I was astonished at how fast T-Mobile got me the new Berry. I placed the order Friday night, and despite a message on their site saying it could take up to five business days to get here, it was waiting for me Monday afternoon -- a US national holiday -- to play with. Definitely worth the fifteen dollars I spent for expedited shipping. Nothing better than spending a day off farting around with new technology.
I opened it up, stuck a 2Gb microSD card in it ($16.95 from buy.com, complete with adapters and a USB reader), installed the battery, and powered it up. As expected, it came up immediately and wanted to go into a setup wizard. I let it, though I usually hate "wizards." In this case, the wizard seems singularly capable of actually turning on the cell radio, which is off by default. Gone is the "turn radio on/off" option of my old 8700c. I don't know where it went.
The first thing I ran into was an ominous message at power-up. Data Connection Refused. This sort of puzzled me, since the very same EDGE connection had worked just fine five minutes earlier when I was pulling the SIM out of my old HTC Wizard. A call to T-Mobile tech support revealed that the Berry had to be on a different data plan than my Windows Mobile device, since it runs through a Blackberry server someplace rather than straight to the T-Mobile network boxes. While the unlimited plan -- still by far the best deal in the business at $19.99 (though I was grandfathered in on that plan from years ago, I think it might be $29.99 for new customers) was the same cost, by shifting to a Blackberry plan, this meant that I could no longer stick the SIM in any of my old phones (I have three that still work) and get data on them. Calls would still work, though. Since the HTC is falling apart and I never surfed on the older Sony and Ericsson phones, I didn't mind. Two minutes and a reset later, the thing came up and picked up a strong EDGE connection.
Stuff I noticed
The first thing is, the little "pearl" trackball feels way loose. I mean, you almost want it to have some resistance because it feels a little cheap the way it sits in there. True, it's still reasonably accurate, but I noticed that if I was walking or the car was going over bumps, the accuracy would have been helped by just a little resistance to my thumb. It was hard to suppress the "roller dial" instinct learned from my 8700c... I found myself wishing the 8800 had both on it.
While you can set your email accounts up from the T-Mobile site, as they suggested, I found that the mail didn't actually start showing up on the Berry until I set it up from the Berry itself. The TM site, strangely enough, has a setting for Lotus Domino servers, but rather than some magical client-based wizardry, all it asks for is the URL to your mail.nsf anyway. Didn't get the impression that Domino was a technical differentiation, just a way to give people a heads up about whatever information the thing needed. I'd been getting mail from my home Domino server for a year or more anyway... the website just gave me another way to input the path, etc. Nothing particularly Lotuslike about it.
The ability to move application icons around (and hide ones you don't use) is extremely welcome.
One of the neatest things about this beast is that it can use GPS. It comes with Blackberry Maps, which is a fairly simple web-based map application that can use your internal GPS or any GPS you can connect to over Bluetooth instead! This was rather cool, since I have a DeLorme Earthmate BT-20 now. All I had to do was stick the Earthmate in the window and then I could sit anywhere in the house and try out the map applications. The internal GPS was solid, though, easily picking up six or seven satellites when even my handheld Garmin eTrex Vista hCX will only grab four. Startup time is more than acceptable, as well. I'll have to find out what chipset they're using.
It also include a trial version of TeleNav. Don't bother... you can get all the location-based information you need out of Google Maps for Blackberry, though for some stupid reason GMB will not actually use the internal GPS of the 8800, or an external GPS. The version for Windows Mobile could use either flavor.
In the Options menus, you can actually get a readout from the GPS without starting a mapping application, though you have to manually refresh the reading.
Unlike my old 8700c, this thing has removable storage (that was considered a "security violation" by my employer, never mind that we have these things called "copiers" and "printers" and "pockets," which after all are the original removable storage. I immediately stuffed a bunch of images and MP3s onto the thing. While for smaller images I could drag straight from iPhoto and drop the things into the directories they had to be in (you MUST put media in the folders the Berry expects, otherwise they're not available... there's no file explorer application or functionality at all), I found that full-size images just... vanished. The MacBook Pro claimed to have copied them to the Berry, but they just... never showed up. I suspect I'd have to do that by plugging the microSD into its reader and physically copying them straight to it, rather than having the Berry mediate.
