Life after S60 BlackBerry Connect

Now I don’t know about the rest of the world, but living and working in the downtown Toronto core – effectively the "capital" of Canada in the same way that New York is to the US – affords me the view of seeing a lot of people with BlackBerries.  And I mean a LOT of people.  Up until a few years ago, having a BB was always the tell-tale sign of a corporate workaholic who couldn’t separate themselves from their day job for longer than 20 minutes.  Nowadays, it seems like even John and Jane Everyman has warmed up to the idea of always-on email and the joys (perils?) of being constantly connected.  Hard to turn around in this city without seeing someone on an 88×0, Curve, Pearl, or even a <gasp> last generation model.  Must be that Facebook app… πŸ˜‰

But of course, in my effort to always be a little different and find solutions which meet my incredibly discerning needs, don’t have a true BlackBerry any more.  Nope, I needed something that was more flexible for being off the network, with full Wifi support and a camera, so I ended up with a Nokia E61i and it’s been swell (see my two weeks in review).  I did, however, attach it to my email via BlackBerry Connect (BBC); the software that allows non-RIM devices to access the BlackBerry service.  I’ve lauded its ability to hook me into the push email that I was already well familiar with from my Pearl and 7250 days, and it’s been a mainstay on my device through my two or three refreshes of my phone.

Until today.

Not to say that there was any one particular reason which got me to uninstall BlackBerry Connect.  After using it every day since getting my E61i four months ago, there are just several niggling annoyances which made me want to try something else.  If development of BlackBerry Connect software for S60 were up to me, here is what I would improve:

  • PIN Messaging: My device has a PIN, I can receive PIN messages from other BlackBerries (real ones), but I can’t send any PINs myself!  Reduces BB-like functionality to 90%.
  • Sending with attachments: I never really noticed this before, or perhaps I didn’t really care/need it, but as I plan and prepare my technical platform for the month-long honeymoon I’ve begun noticing it more and more as a glaring omission.  Can’t attach anything?  BAH!  Having to pay my carrier to MMS message a picture is bunk.
  • Bulk Mark as Read/Unread: On a real BlackBerry, you can easily and quickly mark every message before a certain point as read.  Great when you’re sitting at your desk checking your email already and want to update your BB to where you left off.  On S60 BBC?  Nope, I have to open them one at a freaking time, or individually select Mark as Read over each message.  PITA.
  • Timed functioning: I’ve always had my BB disable email service between certain hours so that I could get some sleep in peace (and I recommend it if your job would allow it).  BlackBerry Connect was mildly infuriating in its design in that I could not set the Off time to be after midnight.  Is it so hard to understand that I want to get email from 8 AM until 1 AM?  11:59 PM is a stupid limit.  Oh, and you can’t send email when BBC is offline.
  • Reliability: Not a knock on BBC itself but of the entire BlackBerry service, but having to rely on a middleman can really suck.  RIM has been always been pretty damn reliable, but when an outage hits, you’re totally SOL with no fall back.
  • Connection flexibility: Perhaps the solution to the above is to change this behaviour, but BBC will not work over anything but a cellular/packet data connection.  Doesn’t matter than I have Wifi available in a fair portion of the places I frequent.
  • Cost: Not a fault of the software itself, but the above connection inflexibility leads to a problem which is perhaps limited to the Canadian market; the cost of packet data here is currently ludicrous.  The situation has been rapidly improving with the two CDMA carriers (Telus and Bell) introducing some very attractive and inexpensive unlimited data on device options, but the main GSM carrier (Rogers and it’s subsidiary Fido) are still gouging pretty badly.  Scuttlebutt has it that this will change in early February, but that remains to be seen.

For a couple of days over the holidays I tried using Mail for Exchange (MfE), but that wasn’t up my alley either.  I don’t use Exchange for anything other than my company provided email, but all of the email I check on my phone are provided by Google Apps for Domains.  Funneling them all into a single Exchange account was completely counter productive, and I didn’t want to add another provider into the mix (especially at added monthly costs to provide the features/level of service I’d want).

And thus I’m left without true Push email.  But do I need it?  My BlackBerry Connect service was Push, but it was in truth simply polling my various POP3 mailboxes.  The solution which I’m testing now has been there all along; the built-in S60 Mail client!

  • Full support for IMAP and POP3 mailboxes gives me access to ALL of my personal email accounts (except Hotmail, but does that even count?)
  • Control over connections (packet data or wifi!) for retrieving and sending, more flexible timed retrieval in terms of hours (though I did like BBC’s ability to have different weekend hours), and ability to send while offline
  • Less memory usage as I don’t need the rather large BBC software always running on my phone
  • Attachments!  And from the looks of what I can insert, it’s pretty much any file my phone supports
  • I can finally mark a bunch of messages AND set them all as read!  Why did BBC only let me delete marked messages?
  • Cost control… Ok, so I don’t reap the benefits of BBC compressing my email to save on the data charges, but if this solution works out, I can drop down to a much cheaper but larger data package!

I’ll try this out for the next week or so as my billing cycle is fast approaching.  Setting up the S60 mail client required a little more elbow grease than BBC, but for most non-corporate users it might be the better option.

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