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Nokia E61 vs BlackBerry 8700c vs Motorola Razr – a Tale of Address Books and Custom Flash Content

[1]This is a much longer post than usual for me, its a story about my dad and I and some devices we have been playing with, and may provide some useful info for folks in the market for a good mobile device/phone with PIM capabilities. I’ll be updating it over the next day or so with some additional links and photos, but wanted to get the core portion of the entry up before I dive into some other projects early this coming week.

[2]I had a chance to play with a BlackBerry 8700c for a few days recently and wanted to share my thoughts about it. This past week, my parents and brother were in Philadelphia from Georgia to visit and see their first grandson, my 3 week old son Owen. My dad had just picked up a BlackBerry 8700c a few days before arriving. He had purchased it to fill a gap that his Motorola Razr phone is sorely lacking in – a useable address book. My dad has carried around a Sharp Wizard [3] for several years, he has gone through at lest two of the models since the mid nineties. One of the reasons he used it so long, was that it had a really decent address book, and the type was very easy to read. Like me, my father has glaucoma which has progressively gotten worse, so large type, good contrast and readability is key to any device he uses. Last year his trusty Wizard finally started to give up the ghost, as the screen began to fail. So in December of last year he purchased two new black Motorola Razr v3’s since he needed a new phone, and was hoping to be able to replace the wizard as well, plus Cingular was having a great deal for new subscribers. My dad talked to me about it, and I had recommended he go with a Nokia 6681, but because of the price at the time, he wound up with the Razr instead.

As a phone the Razr is decent, the design and size is great, the keypad is top-notch and the screen is pretty vibrant, but two huge hits against it – the UI is horrible, and lo and behold, the thing they call an address book doesn’t allow you to actually store addresses! Names and numbers and email adresses only, not real street address information or other types of data. It’s pitifully organized as well, defaulting to multiple listings of a persons name for each phone entry, only by navigating to a menu with a confusing name and option for Primary Contacts can the entries for a specific contact be consolidated in the overall view or search mode. In my opinion, its the worst excuse for an “address book” I have ever seen on a mobile device, especially a recent device. So my dad realized this not too long after his purchase when he finally got a chance to try and sync up his data from his Sharp Wizard to the Razr. He already had problems with the order on the Razr, as he initially ordered the Black Razr’s but they sent Silver ones instead, and Cingular gave him a hard time about returning those despite it being quite clear on his original order, where he took advantage of a great deal when signing up for Cingular he got a huge discount on the Razrs. So by now over two months had passed since his original order, and he was pretty much locked into his 2 year contract with Cingular, yet the Razr just wasn’t what he was looking for in a phone with some basic PIM functionality.

The Treo and Pocket PC style phones were overkill for his basic needs and more than he wanted to spend on a device. I again recommended a Nokia 6681, as not only would it handle his needs, but it supports Flash Lite 2 and I could even build some customized PIM apps for my dad right in Flash, but my dad was out shopping and stopped by a Cingular store and they started showing him a BlackBerry and how he could swap SIM cards from his Razr and his BlackBerry, and how the BlackBerry could be used in non-network mode, etc. so my dad wound up with the BlackBerry 8700c, which brings us up to a few days ago. While my dad was here, he wanted some help syncing up the info on his Razr to his new BlackBerry. My dad is a PC guy with no Mac experience to speak of other than what I have shown him, and I prefer Mac’s but have PC’s and feel at home on either, just have a preference for working Mac’s. So I quickly setup a new account for him on my laptop, and paired the Razr to the laptop and synced it up and pulled all his contact info, datebook entries, etc. took just a few minutes. Then I paired the BlackBerry with my laptop, but their isn’t native support for BlackBerry’s and the latest version of iSync yet. Fortunately the folks at PocketMac.net famous for their PocketPC syncing software for Mac’s which I’ve purchased and used in the past, offer a free solution for syncing BlackBerry’s through iSync. I really can’t believe its free, as it works quite well, and even allows syncing of Entourage data, and other items, that you couldn’t do with iSync alone. The only minor inconvenience, is that it only works over a tethered USB connection and not the built in BlueTooth of the device. This was just a minor issue, and as soon as I plugged it in to the USB port, it showed up in iSync, and I was able to quickly transfer his calendar, tasks, and contact list to the BlackBerry, and we were in business. Less than 10 minutes spent and everything was working.