The MP3 player is cute, but can only play one song at a time. That's right, if you want the next track in the folder, you have to tell it so. No playlist option that I could see. Sound quality is remarkably good, though apparently monophonic if you don't use the included earbuds/handsfree thing, which I have not.
The picture browser is adequate, including an option to send the image via Bluetooth. This is also the only place you can set your own picture to be the wallpaper for the home screen. On Windows Mobile, you could do it in Settings, but if you wanted the image partly transparent, you had to do it from Pictures & Media.
I haven't put any MP4 videos on it, but it does ship with one, and video playback seemed adequate, at least as good as my old HTC.
The keyboard on this, though narrower, actually feels better to me than the keys on the 8700. They have a slight L-shaped ridge on the left and bottom edges of each key to keep your fingers on the key you want. I've had no problems typing on it and like it better than anything since my Sony Clie UX-50.
As I usually do, I immediately set about finding third-party apps to put on the thing. The first thing I wanted was internet streaming radio. Now, if you look around on the nets, you'll see a bunch of people who insist that streaming "doesn't work on Blackberry." My butt. While it can be restricted by your carrier, as long as you have your TCP settings correct (for T-Mobile, set the TCP APN to "wap.voicestream.com," overriding the default "internet.com") and you have an app that can handle it, you should be able to stream. I found RadioBee, which just didn't work for me at all. But there is also BerryTunes, which, though crude, does work. I say "crude," because it really is. It's an MP3 player, but you must use a PC to add MP3s and manage playlists, so I ignored the MP3 playing capabilities. One menu option, though, was "Radio," and this is where it can stream. It can load a list of known stations, sort of how iTunes does it, but you can also add your own. Unfortunately, there's no way to copy and paste a URL from anywhere else into the field for the URL stream (I told you it was crude), so check your typing. Not all stations will load. Try the lower bandwidths first. I had no problem listening to Jazz91 in San Francisco or WAMU in Washington, DC, but other stations wouldn't load.
Free games do exist out there, but good free themes seem hard to come by. I just don't like any of the default Blackberry themes. If you want, you can pay to download a theme that will make your Berry mimic an iPhone. I'm not sure why you'd do this, but you can.
I fuck everything up
Everything was fine last night and this morning. Drove in to work with the Blackberry Maps perking along on the GPS, and then sat down and plugged the thing into USB on my desktop PC.
This was a dumbass thing to do.
Around here, Berries are on heavily-restrictive IT policies, and something you don't get warned about when you plug your personal Blackberry into a connection where you may also use your corporate Blackberry is that the corporate IT policy will be installed on your personal unit without asking you and it is a royal ass-pain to remove!
A reset will not remove it. A wipe will not remove it. However, some searching on the web revealed this simple method to remove the corporate IT policy from your personal Blackberry. I followed it, it worked, I didn't even lose all my new third-party apps even though I wiped the unit twice.
Still, don't do what I did: never plug your personal Blackberry into a machine attached to your organization's Blackberry Enterprise Server. The BES will overwrite your (probably not very restrictive) IT policy and replace it without asking. For me, since I no longer have a corporate Berry, I simply uninstalled the Blackberry Desktop Manager, then reinstalled it and told it to use the Blackberry Internet Service.
Overall, this sucker rocks. It's an excellent phone, it's an excellent PDA, it's a decent media player, the battery life and charging time are impressive, it feels good in the hand and it's been out there long enough for it to be well-supported in the aftermarket. If you're looking for a new phone, this is a damn good choice. A caution, though: if you can't get it on a cheap plan, it can be expensive (like $400). I got mine for two-something by agreeing to extend my T-Mobile contract another couple of years, but I'd intended to do that anyway because I continue to be pleased with them.
There. I said it. Now I can go back to fooling with the thing some more.