I have this standing policy which I’ve developed over the years – where possible never buy first generation electronic products. Why? Its simple! Most first generation electronic products have an invisible sticker on them that shouts – ‘our experiment. your risk’. What I mean is that most first generation of any electronic product will likely have a number of flaws in them. Whether its the iPod, iPhone, or Asus EeePC model 700 – to name a few – all lacked a number of features that eventually creeped in on succeeding generation. In my opinion, it is a tactic to subtly coerce early adopters to get hooked on the first generation and move on quickly to the second generation.

Awhile back I hinted about my disklike for the BlackBerry Bold (first generation). While the first BlackBerry Bold had leather upholstery on its back panel, I found it heavy (136g versus 109g for BlackBerry Curve 8300). While the screen on the Bold was great it wasn’t a compelling enough feature for me to give up the smaller, lighter and almost the same feature-set Curve 8300.

That said I know many executives who do love the Bold because it felt very solid and truth be told, the leather exterior made it scream – luxury! The Bold also stayed true to its tradition of physical qwerty keyboard because working executives don’t want to waste their time thumbing three times to get to the character they want or even more time retyping a character because the iPhone keeps sensing the wrong key being pressed. After testing HTC, iPhone, Nexus, LG and Samsung touch phones, I can tell you, it pisses me off trying to send an SMS on any of these touch phones because people can’t decipher my short messages or complain how long it takes for me to send a short message.

There is a lot of things to be thankful about the BlackBerry Bold 9700 (I personally prefer to call it Bold 2). RIM took great pains to make this light (16g), smaller (6mm narrower, 5mm shorter, 0.9mm thinner). This last bit tells you the vendor had a hard time trying to figure out where else to trim the phone off. The only thing that the Bold 2 lost out to the Bold 1 is the smaller keyboard. I’m still trying to adjust to this change and it shows because I still fumble when sending sms even though I have a physical keyboard on the Bold 9700. That said the prismic design of the keys may help you adjust faster to the narrow but taller keys.

If there is any feature on the BlackBerry that has kept it the envy of Nokia and other contenders to the business smartphone device is the qwerty keyboard. Thankfully despite some experiments in the curvature and texture, RIM has kept the keys intact.

One thing I am grateful that RIM has finally decided to throw out is the trackball. If you’ve ever used one of those early mouse pointing device (or trackball in my case) you soon discover that the ball collects dust, dirt and introduces these to the contact points inside the device itself. I’ve had my Pearl jam on me many a times – often when I am in harried situations.

Apart from this, the Bold 9700 is a Bold 1 on steroids. It’s got a faster processor, and is a 3G phone so now I can use it in Japan and maybe Korea. Its got one of those HVGA-class screens only found on the HTC Magic. (more…)

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A month ago I got myself a Palm Treo Pro (850 unlock) and I thought I would finally get rid of my Windows mobile phobia. As you will have note from previous entries I have tried my hands on other Win Mobile 6.1 devices: Samsung Omnia i908 and HTC Touch Diamond. This is not my first foray into a Windows Mobile device. I do have a HTC Touch and an O2 XDA Atom Life.

I even chucked my BlackBerry Pearl aside to make sure my judgement isn’t clouded by happier memories. But after weeks of fiddling with the Palm Treo Pro I’ve concluded that I am probably not a Microsoft Windows Mobile friend. While the Treo Pro has an elegant external design, a little on the heavy side but solid built, I feel that the operating system is a clunker – requiring too much learning for an average phone user such as myself.

So I took out my trusty old BlackBerry Pearl, charged it and am using it every day now. The Treo Pro is just waiting in a corner – waiting to be traded in for another device – either a Sony Ericsson (for me) or a Nokia (for my wife).

More interesting I was recently loaned a BlackBerry 8900 (the successor to the BlackBerry Curve). After my brief stint with the BlackBerry Bold I had thought that the next device I would love to review is the BlackBerry Storm. The 8900 came a few months after the Bold and is a few weeks ahead of the Storm in Asia. But being a former Curve user, she (8900) is worth the upgrade. 

The 8900 display is about the same brightness and resultion as the Bold. It keys are much better to handle. The device is fast both as a personal information management (PIM) device, and communication is crisp – I haven’t had any signal drops even in my building which is notorious for bad cell signal. 

My biggest hiccup (and remaining one for both the Curve and the Pearl) is the clunky browser experience. You don’t want to use the Pearl or the Curve to surf the Internet. Yes, you can connect to any b or g network but surfing is painful at best.

The 8900 changes the game. I am very pleased that Research In Motion finally updated the software for better surfing experience. To be fair, there is no comparison to the iPhone or iPod Touch when it comes to a portable (handheld) device to surf the Internet (yes, even the Nokia Communicator series isn’t up to the challenge), but RIM has painstakingly updated the BlackBerry so that it is easier to surf.

At the end of the day, we choose ornaments because they fulfil certain functions – they are either beautiful to have, or they are functional allowing us to be productive during moments when we need to be. RIM’s BlackBerry 8900 meets both of these criteria – at least for me.

Bold by any other name

What’s in a name? As a former marketer I have learned to understand and believe the power of brands. Take away the shareholder equation ($$$) associated with brands and what you have at the very core of a brand is Trust. The old adage in IT was “no one ever gets fired for buying IBM”. While this may still hold true in some business quarters in many parts of the world, the “trust” a brand builds over time can easily be thrown out by a single, badly managed incident.