I like the screen and the form factor of the BlackBerry 8700c, its certainly easier to read than the Razr, the keypad feels solid and is fairly easy to use and type, much easier than your standard T9 numeric keypad entry on a regular phone first device. The lack of a camera doesn’t matter as the photos on the Razr are terrible compared to the Canon PowerShot my dad like to use, so that wasn’t a factor. The address book is far more useful and for the most part would do what my dad needed and filled the gap where the Razr left off. The BlackBerry certainly has some great email and enterprise level features, but that is the extent to which I like the BlackBerry. Mainly because of the interaction with the device – the scroller/click button used for navigating is not completely awful to use, but its just not intuitive to me. I remember when I bought my Sony DCR-TRV10 DV-CAM which I still use, and it has a scroller/click wheel to navigate its menus, and I thought it was interesting then, but just lacks something when compared to other navigation input methods. I know a lot of people who swear by their “CrackBerrys” as they have become addicted to them and the level of “connectedness” they provide. I think the OS itself lends to the lack of ease of use of the scroller/click button, as there are no visual indicators or hints to let you know when you should click or drill down for more information. To be fair, I’m sure after some regular usage, it would become second nature, but I just kept feeling like their was something lacking, and the lack of a 4 or 5 way nav tool kept making me think that I was wasting time with extra steps navigating menus and options with the wheel. When you compare the head on wheel style navigation of an iPod to the sideways wheel style on the BlackBerry and some older sony devices, the iPod wins because it gives a greater degree of control over the velocity and speed at which you can scroll through items. The sideways nature of the BlackBerry wheel and lack of tactile feedback doesn’t lend itself to the same type of control. I think this could be partially corrected through the OS itself, but on this 8700c, it just isn’t there for me. My dad agreed with me, it was OK to use, but just felt awkward in many ways.

So my dad had paid over $500 for the BlackBerry, and the other shortcoming it has, is that in the daily tasks, he was used to copying and pasting rather quickly or moving entries around on his Sharp Wizard once a task had been completed. He didnt always need a recurring tasks, but sometimes, he might need to do the same task again the following day. With the BlackBerry, the procedure to Copy/Paste/Move to the next day, move to the right hour/slot for the replicated task, was completely arduous, and required way to many steps and spins and clicks of the scroll wheel. This was another strike against it. So we talked for a while, and I finally got to show my dad my Nokia’s which I had been recommending all along. I live in Philadelphia, and my dad lives in Georgia, so we never got to make this physical demonstration before. I showed my dad my 6600, a 6680 and an N70. I demonstrated all the PIM features on each, and how the OS was more intuitive to use with the 5 way nav stick. I also got to show him the progression and refinement of the OS over time on each of the devices. I was able to demonstrate how easy it is to sync your data on a Mac with iSync and BlueTooth, and using the Nokia PC suite on his PC. The address book had everything and more than he needed to retire the Sharp Wizard, the Calendar and tasks were easier to use. All the extra features for opening PDF’s, Office documents, better Web broswing, all really appealed to my dad. The small screen sizes of my devices were a bit small for my dad, but the Nokia E61 is the exact same form factor as the BlackBerry 8700c including the QVGA screen and keypad. This nearly clinched it, but it took one more thing to make my dad consider returning the BlackBerry. Its an interesting feature, that I have never really taken advantage of on my Nokias, but really sold my dad on looking at the Nokias – its the Info Print application. The Info Print application allows you to print out Messages, Contacts, Calendar items, and Notes you have on your device. When my dad has a meeting or a task, or appointment, he likes to print out the information so he has a hardcopy, and sometimes simply because its easier to read for him. So I’m going to look at BlueTooth capable print adapters and printers for him as well. I have an Epson Stylus Color Photo 300m that has an option for a BlueTooth module. I’m going to pick one up and try it out with my devices and see what happens. So my dad is going to return the BlackBerry 8700c, and supposedly Cingular is going to start carrying the Nokia E62, the US version of the E61. The big difference is that the E62 doesn’t have built in WiFi or UMTS, but does have the following:

..along with all the other standard Nokia Applications and available third party apps. If that wasn’t enough it also has Flash Lite 1.1 built into the device. So again I’ll be able to make custom apps for my dad to fill in the gap for anything the device itself might not do just the way he wants. I’m fairly certain it will also support Flash Lite 2.1 at some point if not already. Just need to get my hands on one. We are going to wait a bit to see when Cingular might start carrying it, otherwise, we are just going to buy an unlocked E61 from MobilePlant/Expansys for a little less than the BlackBerry cost. My only hesitation in purchasing the UK E61 model, is that in the past my UK 6680 model developed problems with the keypad, and despite having full warranty coverage – no one – and I mean no one in the states can repair, and the warranty isn’t good for overseas repair, so I can’t even send it to the UK to get it repaired. I even called Nokia headquarters in Espoo, Finland and all around the world racking up some hefty call fees, all to no avail. Im still waiting to find a distributor for the part on my keypad that needs to be replaced on my 6680 before it is fully functional again. I’ll need to investigate to see what kind of warranty/repair options are provided through MobilePlanet/Expansys for overseas models purchased for use in the States.

Bottom line is, after going through several different devices ranging all the way from a Sharp Wizard, to a Motorola Razr v3, to a BlackBerry 8700c, to several Nokia Series 60 devices, for both my purposes, and my dads basic needs, the Nokias won out in pretty much all the categories. I’ll update this article or make a new entry once we get a hold of either the E61 or the E62.