Category Archives: AT&T

BlackBerry Classic: Initial impressions

Blackberry classic passport Fotor

I recently picked up a BlackBerry Passport after initially pooh poohing its industrial design but then seeing it well-rated by users. I’m happy to say, my initial reaction was wrong… after using the Passport (on AT&T), I like the Passport a lot and find its large square screen and innovative capacitive keyboard to be a breath of fresh air in the world of mobile tech. 

If I like the Passport, why pick up a BlackBerry Classic? Several reasons:

  • OS: I like BlackBerry10 and how it supports both swipe gestures and keyboard shortcuts (youtube link)
  • Hardware keyboard: It just feels more satisfying to type out messages on hardware keyboards
  • Hardware quality: Although surpassed by Passport specs, the Classic offers solid build quality
  • Mobile OS Competition: BlackBerry is a mobile tech pioneer and I want to support the company in its turnaround
  • Pricing: Most phones are priced at $500 or more off-contract, so $449 is an attractive price

My Classic arrived yesterday so I haven’t had it long enough to write a full review. I do like it, and here are some initial thoughts:

  • Size: Its size falls between an iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 (H x W) although a bit thicker due to the battery
  • Weight: After reading some reviews, I expected it to be brick-like in weight… oy! Unboxing the phone, I was surprised by how it felt “just right,” not too heavy, not too big.
  • User experience: I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy having “Back” and “Menu” hardware keys. Now, I’m nearly always clicking the Back key to minimize and then close apps (works with both BB and Android apps)
  • Trackpad: It’s very cute and tiny 😉 I use it to scroll, much the way I use the Passport’s capacitive keyboard
  • More pocketable: I love the Passport but it doesn’t lend itself to quickly answering when out walking the dog and I need to juggle holding the leash and the phone. The Classic’s size is more manageable for one-handed use.

Both phones use a nano-sim card so it’s easy to swap out and use whichever phone suits the occasion. I prefer the Passport’s big screen for intensive reading or web surfing (my vision isn’t great, so the larger screen helps), and prefer the Classic for running errands. Over the next few days, it will be interesting to see which phone I tend to use more frequently.

What do I say to folks who say the Classic is a 2011 phone released in 2014? Nothing. After all, selecting a phone is a personal decision — I take into account what I like and works best for me.

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A few miscellaneous items that may be of interest to other Blackberry Classic / Passport users:

For desktop charging, I’m using a Belkin dock that works with each of these phones. I’d love to see Seidio release a Classic holster. I have a Blackberry holster on order.

I use a Stilgut book-type case for my Passport, which I use along with the Seidio holster that comes with a case as part of their Surface Combo

My “go to” apps –

BlackBerry OS

  • BB OS OEM apps: 
    • Hub
    • Calendar
    • Maps (I like the BB OS maps, not sure why they get bashed)
    • Browser (I ❤ reader mode)
    • Connect to Dropbox
  • Twitter
  • BeWeather Pro
  • Bloomberg
  • NY Times
  • CB10
  • Dayly
  • Home Screen Plus (I like how it subtly inserts weather conditions onto the home screen)

Android OS (generally installed via Snap or Amazon App Store)

 I like the direction BlackBerry is taking and look forward to future products. Their current philosophy seems to be in sync with this Seth Godin post, which is a happy thing for BlackBerry users.

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BlackBerry Z10, one week in

Z10

When the AT&T BlackBerry Z10 came out last weekend, I wandered over to a nearby AT&T store to check it out. Turns out that was easier said than done… store employees had removed the Z10 from its display and stashed it in the back room. Why? They said it was because the theft alarm kept going off. Oy.

So, the store employee had to fetch it from the back room, and then charge it. Generally, store employees were negative about the Z10 — the guy who helped me had used it but reverted to his Samsung GS3, and another nearby employee flat out bashed the Z10. Clearly not a phone being promoted by this carrier…

I found I loved the Z10’s bright, crisp screen, the unified in-box, the swipe navigation (reminiscent of the HP TouchPad or Palm Pre). I also liked its physical size (larger than an iPhone but smaller than the big Android phones that are popular right now). I liked it so well that I bought it.

