My new blackberry 7290

For non-geeks: a blackberry is a handheld email client. When people send me mail, I have a “recipe” that looks at the email for me before figuring out what to do with it. If it’s important, it is sent directly to my blackberry, which is clipped to my belt most waking hours. My old Blackberry was about the size of a somewhat chubby pager, and had a very small screen that displayed messages much like pagers used to display phone numbers — the biggest difference being that the old Blackberry had a little scroll wheel to scroll through the messages. The thing about even the old blackberry which was nice was that it was a two-way email device. I could send email from it (it had a tiny keyboard), and it would be transmitted through the air using the same networks as cell phones. The new one, my friends, not only is a cell phone (in addition to an email client), it has lots of other cool stuff. Read on for more ;-)

Phone Features

The “gotta have” feature for me on the newer blackberry devices is the cell phone. I hated my old cell phone, and I never used it. My cell is lucky to see 30 minutes a month usage. It was a flip phone, with a screen on the outside when it was closed, and there is, literally, not a single pixel left on it that works. I never liked the navigation of the phone. I could never find anything. The signal was good, though.

I got the blackberry through Cingular wireless, which apparently was the only company who even had this particular model at the time. Me and my group at work all had Verizon cell phones, and were happy with Verizon, but the difference in available features between Verizon’s and Cingular’s blackberries made Verizon an absolute non-competitor.

The point is, I have taken this device into the office, around the area where my building is, home, and to the gym, and have not been without signal. Even where the old blackberry had no signal I had signal. EVEN INSIDE THE BUILDING I had signal, which was unheard of.

The phone interface on this thing rules. If you’re on a call, the display shows a volume wheel, and the scroll wheel transforms itself into a volume knob, which is comfortable to use with either hand without removing the phone from your ear. Also displayed is my phone number!!! Thank you, very much. For those of us who don’t like giving out our cell numbers, and generally don’t talk on our phones 24/7, this is a godsend, because I know I, for one, can never remember my cell number. So if I’m on the phone with someone who needs the number, I can double-check myself. I like that.



I found the phone volume to be more than adequate, the clarity was superb, and the overall experience of using this thing as a phone was great. I especially like that I really didn’t need to “figure it out”. Everything was perfectly intuitive, with the very minor exception of the hang-up feature. To hang up, you have to hold the escape key (located just under the scroll wheel on the side of the unit) for about 2 seconds.

As if all of this wonderfulness weren’t enough, the folks at RIM decided to make getting to the phone feature easy, no matter what you happen to be doing at the time. Along the top edge of the device, there’s a phone button that will launch the phone feature of the device on the spot. If you hit it by accident, hitting the escape/back key will bring you right back to what you were doing last. Very nice. Also, while you’re on a call, that phone button becomes a “mute” button. I don’t have much reason to have a mute button, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Email Features



There are a number of features that make using the 7290 for email much nicer (um, besides the abundant signal). The most immediately noticable one is the screen, which is probably three times bigger than the old blackberry, and probably 3x the resolution as well, which opens up some doors to do things like offer (wait for it) adjustable fonts!! Yes, folks, there are somewhere around a dozen different font faces, each available in sizes from unreadably small to enormous, and you can even make them bold, italic, or both.

The simply marvelous thing about adjustable fonts becomes really obvious when you have what I’ll call “predictable subjects” in your email. For example, the subject line of all emails which come from our problem system at work start with “[PR#”. The old blackberry didn’t have room to print the time, sender, and subject beyond those few letters, which made it impossible to make sense of your email. If you want to see what it’s like, next time you have your email open, scrunch all of the columns in your email list pane down to about 4 characters each, and try to figure out what’s going on with your email with just the information that is visible. It’s maddening.

The 7290, as I’ve configured mine, displays somewhere around 25 characters of the subject. I’ve chosen to NOT display the time in the list, since the time displayed is the time it got to your blackberry — not the time the email was sent, or received by the server which sent it to your pager. It’s not a useful timestamp, so I use the space for more useful stuff. I can see the entire sender name in a lot of cases, and enough of the subject line to see if the last message from one of the guys is in response to a problem I was about to respond to myself.

I have found one limitation in the email feature. You can send email to an email address. You can also send one directly to a pager using that pager’s PIN. However, you CANNOT address an email to a PIN, and then later decide to add non-PIN addresses to the CC list of that message. Oh well — a minor glitch, and one that isn’t altogether unexpected I suppose (either you’re going through the blackberry exchange server or you’re not — you can’t have both).

Integration!

I avoided using my old blackberry, quite honestly. It was a rigid, ugly, hard to read, featureless thing. It was as integrated as you would probably expect, I suppose. If you had contacts in the address book, you could email them. That’s it. Game over.

Alas, the addressbook on the new devices is the foundation of your entire 7290 experience. Once you load the addressbook, you can do just about everything else with no trouble at all. Entering a PIN, 3 phone numbers and an email address for a contact, and then scrolling to their name in the contact list and clicking the wheel pops up options to email the contact using their email address or PIN, call them, or SMS message them. If you choose to call them, a list of their available phone numbers shows up! Scroll to the right one, click, and you’re all set!

