Nextel BlackBerry 8350i and OS X

My job requires that I carry a Nextel.  The BlackBerry Curve 8350i was released a few months ago, and I have been using one regularly having received my phone a few days after its official release. This is the first BlackBerry with which I have significant experience, more than doing some troubleshooting on a 7100 and playing with a TMo-Pearl for 20 minutes, so please forgive any “gee-whiz” gushing by me that is actually old hat to seasoned BB users. On the other hand, I have spent a lot of time playing with friends’ iPhones and own a Touch. I suppose I have as much of a case of iPhone envy as any other non-iPhone owning Mac user. It will rear its ugly head tomorrow when the 3.0 software update is released but it won’t be as bad as in times past. To save you time the time of reading everything else, the short story is that if you have to carry a Nextel and happen to use OS X, I highly recommend this phone.

Nextel has been a necessary tool of my employer’s staff for a long time, specifically because of the ease of its DirectConnect functionality.  It’s one thing that iDEN Nextels have that no other phone can currently touch (including Sprint Nextel’s own QChat phones), despite attempts by pretenders to convince consumers otherwise. At one point, I would have agreed that the durability and battery life was also a strong suit of the product line, but I have not been of that opinion for several years. Nextel has never made a phone I would say that I enjoyed carrying after the new-toy-honeymoon, and I have usually disliked their phones from an aesthetic/weight/function standpoint the moment it was removed from the box. Having managed and maintained dozens of various models under the Nextel banner for the past decade, I can say that this is the most enjoyable Nextel I have had to carry. Here’s why:

Direct Connect Calls

Fitting of any of the best iDEN units, DC calls are strong, clear and reliable.  The speaker is incredibly loud.  The PTT button is highly tactile and in no way mushy or non-descript.  I’m not sure it would hold up to a “death grip” user, but it seems quite robustly constructed.  I would rate the DC quality up there with the strongest units of the line, including the venerable, bomb-proof i550s and recent klaxons such as the i880.  No complaints at all, which is a good thing since DC is the one function at which a Nextel ought to truly excel.

Cell Calls

Calls on the 8350 are usually quite good from my perspective, but frequently the other caller has difficulty hearing me or reports hollowness/echoing. I think that this may be mainly because of the shape of the BlackBerry device not lending itself to readily proper alignment of the mic, but I also wonder if the mic and whatever noise suppression in place just don’t work that well.

I have experienced a few dropped calls, but not enough for me to think that my phone is the sole culprit. The 8350 uses Nextel’s network only, so if you aren’t near a Nextel tower, no signal, and no data. My previous unit (the V950 that used Sprint’s network with qChat for DirectConnect) was somewhat better as “being a phone” (though it was horrible at DirectConnect).

The voice-activated dialing feature works better than any phone I have used.  It requires no training, and its accuracy is surprisingly good; my first hit rate is probably over 60% (call gets placed right away), with the phone “guessing right” but asking me for confirmation that it got it right the other two times in five.  It’s only missed a couple of times.  I have assigned the action key (which is defaulted to activating the camera out of the box) to the voice dial function and use it to make roughly half my calls, with the rest usually done by 1-touch speed dial.  I rarely open the address book to make a voice call. When I do use the address book, it’s nice to have one that works as well as RIM’s team came up in BB 4.6.

