Robb put me on the spot a bit yesterday about downloading and installing the leaked BlackBerry 6 for the BlackBerry Bold 9650. He knows that I have slowed down my adoption of leaked OS versions because they all seem that same after a while, but, BlackBerry 6 is a new OS, so, I decided to give it a go. I wouldn’t call this an exhaustive review, but, more or less my initial thoughts…
I have made it a point to use the browser heavily, and, as far as web browsers on BlackBerry devices go, it is not that bad. It is not, however, on par with browsers on touch screen devices for a variety of reasons that cannot really even be addressed on non-touch screen devices such as the limited amount of screen real estate. It is a given that larger screens on the iPhone, pretty much all current Android devices, and, even though Robb didn’t like it, the BlackBerry Torch, that navigation is much easier on a big touch screens.
Not being a touch screen device you need to scroll the page not with a flick of your finger but with constant flicks of your fingers across the trackpad. I do feel RIM could make the experience slightly better here by detecting scroll speeds. On the iPhone or Android if you swipe your finger fast the screen scrolls quick, this same concept could be translated when you swipe the trackpad quickly on web pages.
RIM hit a home run in two areas in the new BlackBerry Browser, zooming and tabbed browsing. I clicked BlackBerry menu and selected zoom and scrolling my finger up and down on the trackpad quickly zoomed in and out. After upgrading I cannot recall if the old browser worked this way, considering my limited use of the BB Browser it is no wonder I cannot recall. There is a small pull down panel at the top of the browser window that gives you access to create new tabs. There is not much to say in this area beyond it finally exists and that is a huge value.
The speed of loading webpages on the BlackBerry Bold 9650 running BlackBerry 6 is magnitudes slower than Android on the HTC Incredible or iOS on the latest iPod Touch. Rather than trying to explain the speed difference I figured it would just be easier for you to watch the difference on your own.
Needless, to say, RIM has to address speed issues as they are pretty abysmal.
Navigation and Usability
When I initially saw all the BlackBerry Torch commercials the one feature that struck me as interesting was the way icons on the home screen provided a way to access your content. On BlackBerry OS 5 if I got a new BBM message I would hold the BlackBerry menu to show a list of running apps then switch to BlackBerry Messenger. On BlackBerry 6 I can highlight the notification icons and scroll through a list an see emails, FaceBook, Calendar, BlackBerry Messenger and more. For me this rather small change is so natural it is already a part of how I use my BlackBerry.
Navigating the home screen takes a moment to get use to. On the main home screen to show all the apps you can either do it the old way by clicking BlackBerry menu but that requires you to also click Open Tray. The new way to do this is to highlight the application view selector, the bar that lets you switch between All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent and press or click enter to show apps. This change is taking a bit to adjust to I think I like double tapping BlackBerry menu to access a list of apps.
Another navigation winner for me is just above the notification bar. If you highlight the clock/date/Wifi/GPS area and press the trackpad you a dropped in to some quick configuration changes like manage connections, set alarm, or setup services and options. I like that I don’t have to show all apps then scroll down to manage connections or jump in to options. It is not a massive change it just brings frequently accessed features to the top.
A final navigation feature I am enjoying is the new shortcut dialog that appears when you are click on a contact, sender or recipient, in email message. This new dialog provides you a quick way to copy, show address, email, call, view contact, text contact, or access other general options.
I have avoided doing any of the social stuff that would sync my BES contacts with twitter and facebook, but, I have seen the configuration options. BlackBerry 6 is new for me but overall the experience has been positive. BlackBerry 6 makes a better BlackBerry, but is in no way putting RIM on a level playing field with iOS or Android. A user can forget that an iPod Touch is actually a great media player because of all the other seamless features, BlackBerry 6 does not transform my BlackBerry into anything more than a better BlackBerry it is still marginal at everything beyond messaging. I hope the 3rd Party community bring those missing consumer feature, but until then I am very happy having a better BlackBerry.