First, some technical specs for context:

Z10 specs

I’m really enjoying the Z10. BlackBerry 10 is a unique and enjoyable mobile operating system, and the Z10 is a great phone:

  • Overall user experience: Blazing fast. Navigating around the phone is fast (no lags), downloading and uploading data is fast (obviously dependent upon your data network), and great ping times (on AT&T LTE network). 
  • Hardware: The Z10 is big enough that displayed text is easy to read but still small enough to be easily used one-handed. The soft-touch, slightly dimpled plastic back feels nice and doesn’t pick up finger-prints easily.
  • Call quality: Both ends of calls are clear and crisp. No issues with dropping calls or audio/voice drop-outs while on calls.
  • GPS: GPS lock is insanely fast whether indoors or out. I was shocked by how quickly it warned I’d gone off-course when using turn-by-turn navigation in the car.
  • Maps / Turn-by-turn navigation: I live on a fairly obscure street that isn’t listed by some maps software, so I was delighted to find my street listed. I found turn-by-turn navigation to be very accurate, with the maps very easy to read in the car due to highly contrasting colors. 
  • Screen: As noted above, the Z10 screen is crisp, clear and beautiful. At 4.2″, it’s a bit bigger than the 4″ iPhone 5 screen. 
  • BlackBerry Hub: I’ve always loved BlackBerry’s unified in-box — no need to open several apps to see info about incoming calls, texts, tweets, email, etc. A huge timesaver.
  • Swipe navigation: While I find the Z10’s swipe navigation to be a breath of fresh air, it’s not completely new… it feels like it borrows the best of WebOS, Android and iOS. There’s a learning curve, but Z10 initial set up provides a demo to help new users learn the basics of getting around BlackBerry 10.
  • On-screen keyboard: Oh, I love this keyboard! It displays word suggestions on the keyboard “frets” and sometimes on the spacebar. It makes for a fast, easy typing experience. Tip: In the On-screen keyboard settings, set both Portrait Mode and Landscape mode to “In-column” to enable word suggestions to display just above the keyboard (vs under your fingers).
  • Web browser: The Z10 web browser renders content quickly and it’s easy to zoom in/out using pinch & zoom. While flash is supposed to be on its way out for smartphones (generally), it’s still super handy to have a flash-enabled browser. The Z10 browser includes flash but it’s turned off by default — you just need to turn it on in browser settings. 
  • Photo quality: I confess, I didn’t have high hopes for photo quality after reading some early reviews. However, photos I’ve shot have been sharp, nicely detailed and colors are natural. I’ve gotten some surprisingly good shots in low lighting. And the camera software is fast! The shutter fires as soon as you touch the screen — great for taking photos of active pets.

While Blackberry seems to catch flak for its young Blackberry 10 app store, I’m not finding the app inventory to be an issue. Of course, I don’t need any specialized apps — other folks’ mileage may vary.

The BlackBerry Z10 has been a delightful surprise. It retains BlackBerry’s traditional strengths (great keyboard, unified inbox) and adds a great new user interface that’s fun to use.

My favorite Windows Phone apps

lumia900cyan

With the recent Nokia Lumia 900 release here in the U.S., I’d like to share my favorite Windows Phone (WP7, aka Mango) apps. If you have any favorite apps you’d like to mention, feel free to leave a comment.

First, a tip:
Follow these steps to access the Nokia Lumia 800/900 hidden diagnostics tool. Note:  Doing so will also add the app to your app list
– Go to your Lumia phone dialpad
– Press ##634# (the tool will then automatically open)
– Check out all the Diagnostic options, including Battery Status

My favs (in no particular order):

USAToday: Aside from being a great news app, the live weather tile is both attractive and handy

NY Times: Nice app if you’re a NY Times fan

BBC Radio Player: The most robust BBC radio app I’ve found on WP7. App provides a large variety of BBC Radio Channels

GoVoice: A must have app if you Google Voice — I use Google Voice instead of AT&T voicemail

Livescape: If you’ve used “Lose it!” or other food tracking / health apps, you’ll love Livescape.

Wordament: This great word game should come with a warning, it’s that addictive!

Amazon Kindle: To keep up with your reading

Amazon Mobile: To shop!! (There’s even a separate AmazonFresh app.)

Bing Picts Downloader: Find gorgeous wallpapers via recent Bing featured photos

Das Image: Another versatile wallpaper source

Chrome Bookmarks: If you are a long-time Chrome desktop  browser user, this is a great way to access your Chrome bookmarks. (There is a similar app which also appears to sync with your recently opened Chrome tabs, called Chrync, but I haven’t tried it yet.)

Nokia Drive: Accessible via the Marketplace… Fabulous Nokia software that provides voice turn-by-turn navigation. Be sure to also check out  the Nokia Maps and Nokia Transit apps.

