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Blackberry 9700 Review: It's a Phone, Stupid

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I recently gave up the G1 Android Phone for the brand-spanking new Blackberry 9700. I've been using the 9700 for the last month and overall I'm very happy. But it's not perfect -- and whether you end up with an iPhone/G1 or something like a Blackberry is a very personal decision.

First, what I really like about the 9700
It's a phone. I know I sound like a master of the obvious by saying that, but it's very important. The Blackberry 9700 is a great phone -- and the G1 is not. Let's start with audio quality. Calls on the 9700 are crisp, clear and easy to hear. The G1 is not nearly so strong, nor loud when I need it. The speakerphone is also first rate, while the headset jack provides clear audio, and seems to do a good job picking up my voice and sending it out as well.

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Speaking of the headset jack, here again Blackberry got it right. It's a standard mini plug, rather than the USB-based plug used by the G1. I went through a ton of headsets with my old phone, as the connector would always break off when I pulled it out. It was virtually impossible to find new ones as well -- most phone stores didn't start carrying them until just a few months ago. And the standard mini plug on the Blackberry is supported by a wide range of 3rd party products, and they're cheap too.

Signal acquisition is also a step above. I used both the G1 and the Blackberry on the T-Mobile network. It's OK in San Francisco, but there's been one spot, at the top of the hill leading down into the town I live in, where the G1 would drop calls every time. Guess what? The Blackberry doesn't drop those calls.

I'm also impressed by the battery life. When I was using the G1, I never got through a whole day without recharging the battery. In fact, it became like buddy-breathing: I would constantly charge up the G1 every time I settled in -- in the office, in the car, and at home. It was more of a tethered phone than a real portable. The 9700, on the other hand, is tremendous. It can go for days without being recharged. I have yet to run out of battery life while using it, whereas on the G1 I would end up SOL at least once a week.

The Blackberry also beats the G1 hands down with email. The keyboard itself is far, far better, I can type much faster, and the email application leaves both the stock program, and any add-ons, in the dust. I'm lamenting the $25 I spent on Touchdown - but the Blackberry is simply much, much better.

So what don't I like? Well it's just not as good of an internet computer. The G1 and the iPhone both come with their appstore pre-installed. I had to manually download Blackberry's analog. And the apps themselves -- when the exist -- simply aren't as good. Google Maps, for instance, runs like a champ on Android devices, but the Blackberry version isn't nearly as good, and isn't nearly as fast. Part of it is screen size, part of it is the lack of a touch screen, but it simply is an inferior experience. I'm also jealous of Android users currently drooling over Google Goggles, the new turn-based navigation system, and other great new apps.

Many of the programs I really want simply aren't available. Take Foursquare, for example. I'm enjoyed using it on the G1, but there's no alternative on the Blackberry - apart from the mobile website, which is a terrible, terrible experience. At least I can get that to work. I tried GoWalla, but its mobile site simply launches into an infinite loop on the Blackberry's browser - an extremely terrible user experience.

Although Seesmic's Blackberry application is OK, I miss the more robust versions on the G1 - and it's harder to keep the river of real time going on the Blackberry.

I also miss the big touch screen. I got used to pointing, dragging and rolling pages on the G1, and even though the trackpad on the 9700 is pretty decent, it's not a touch screen.

But you know what? In the end, I'm going to stick with the Blackberry. It's much better for simple voice and email communications, and I can tolerate the other limitations. I would love to see RIM improve the store, add a touch screen, and improve the mobile computer side of the device. But in the end, I need what it does well better than what it does only passably. So for now, I'm a proud user of the Blackberry 9700.

Want to know more? Well known venture capitalist and blogger Fred Wilson penned his own paean to the 9700, where he taunts us with the secret apps he gets to run that you and I cannot.

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