At first, I was shocked that there were not multiple spots in the contact form for work and personal email accounts, because I would like to have a choice of email addresses to send to when I click to email a contact. Then I discovered that if you go to edit a contact, scroll to the email field, and click the wheel, there’s an option to add another email address! Yes! As expected, going back and choosing to email that contact brings up the expected “which address?” box, just like with the phone numbers. The only drawback to this (and again, this is really minor) is that there is no “both” choice in that box. *sigh*. I guess I can create a group containing only a single real person as a workaround, but I shouldn’t have to!

Bluetooth!

The bluetooth features of this unit aren’t as grand as a true geek might like. There are no file transfer capabilities, no ability to even add another unit’s PIN to your address book, and no other services offered as either a client or server other than to facilitate the use of a wireless hands-free device so you can talk while you drive, which I don’t do and so have little use for. I feel like there just has to be more to this that I’m just not seeing, so if anyone knows of anything else I can do with bluetooth on my 7290, drop me a line!

On the plus side, my unit came configured with reasonable security settings. It was configured NOT to be discoverable by default, for example.

Conclusion

There’s more to the 7290 than I’m covering here. It comes with a “breakout” clone, two web browsers, and the ability to have different backgrounds on the home screen. These are relatively small niceties that come with a high-res screen. There’s no camera, no expandability in terms of SD or CF memory, and not a heckuva lot of addons that I’ve seen. It’s a phone, email client, and contact organizer. If you don’t wanna spend $600 on the latest Palm, but want something that does 90% of what 90% of people actually *use* a Palm for on a regular basis, I highly recommend this unit.

What your choice of linux distro says about you

So I read this article by Joe Barr, a writer I correspond with often and generally get along well with. Unfortunately, my personal opinion is that an article like that really belongs on a blog, rather than a site with “news” in the name. On the other hand, I have no doubt Joe had fun with the piece, as it seems like a fun undertaking, so I said “self, you have a blog, and this looks like fun, so have at it”. Here, then, are my (less PC) takes on the stereotypes associated with the different distributions of linux.

Debian

Debian is for people who believe that a package manager is the most critical piece of software in the entire distribution. These people also think nothing of running a 2.2 kernel on the heels of the 2.6 kernel release. They consistently fail to mention the numerous problems you can run into with apt, and that it’s not perfect, as if they’re on some political “hide the truth” campaign. Truth is, all package managers suck to some degree, so you better like the rest of the distro, too. Also, these people equate the words “old” and “stable”.

Gentoo

This distribution is used by people who don’t go to Linux newbie forums, and when they do, generally keep their mouths shut. No need to go blabbing about their distro, thereby attracting these newbies to the gentoo forums, crowding it with questions like “What is X?”. They are happy to be part of a silent minority of Linux users who actually like their distribution.

Knoppix

I agree with Joe on this one, for the most part. The other side of the Knoppix coin, though is that a subsect of Knoppixland is made up of hackers who depend on physical access to get their work done. With physical access and a Knoppix CD, they automatically own any box that has a CDROM drive in it. For the most part though, it’s a bunch of very aggressive zealots who feel that Knoppix was initially burned onto tablets and given to Moses, who then brought them down from the mountain to spread across the land.

Linspire

I don’t know why this distro was included. There’s nothing about Linspire that qualifies the user base as being part of the Linux community. These are people who wouldn’t understand if you told them they didn’t have to pay either for Linux or OpenOffice, because they’re used to being dragged across the coals by both CompUSA and Microsoft.

Mandrake

Mandrake users are Redhat users on holiday. It’s either a diversion from the up2date rigamarole of daily work life, a stepping stone to a more advanced distribution, or a goodwill effort by those who believe in the work Mandrake does, even if they don’t particularly like the software.

MEPIS

The only people I’ve ever heard of who actually use MEPIS work for the OSDN/OSTG. I can’t imagine why a distro that is used by tens of people would be included in a list of distros used by tens of thousands of people. I’m happy the users at the OSDN/OSTG like MEPIS and try to help at every turn, but at the same time I think it’s taking undue advantage of their position as a news publication (or something like that). [DISCLAIMER: I do freelance writing for OSDN/OSTG, as of this writing]

RedHat
Redhat users are pessimists who feel like they might just as well dwell in the same technological pit of despair as everyone else, because at least there’s company, and some support along with it. They are also pragmatists who need an entire system rather than just a package manager, or just a nice GUI, so their quest is really for a distribution that can solve 85% of all their problems, instead of one that solves 95% of one rather small problem.

Slackware

Slackware is for people who haven’t discovered the wonders of things like centralized account management and PAM. They are also followers of an invisible man named Patrick who makes all of their technical decisions for them, which is fine with them. They are the neanderthals of the Linux world, who seem to take pride in their plight to keep a barely breathing distribution alive on artificial life support at least until the passing of the great Patrick.

SuSe

Users of this distribution are fed up with every other distro. They used to stay away from SuSe because all of the good support threads were in German. Now that it lives in Utah, they’re suspicious and on the watch for any wacky behavior, but otherwise happy with their distribution and happy to keep it to themselves for the most part. Privately, they are all former Redhat users who are tired of being shamed by the rants of Redhat execs.