Do you hate change? You are going to really love BlackBerry 7. The latest flavor of the OS got bumped from a minor to a major update
for reasons that likely have more to do with marketing than hardware, but regardless of how you spin it this Bold is running what is, ultimately, a tweak to the BB6 that many of you know and have grown tired of. After playing with and (mostly) loving the gesture-heavy interface slapped over QNX to power the PlayBook
we're naturally quite eager to see what's next for that little OS. Sadly, we're hearing we won't see anything like that on a phone until next year sometime.
So, for now, we're left with an OS that feels every bit the latest, minor revision in a long, long history of minor revisions. BlackBerry OS is showing its age in a not very good way. If you've been lately spending your time coddling something running Android, iOS, webOS or Windows Phone you're liable to feel like you stepped back in time a decade or so -- especially the first time you load up the browser, hit your favorite website, and get treated to a shockingly minimalistic WAP rendering. Gasp!
Despite that simple default rendering this is an all-new browser with HTML5 support. It can handle just about anything the Web can throw at it -- except for Flash -- and do so with aplomb. Even complex pages render quickly and are smooth to navigate around. If you can manage to pinch on this tiny display you'll be able to zoom in and out, and there's plenty of elastic bounce should you scroll to any of a page's four extents.
The OS's integrated search function lets you quickly hunt through contacts, favorites, e-mails, you name it. Now you can also search by voice, a feature that we found to be incredibly accurate at identifying whatever we mumbled into the microphone. The only drag here is that we had to accept not one, but two
incredibly long license agreements before enabling that feature. In fact you'll be scrolling through pages and pages of legalese just about every time you try doing something new on your handset. That results in, needless to say, a somewhat unpleasant user experience.
Finally, BB7 brings BlackBerry Balance to the mix, functionality that allows you to keep your work stuff from your home stuff. This can help you from losing your personal bits should an admin decide to remote-wipe your handset but, more importantly for the BES jockeys out there, it means users can be prevented from sending work information via personal challenges -- like, say, forwarding your company's internal Q2 projections out to everyone in your neighborhood investment club. In other words, it's a feature more intended for admins than those who are administered, and so nothing to get too excited about. Unless, of course, you're one of those admins.
If so, or if you are some other corporate user, as ever this OS offers a great experience for business. Open a meeting invite and it's easy to jump right into the concall from there. Should you put the other team on mute you'll get a reassuringly highlighted red indicator on the screen that's easy to see with a glance. (Important for those who like to do their best Crow T. Robot impression when the discussion gets a bit dull.)
Ultimately, the OS is quick and easy to jump around in if you know what you're doing, and if you're looking for productivity you can find it here. But, if you aren't, or you don't know your way around the world of BlackBerry, you'll find things ugly and unintuitive. There are too many lengthy, scrollable menus, too many hidden collections of options, and simply too little style to catch the eye of anybody who's been using a modern mobile operating system.
If you're not sold on BB7, the application selection isn't liable to help matters. App World does offer a healthy choice, but the most entries are tiny little utilities with niche functionality that will leave you asking questions like "Do we really need an app dedicated to scanning Air Traffic Control at Ottawa International Airport?" In this case the answer is yes, someone does, but we can safely say that we could do without 3D Rollercoaster Rush Jurassic 2
. This app is supposed to be the premiere title to show off the phones' new Open GL ES 2.0 support, and it sure does have polygons. It is also slightly less fun (and only slightly more interactive) than watching a video of someone else riding a rollercoaster.
In addition to proving that, yes, these phones can render 3D games, this title helps to highlight an issue with all three: they offer only 189MB of total storage for apps. It doesn't matter that this Bold has 8GB of internal storage, and it also wouldn't help if you threw in a 32GB microSD card. You'll still have just 189MB of space for all your apps. To be fair, each app can take up no more than 7MB of this, and the vast majority of App World selections are very small indeed, but this has forced developers to make compromises. In the case of this game, you'll have to download the app, install it, then launch it and wait while another
batch of data (17MB worth) gets downloaded to internal storage. Even if you're grandfathered in to an unlimited data plan this step can only
be done over WiFi -- and in the end you have a pretty boring game.
If you're looking for more fun, you'll find a full install of Documents to Go here, capable of creating and editing documents that fit the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint styles.