Data Connections, Web Browser, Email

Data transfer is slow over iDEN. Very slow. Excruciatingly slow.  Think back to your USRobotics 14.4 dial-up ISP days. If you are coming from an 3G or even an Edge phone and spend any significant amount of time browsing heavy sites and must have image content enabled, you will not be happy.  While adequate for email retrieval (so long as people aren’t sending massive attachments), any web page with a picture or two will result in a tiresome experience.  I turned image/background image downloading off almost immediately to make the device usable when you just want to read something.  That said, it will do in a pinch to see rich content and in general usage works well enough for applications that are optimized to deliver lightened amounts of data rather than a full web experience, such as Viigo or the FaceBook application.  Fortunately, the integrated 802.11 is robust, is fairly decent at grabbing a signal and is truly welcome.  While on WiFi, the web browser is rather capable.  It’s not up anywhere near iPhone/OperaMini standards, but it works well enough for general purpose browsing, which is fortunate since there isn’t a way to make Opera Mini the default browser.  I do open Opera from time to time to deal with sites that the BB browser chokes on (such as a site with TypePad Connect commenting), but most of the time it’s not necessary.  The parser is usually smart enough to recognize telephone numbers on a site for dialing directly off a page.  3G would be a wonderful capability, but I just don’t spend significant time trying to entertain myself via a web experience on any phone I have owned, including 3G units, so personally it is not that big of a drawback.

I am impressed with the responsiveness and general usefulness of the email client and currently use it to with two IMAP accounts.  I actually prefer GMail’s BB client’s immediate and clean interface, but, like the web browser, the lack of direct integration with the BB address book and the operating system relegates it to second-class citizen status.

MMS/Chat

MMS was horribly broken on a network level until last month.  It’s better now. edit:No it’s not. It’s still crap and I don’t trust it whatsoever. Nextel should stop charging for messaging that works only slightly more rapidly than parcel post, and less consistently.

I’m not interested in the chat clients, but I will say that the GTalk interface is slick and the AOL interface isn’t.

Camera

Yes, it has one. No, it’s not very good at all. Posting straightaway to Flickr/FaceBook/iTookthiswithmyphone/etal is a nifty trick that was never as easy out of the box on a Nextel before.

Music

The music player works well and is visually very attractive.  It is not iPhone slick, but it’s good-looking.

Operating System

As stated earlier, I don’t have significant experience with BBs prior to the 8350.  It feels very snappy and responsive in general to me, and it’s a surprisingly agile multi-tasker.  It is the most stable software environment of any of the media-enabled Nextels I have used when using any of those media features.  It also goes without saying that it is far and away the most robustly featured and expandable.

Battery

Best of any Nextel I have used in years, first Nextel I have used in some time that can make it through two days without having to be charged. That said, usually I’m a light talker.

Build

The keyboard is fantastic, if a bit fiddly for people with larger hands. The display is sharp and clear. The plastic scratches easily; get a screen cover immediately.

OS X Integration

The application that blew me out of the water is Mark/Space Missing Sync for Blackberry. This is the first time I have had an easy way to keep contact, calendar and task data rapidly, accurately and reliably synchronized between whatever laptop/phone combination I have been carrying, ever. Throw in the fact that it also synchronizes music, photos, videos, call logs, text messages, notes, and files and I was quite giddy. Now add in that it does it over Bluetooth, and well, let’s not talk about what that sort of confluence of technology does to a nerd like me. Not that you would want to do large tune/pic/vid moves over bluetooth, but it’s the fact that it actually can, and it works, and it’s a Nextel! Its earlier siblings always were more akin to dumb bricks that just loudly beeped and squawked when I was busy or in a place inappropriate to have someone shouting from my pocket.  They never played nicely with any other computer running any OS ever without a wrestling match employing hacks and kludges. The closest any Nextel came as far as decent sync was the i930, which was lousy at absolutely everything else.  Mark/Space charges $40 for their software, though there is an upgrade path available for converting from certain other Mark/Space products as I did, having used their software for the i930. Well, I’ve been trying to get this sort of combo working this seamlessly for over 10 years. Pardon me.. I think I have something in my eye.  I suppose I did gush a bit.

4 Replies to “Nextel BlackBerry 8350i and OS X”

  1. I have a Nextel Blackbery curve 8350i, and it was stolen…will have my replacement phone Monday and was told that I will loose all my contacts…I updated my phone a few times with the desktop manager, but did not know if that also included updating my contct info, or is that done seperately…spoke to support center & nextel and get million different answers…thanks!

    1. Sorry to hear that Teri. I hope that your restore works. If you are on windows and have done a backup recently with the Desktop Manager, the contacts should be stored in a file available through the restore interface. Good luck.

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