Rowi: A fast, full featured twitter app

Netflix: To watch Netflix on the go

Tech News Now: A nice news aggregator

Windows Phone News: A nice news aggregator, focusing on Windows Phone coverage

WpFandora Pro: An attractive Pandora app

Zillow: The zillow app you may know and love from iOS, Android, etc. I used to love Zillow until I noticed my home value is lower each time I check. Smile with tongue out

Zune Pass: Although not considered as cool as some other music discovery services, I LOVE Zune Pass. Well worth the $10 monthly fee.

The mythical, wonderful Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2)

This spring, I decided to move over to AT&T from Verizon after learning my Verizon phone was hopelessly buggy 6 weeks into my contract, with no remedy offered by my Verizon store. Combine that issue with pockets of poor Verizon network coverage areas in my neighborhood, and I decided it was time to move my wireless service.

When I opened my AT&T account, I picked up an Infuse 4G. I’d never been fond of Samsung phones until the Infuse, and it was love at first sight: The gorgeous screen, the minimalist controls, its thin/light form factor. I was sufficiently impressed to write an Infuse 4G review.

But I kept reading about a mythical phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II. The more I read, the more curious I became… what was this wonderful phone? Could it be there was an unlocked Samsung phone similar to the Infuse but even faster and more responsive?! And thus my unicorn hunt began…

I’d had an AT&T account lucy_n73for several years, and for much of that time used unlocked Nokia phones. I realize it’s fashionable to bash Nokia lately, but I loved Nokia camera hardware and the fantastic shots Nokia phones enabled.

But I digress…
Since my Infuse was still new, I tried to distract myself but the Samsung Galaxy S II (SGS2) continued to beckon. I read reviews, I visited phone import stores online, I pondered. I liked the Infuse. The problem? I thought I’d like the SGS2 even more. Finally, I decided to pick one up despite the high ticket price that goes with buying an unlocked phone.

I’ve had my SGS2 for about a month. And you know what? The SGS2 is the best cell phone I’ve ever used. Based on user reviews on CNET, I’m not alone:

  • Very responsive. No lag, no waiting.
  • Great camera and photo quality
  • Excellent voice and audio quality
  • Gorgeous, vivid screen
  • Re-sizable (!) stock widgets that are both informative and attractively minimalist
  • Thin, light, and beautiful

sgs2With most phones, there’s a certain amount of waiting… waiting for an app to open, waiting for the phone to connect to the network, waiting, waiting, waiting…

That changed with the SGS2. I never realized how speedy a phone could be. View SGS2 specs here.

There are other advantages to the SGS2:

  • I stumbled across this thread on xda-developers.com, where you can find updated SGS2 firmware along with instructions for flashing – the post originator is very sharp and generous in helping other users with questions. NOTE: Flashing these firmware doesn’t require rooting, and at the rate Samsung has been releasing regional updates to the SGS firmware, SGS2 users can always be running the latest, greatest firmware. I’m currently running the XXKF2 firmware on my SGS2 (Android 2.3.3); this firmware’s build date is 6/10/2011 (fabulous battery life with KF2 firmware, by the way!).vent-case
  • A very cool official Samsung “vent” case – a lightweight but very functional case for your SGS2. I love that its rubberized finish makes the phone grippier while its design preserves the phone’s thin, light form factor. I picked up this case on ebay.uk from ebayer bluejamgem – they put the case in the mail very quickly – I received it in about 5 business days (from the UK).
  • If you want a more substantial case, Case-Mate offers 2 SGS2 cases. I picked up a Barely There case and it offers a bit more protection than the vent case.
  • Looking for a Samsung desk dock for the SGS2? I found that the SGS2(with the vent case on) will fit into the official Samsung Infuse 4G desk dock.
  • I went with a Zagg SGS2 Invisishield screen protector bought via zagg.com since none were available locally. Because I don’t have much luck applying screen protectors, I took my shiny new phone and Zagg Invisishield to Best Buy and the nice folks there applied it for me for a small fee (well worth it, btw!!).

I only have one concern about the SGS2: I wonder what will happen when U.S. wireless carriers decide to “customize” the Galaxy S II experience. Will it become a laggy beast, like so many other smartphones? We’ll see, and I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen. I’d love for folks buying a carrier-branded SGS2 to have the same fast, responsive SGS2 experience I’m enjoying.

Bottom line: I love the SGS2 and highly recommend it unlocked. If you have questions about the SGS2, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to respond.