BitDepth 707 - November 24

Here's a look at the new Blackberry 8250 and the Blackberry App World software store.
Refreshing the Blackberry

ÜberTwitter on the Blackberry 8520. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It should have escaped almost nobody's notice that yesterday's "smart" phones are becoming tomorrow's standard for telephony.
Basic mobile phones are increasingly the point of entry for local providers; both of whom offer utilitarian cell phones as incentives with their sign-up packages.
Yesterday's smartphones are tomorrow's pocket computers and the pace of evolution is accelerating.
The two strongest rivals in that market for the last two years are Apple's iPhone and Blackberry's range of devices.
Digicel invited me to test the new Blackberry 8520, the newest cannon in the exchange of competitive fire between the Irish business and local incumbent TSTT.

The 8520 is the newest in the Curve line to be heavily subsidised by both providers as a new entry point to their services. Digicel is currently running an "introductory" offer on the model, dropping the price to TT$999 for a device once targeted almost exclusively to business users.
For most, the choice boils down to iPhone versus Blackberry and BMobile versus Digicel.
The choice between RIM and Apple essentially boils down to a personal choice between virtual keyboards and tiny keypads. For a deeper comparison,
read this BitDepth smackdown.
iPhone users on the BMobile network will have to settle for a GPRS data connection, a much slower way  to connect to the Internet than the faster networks that both rivals use for their Blackberry services.

I've got big hands, so the tiny keys of the Blackberry, which shrink even more to slim the profile of the 8520, continue to be a challenge for me. I've been typing with my fingernails on this device. RIM's Storm, a direct response to the iPhone, uses a push to click interface for its virtual keypad that's more than a little irritating.
The 8520 adds a touch sensitive area around its main button, described as an "optical trackpad," that's particularly well executed. Sliding a thumb around the pad makes interfacing with the device particularly easy. The screen is disturbingly small, roughly half the size of the Storm's, but it's crisp and colourful, leaving you wishing for another half inch or so of visual real estate.

A new world of software
What's critically different for Blackberry users in 2009 is the company's new App World, a website for downloading software that makes it easy to extend the capabilities of a Blackberry in significant and useful ways.
I opted to download the software directly to the device because RIM's App World website is finicky about operating systems platforms and demands the presence of Windows-only Direct-X software.
Users interested in making use of this option are warned that downloading App World software on Digicel's Edge network is slow going. Find a WiFi connection and use that instead. You'll need to download an interface application, Blackberry App World, through which you select the software you want.

I tried ÜberTwitter, the client of choice for my BB using tweeps along with the RIM Facebook and Flickr applications. ÜberTwitter is excellent, exactly the interface with Twitter you want on the small screen of the 8250. The Facebook newsfeed works well, but other interactions seem terribly cramped. The Flickr application is disappointingly barebones, only allowing upload of photos from the phone.
The Blackberry's web browser is much improved, offering pixel accurate renderings of all but the most complicated websites. I discovered some rendering glitches in my JavaScript laden website, but nothing deal breaking. Casual games with minimal graphics work fine, but a graphics "heavy" game like Tank Ace 1944 Lite changes screens like a page turning slowly in a book.

Blackberry's App World offers most of the software that the typical business focused smartphone user is likely to be interested in, but it falls far short, in terms of variety and depth compared to Apple's online software store for its iPhone.
On the other hand, you can actually access the Blackberry software in Trinidad and Tobago, all most local iPhone users can do is browse the thousands of products on Apple's store.
The Blackberry 8250 is another evolutionary step in the streamlining of RIM's market leading product, but the company's App World is likely to be the lever that keeps RIM's product line above its eager competition.
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