But that is not my point here. My point is that sometimes marketers can get carried away with the exercise of creating a brand name that they lose sight of a deeper goal – maintaining the level of trust a brand has established over the years.

Anyway, you’ve probably read two of my product reviews (Samsung Omnia and HTC Touch Diamond). I would not be surprised if after reading both you’d think of me as being patently pro-BlackBerry. I can assure you that while I like some of the technologies that RIM has created over the years, I am still very much not in favor of some of their current business practices. But this is a another product review so let me get that off the table and come back to my RIM issues towards the end.

I use a BlackBerry Pearl (8120). I’ve used a BlackBerry Curve (8310) earlier this year – sorry it got stolen during a holiday in Manila. Recently I was loaned a BlackBerry Bold (9000) to try out. As before, this is not an exhaustive review. If you want a technical dissertation, click on the list towards the end of this blog.

Likes about the BlackBerrys

  • Rugged form factor (I’ve dropped each model on a few occasions – unintentionally of course – and each survived mostly unscathed – yes, minor scratches – you should see what a 3 foot drop can do to an iPhone 2G – the model with an aluminum case. Imagine what would happen to the plastic iPhone 3G)
  • Simple to understand user interface plus the ability to hide functions you don’t need or don’t use. (I firmly believe that a true test of a consumer device is to use it effectively without ever reaching for the manual)
  • Syncing with MS Outlook is easy as is installing/uninstalling the software – BlackBerry Desktop Manager
  • Screen is crystal clear – but the Bold beats everyone – iPhone, all previous BBs, SonyE, Nokia, HTC, MotoQ, in fact everyone except the Samsung Omnia i900 series.
  • Power-up is almost instantaneous (except when you remove the battery)

(more…)

Finally decided to unbox the HTC Touch Diamond that a friend loaned to me to test. The packaging is catchy although I, personally, don’t like the design on the back – whoever designed this must have thought he or she was being imaginative. The HTC Diamond design is unique but not innovative (in my humble opinion).

Again I am not doing a comprehensive review of the Diamond. You’d be better of going to one of the sites below. I’m here to tell you what a non-geek would like and dislike about the new product from HTC.

What I like about the HTC Touch Diamond

  • Small form factor, fits my hand and my pants pocket (also shirt pocket) very nicely
  • ActiveSync software ran very smoothly and syncs my Outlook data to the Diamond (no worries)
  • Bright screen
  • Windows platform means, in theory, I can open standard office apps when I have to (and for once Windows Mobile 6.1 worked better than its predecessor the Windows Mobile 6 on the HTC device).

I have a HTC Touch (gen 1) and when you load even a small excel spreadsheet, the phone runs like a snail pulling a dead weight. With the Diamond, I ran the picture slideshow, open a spreadsheet, called another phone number, and ran Bubble Breaker and the phone still worked “almost” flawlessly.

What I don’t like about the HTC Touch Diamond

  • It is designed to power-off (you can program it for up to 5 minutes). I think this is to save battery but the during first day I used the phone, I tell you it freaked me out that the phone kept switching off. I had to run through the innards of the operating system to come to the conclusion that there is the built-in power off mode. Just to be safe I asked a friend to call my number to see if the phone rang when it was “powered off”. The Diamond wakes up when a call comes in.
  • The Diamond touts the new TouchFlo 3D but I tell you the version I got, (ROM 1.93.707.1 WWE), is quirky to say the least. There are times when I had to keep repeating movements to get the darn thing to do what I want it to (doesn’t always though so I had to keep pressing the HOME key every now and then).
  • I can’t use my standard headset with mini-jack to listen to the music although bluetooth was ok.
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • The processor can, at times, be slow (like trying to watch some photos, scrolling through the favorite phonelist).

Other HTC Touch reviews
Geek.com – Review: HTC Diamond
CNET Australia – HTC Touch Diamond
MobileTech Review – HTC Diamond

My first product review was the Samsung Omnia – another Windows Mobile 6.1 device. After holding this HTC Touch for a couple of days I have to admit that the Touch wins hands-down versus the Omnia. GSM Arena has done a great comparative review of the Omnia versus the HTC Touch Diamond. Read it if you are trying to decide between these two devices.

Personally which one would I consider buying? If I really have no choice I would pick the HTC Touch Diamond. But if I have to choose a new phone to replace my BlackBerry Pearl, I’d probably try the new BlackBerry Bold first before I make any commitments. In case you are thinking I’m overly biased towards the BlackBerry, I was once an avid Sony Ericsson customer with the P900 being my last SE smartphone. I am curious to try the SE Experia but that would be for another day. I’ve also used the Nokia E70 – that was also a painful experience.

One last point to ponder. The true test of a consumer product is the ability to use it out of the box without reading the manual. To be fair I was able to switch the Diamond on and make a call. But to do other stuff like look for a phone number, send SMS, or get connected to the web, those took time to figure out and get used to the way the Diamond wants to be handled. Beautiful it may be but the HTC Touch Diamond is not as intuitive as the vendor makes it out to be.

Oh well, back to my BlackBerry Pearl – the no fuss, no hassle, smartphone.

PS: I recently met up with Mark Russinovich. He asked if I switched off TouchFlo to see what my experience would be like. At the time of review, I wasn’t aware this was possible. Oh well, my lost.