from the music player can not delete. You can receive using bluetooth but can’t send. The music played back well with no interruptions. Don’t look for any kind of visual fluff. No cover flow nada. This is basic but functional.

Video playback is similarly basic. The 512 MHZ processor is anemic by today’s standard but did an adequate job of playback. It got a little bogged down at points but still kept the video smooth. It makes no attempt to remember where you left off on the video. So like I said basic but adequate.

Picture app is again basic. No slideshow function but you can send to bluetooth as well as email/MMS etc. I don’t see integration with the facebook ap and the GMAIL ap is totally left out of the game …

Location awareness is a HUGE deal. The ability to checking with Four Square or Facebook where you are (voluntary stalking as my friends call it) is huge today. The 8520 has no GPS so location awareness is limited to knowing the vicinity you are in.

Touchscreens are a must these days. It amazes me how long RIM has taken to embrace the touchscreen. Only now are Berry’s hitting the market (other than the Torch and the Storm) with them. This is just another sad statement of how slow to respond to the market RIM has been. The 8520 of course is not a touchscreen. Games while possible without a touchscreen are much less enjoyable. Using the keyboard to play the games along with the optical mouse is just reminiscent of playing the old text based star trek game 🙂

The 8520 and all of the 8 series phones (which are being phased out) are all edge devices. Think 56K modem speed slow. The newer 9 series devices are all 3G speeds. I purposely chose an 8 series for better battery life, cheaper and because I knew the device would be unlikely to be used on a data plan.

I have an Android Tablet. While it has a 3G radio in it I don’t want to pay for a plan for the device. So the solution is to use tethering from my Android phone. The iPhone has it too. Not on the 8520. No tethering for you 😦 Of course with only edge speeds this isn’t a huge sacrifice:)

The browser on the Berrys has always been terrible. The one in this one is just as bad. Couple this with a slow edge speed, a slow processor and it’s almost not worth even bothering. In a pinch it will do. RIM have finally moved to a Webkit based browser but again I have no way of understanding why RIM have been so slow to keep up with the competition. The market was theirs to loose, and loose they are, at a brisk pace!

Berry’s have for the longest time had a magnet in their cases. When you slip the berry into the case it locks it and turns off the screen. And when you take it out it turns the screen back on for you. This was a great idea and it continues in the 8520. Nice. Something no one else does. Simple!

So that’s about it. All in all it is a good device, but nothing earth shattering and a continuing statement for how far behind the rest of the world RIM really is.

UPDATE: I have since writing this review a flaw in the design of this device. The Opctical mouse on this device is connected by ribbon cable and a connector. This makes it easy to change. The problem is the connector on some of the devices is not great leading to intermittent connection. Given the optical mouse is a MUST to use this device this is a HUGE issue. My GF and daughter both have this device. My daughter has had issues with the optical mouse getting dirty and my GF has had the connector issue. I’ve also since read that the optical mouse can be damaged by leaving it out in direct sunlight? Your kidding? All in all this seems like a major issue for this device and something you should be aware of. Aparrently not all of the Berry’s have this design, but that said, I have no idea which do and do not have this problematic connector.


September 8, 2011 - Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews

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