A Blackberry User Considers Android

I’ve been a loyal Blackberry user  for about four years. RIM not long ago released the Blackberry Torch to modest fanfare in the US. While Jim Courtney tells me that it’s worth a look, it’s only offered by AT&T, which makes it a non-starter for me.

In contrast, today marks the official launch of the G2 on T-Mobile. With it’s landscape mode keyboard the G2 just might be the handset that entices me to make the leap to Android. I’m going to try and lay hands on one this evening. Further, my wife wants a new handset as well. We might be in the market for a pair of handsets.

This comes at an interesting time as Counterpath just this week announced the pending release of Bria For Android. Todd Carothers’ blog has something to say about this release. The availability of a solid SIP client on Android is a welcome thing, although I’ve heard good things about SIPDroid. It’s nice to have options.

The SIP client is important because it lets my cell phone fit nicely into my employers OnSIP hosted PBX setup. The availability of G.722 based HDVoice would be nice, but isn’t a deal breaker for me.

Skype just released a Skype client for Android outside of the walls of Verizon wireless. The world at large seems to be less that thrilled about this as it doesn’t support calling over 3G, only Wifi…at least in the US.  Skype is clearly living with the terms of their partnership deal with VZW. Also no video calling.

My primary use of Skype is for desktop IM and the occasional ad hoc file transfer. I suspect that I would use Skype very little, even on an Android phone.

On the other hand, I’ve found that the Blackberry 9700s UMA feature has proven handy at times. UMA stands for “Unlicensed Mobile Access” and is a means by which the handset can make & receive calls over Wifi when not in a cellular coverage area. There have been a number of occasions when T-Mo didn’t quite reach my location so I jumped on some nearby wifi. This is especially true inside some buildings.

T-Mobile is the only US carrier that offers UMA calling. Until recently it was only offered on a small selection of handsets, including a couple of models of Blackberry and a few “feature phones” that were offered as part of their now defunct “At Home” service.

The very fact that T-Mobile killed off the Wifi-based home calling plan called into question their commitment to UMA calling in the mobile handsets. Just today T-Mobile officially announced support for UMA calling on Android handsets. That removes yet another impediment to switching from my Blackberry to the G2.

Part of the attraction of the G2 is that it’s the first handset with an HSPA+ radio capable of making use of the upgraded network that T-Mo has been rolling out. It’s not truly 4G, more like 3.5G….but it’s faster than 3G…more comparable to the Clear/Sprint Wimax offering.

In theory, if I rooted the phone I could use it as a fast wifi hotspot. However, with 11 months left on my Sprint Mifi contract there’s little to be gained by such trickery. Such a move would just kill the G2’s battery quickly, as Tim Panton recently noted of his Nokia E60.

Keeping the Mifi powered has already proven to be a problem. I still see value in a 3G/4G USB interface given the kind of extended duration usage I’ve been needing.

There’s certainly a lot to consider…rest assured there will be more to follow on this topic.

  • As I had mentioned to you, I understand your AT&T plague. We are fortunate in Canada to have three national carriers who carry not only the BlackBerry “GSM” products, such as Torch, but also the iPhone. And all on HSPA+ networks with excellent geographic coverage.

    While Rogers has always been a GSM carrier, Bell and Telus were smart to jump from CDMA to a HSPA+ network, partially driven by the need to offering roaming for visitors to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics and not let Rogers have all the roaming business.

    • HSPA+ seems like a nice trick. I’d like to compare T-Mo to Clear here in Houston…but trial accounts are not so easy to get.

  • I spent about 20 minutes using the G2 in our local T-Mobile store. It’s quick and the browser looks great.

    I need some details about how it will integrate with our company email based upon Exchange. The tech in the store indicated that the email was not really “push” like the Blackberry, but that the phone would poll the server on a periodic basis.

    That raised the question of battery life. They told me that any Android phone is going to have shorter battery life than a Blackberry. I suspect that’s because the pattern of usage is so very different. Android users make far greater use of the internet & email access, making it harder on the battery.

    I have to make a decision about the economics of the situation. Upgrading from my Blackberry is going to be costly because it’s only a year old. Upgrading my “other line” is less costly but locks me into the family plan for 2 more years.

  • Greg

    Check to see if your corporate email exchange server supports HTTP over RTP.

    If so, you will be very pleased with email on the Android. It has full Exchange support, and in conjunction with the above mentioned HTTP over RTP, it will sync with the exchange server in real time… not periodic polling.

    • With a quick Google search I turned up this MS app note on “How to configure RPC over HTTP in Exchange Server 2003” which is I presume what you mean.

      http://support.microsoft.com/kb/833401

      It would seem to eliminate the need for a VPN connection. At present my employer uses PPTP, but hopes to transition to an SSL-based VPN (OpenVPN) some time soon.

      I’ll check with our IT staff and see what’s possible.

  • Greg

    Yes, RPC… Sorry. Not enough coffee this morning. It indeed allows you to eliminate the need for a VPN. It will sync your email, contacts, and calendar with the exchange server.

  • If you ever travel internationally, UMA is a godsend. Just got back from 2 weeks in europe, where my girlfriend’s T-Mobile blackberry worked perfectly in any hotel or cafe with a wifi hotspot. Full BIS access, voice, and SMS, with no international roaming or data charges — we could call and be called on the same US number as easily and cheaply as if we were at home in Brooklyn.

    Contrast that with my Sprint blackberry Tour 9630, which has a GSM radio and SIM card for international use. I could either pay out the nose to Sprint for international voice and data roaming (they discontinued their unlimited int’l data add-on this summer), or swap in cheap prepaid foreign SIM cards, and give up all blackberry features. Maddeningly, you can’t even use the BB web browser without BIS service.

    The lack of flexibility of Blackberry when traveling and swapping carriers will probably lead me to an Android phone next time around.

    • I’ve not had the pleasure of traveling to Europe with the Blackberry 9700. However, I had a funny experience in Sault Ste Marie Ontario.

      Normally in Canada I’d expect to be roaming on the Rogers network, where minutes are gold plated and data bytes platinum plated. This time around we were in a small hotel very near the bridge that crosses over the river to the US. My 9700 was able to lock onto a US GSM carrier when I was outdoors…so no roaming for me. Then when I was in the hotel I locked onto their free wifi.

      I had an entire week in Canada with no roaming fees at all!!

  • youneeq

    Wow, I haven’t converted to the Android family yet, but I’m close. An Android SIP softphone that worked right would ease the conversion. I’m estatic about Counterpath’s press release. Have to start researching the droid phones again.

  • Ed Miller

    Beware of the problems setting up wifi proxies with Android phones:

    See http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=1273