Owed to the West Wind, Er, Blackberry…

♫Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing…♫

Lyrics by Friedrich von Schiller, music by L. van Beethoven, “Ode to Joy“.

When my trusty but basic cell phone died, it was time to look for a replacement. I knew that it was time to stop my resistance as one of the last holdouts against the western phenomenon that has blown thru the business world, namely the Blackberry. It was a difficult decision but ultimately driven by the need to carry my calendar around with me without carrying a paper printout. I thought that these tiny black megaliths would soon start to have an influence over my life much as the black megalith slowly but surely changes the primitive ancestors of man in “2001 A Space Odyssey“. What I should have realized much sooner is that this influence could be both positive as well as possibly negative. I also realized that as a self-confessed tecchy, I was failing to drink my own Kool-aid.

What were my fears? For one, I thought that I would be tethered to this tiny device; enslaved 24/7 to the siren call of never ending emails. For another, I had previously owned several Palm Pilots and loved their integration with my Amicus Attorney; I was concerned that the integration with the Blackberry would not work as well (since it had to use MS Outlook as an intermediary). The third was I would find it hard to use the tiny Qwerty keyboard on the Blackberry, having extra-large hands.

Were my fears justified? I didn’t realize that you can set the Blackberry to turn off at a set time in the evening and turn on again in the morning, thereby allowing you to set the boundaries on your personal space. A simple push on the ‘on’ button will wake up the device if you wish to use it during these ‘protected’ hours. The integration with Amicus Attorney is almost flawless; my calendar and email show up without a hitch; for some reason my contacts are all there but all their associated telephone numbers are not. Perhaps some missing configuration setting that I have failed to stumble across will correct this problem. The tini-tiny keyboard is indeed tini-tiny – I end up making many mistakes in trying to type out all but the shortest emails or dial a telephone number. These mistakes are not helped by the incredibly small font in the display (which is turned up to maximum brightness but I still find rather dim) which makes reading any text a challenge. For the record, I have the World Edition Blackberry on the Telus network, since I travel a fair bit.

On the negative side, I had previously eliminated the annoying pop-up notice in my Outlook that told me of incoming email, as I prefer to view and respond to email on my schedule and not otherwise. However, the Blackberry makes a small but noticeable ‘buzz’ when email arrives which means that I am now back to having this annoying prompt to check my email. I would have liked a stylus (which I had on my Palms) that allow me to peck at letters (which suited my big hands) rather than trying to use that ridiculously small keyboard (for the record, my thumb alone covers up 1/2 the keyboard).

On the positive side, having the mobile web and email access is a plus; however, I am quickly discovering that not all websites are configured to display on the Blackberry’s tiny screen. Any website that required a password for access will require me to figure out how the password manager on the Blackberry will remember these important details, which to this point I have not yet done (I would note that the Blackberry apparently does not pop up a little utility that says “Do you want to remember your password for this site?” I have trouble enough trying to recall all the myriad passwords we need these days! I wish I could import my bookmarks from Firefox into the Blackberry instead of having to go ahead and recreate them anew.

The Blackberry comes with a camera; I confess I have not figured out where it is or how to use it. The telephone cell reception is excellent, especially when used with wired earbuds and microphone. The speed dialing and voice dialing features are far less intuitive than my old Nokia cell phone (for one, hitting “1” and “Send” does not take me to my voice mail, which is one setting on my Nokia that I loved). On the other hand, I don’t seem to get that annoying message that “All long distance calls must use an area code” message when I am outside of my local calling area, indicating that I have to dial “1” before any telephone number since it is now long distance. My Blackberry will apparently store music; but given the fact that I can easily draw down the battery just returning email and voice mail calls, I see this as one feature which will just cause the battery to drain and exhaust itself just when I need it most.

I haven’t yet tapped the applications that you can download onto the Blackberry; I wonder if this is truly useful if you need to use that silly keyboard to do any meaningful work.

All in all, despite the drawbacks, the Blackberry is a definite improvement over the basic cell phone and I am glad that I have one. Given the proliferation of these devices, it does seem that the magic of the Blackberry has reunited men under its gentle wing…

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