Well, the tour is on a break, I’ve been sick for a nearly a week and am trying to shake it here in a hotel in Cologne, Germany. The hotel has a remarkable view of the the Koln Cathedral but I’ve got a up close shot of the train track going into central station. Thanks to my friend Lef, I know the difference between all the kinds of trains that pass my window.

photo originally posted to flickr by aronski…

I thought I’d take this time to give my opinion on a few items that I’ve been using for a while either for your interest or to just add to the metadata out there floating around out there in the air.

Blackberry Pearl 8100

BlackBerry Pearl
photo originally uploaded by StarGazr to flickr

First off, I think I’ve alluded to my purchase of the Blackberry Pearl 8100 smartphone. I started to get interested in the idea of it when the “leaks” began a few months ago. I wanted a device that had the features that it has; top of the line e-mail, quad band GSM, international support, camera, media player, mp3 ring tones, bluetooth,instant messaging and its rather normal size for such a powerful phone. Initially the cluelessness of my local T-Mobile stores staff had me worried but then changed into a very helpful experience that made the transfer from my old phone much easier than I thought.

It’s a small candy-bar-style phone which being sleek and black matches nearly 99% of my wardrobe. The screen looks great and though the keypad packs a lot into a small space it didn’t take long for me to get used to it. The set up of my email accounts was a first attempt easy experience; that counts for a lot. Being a Mac user using a Blackberry makes you dependent on a program called PocketMac to move your address book over; Blackberry does not support Mac per se but provides the PocketMac people with new system builds so they can. It’s also free; we may have RIM, the makers of the Blackberry, to thank for that.

Unfortunately the PocketMac didn’t release their beta version of the software for a few weeks after I purchased the phone; I was able to transfer some of my numbers by bluetooth but only if the numbers were on my sim card in my Nokia; they were not. I was able to get 40 of my most used numbers and addresses over to get me started.

I got used to the SureType system of using the keys with multiple letters assigned to them quickly as the Nokia has a good version of the same thing. It’s pretty reliable if you know how to spell and avoid colloquial terms every other word. I does learn your vocabulary as time goes by.

I am blown away by how fast email goes out and shows up on the system; when sitting at my computer the Blackberry always gets the mail first as I’m sure it sniffs every couple of seconds. It can handle reasonable attachments, has support for Microsoft documents like Excel and can open a picture or two.

The camera is only a 1 megapixel but with a steady hand and the right light you can get some good shots. I’ve been posting some that I’ve took both here and at my flickr site because I was a bonehead and left my main camera back in the states. I’m actually glad for that; this has become a good test for the phone and for my limited photo chops. Having something you can snap a photo with in your breast pocket is a new experience for me and I’ve been able to snap some things I usually wouldn’t have because of the fact it’s built into my phone. That and you can send it to email or SMS with one button click to have someone see what you see in a flash…

I added a 1 gig Micro SD card for storage into the phone. It’s smaller than the size of a stamp. I wanted it for mp3’s and photos and it’s working out great. The added bonus is with the USB interface the phone can be seen as a mass media device by your computer (another hard drive) and that makes date transfer easy. The power and data connection is the same little USB connector you find on most cameras and will recharge your phone from your laptop with the proper driver installed. You can also move files by bluetooth but I’ve found the USB cable to be faster, more convenient and more reliable. This mode does make certain aspects of the phone’s storage hard to access from the phone interface while connected but won’t interfere with any calls.

The fact that it plays Audio and Video was a big selling point. This has been a bit of a disappointment as I wanted to be able to listen to podcasts from it. The audio out connector is a 2.5 mm jack which is the size below the standard earbud/headphone size. It’s also wired so that you can use the special headset for a hands free call mic. The problem for me was they didn’t put it on sale until after I left the country weeks later. I understand that the same headset from the Motorola ROKR works but as it was tremendously unpopular I haven’t been able to find one over here yet. It does have a speakerphone which will play these files (that’s how I know it works) but that doesn’t have an application for me and my noisy lifestyle 90% of the time. I look forward to checking it out once I get the proper adaptors.

The video interface is a little hinky with anything other than .AVI’s; I used some tips from the BB forums to format some .MOV’s so they would work on the Pearl but they either don’t play the audio or the controls stop working for the player. Hopefully the next version of the player will fix this.

If you are into editing audio and want to personalize you phone’s ringtones, I can say that like my Motorola V600, it’s neat to know who is calling from the sound of the tone (and to be able to tell it from everyone else’s). I trim about a 16-20 second section of a song or other recording, save it in a decent sounding resolution, place it in my ringtone folder on my Pearl and assign it to a number. As much fun as it is to hear the Mexican Hat Dance midi file playing from a stagehands phone every thirty seconds, imagine a burning Coltrane solo coming out of your phone when your jazz loving friend calls. Or maybe a recording of your friend snoring in his bunk or freaking out at a caterer… I love it.

The browser is good too; the trackball is an interface I’m used to as I once had a Kensington trackball for my laptop and a few old Mac laptops. It wan handle all but the most retarded graphic-heavy sites. In the case of sites that know who’s coming in and what platform and have mobile friendly pages, all the better. It certainly has made me think about my own site design and how to cut the fat. Having this browser has gotten me information quickly without the convenience of wi-fi for my laptop and I almost prefer it for some browsing. Using an RSS reader like Google Reader is easy and fast (more on Google Reader shortly). Though I haven’t done it yet, I believe you can download the Opera browser and use it on the phone as well if you don’t like it.

The service in all countries here has been excellent; call quality, network connection, data connections. The reason I went with T-Mobile years ago was because they had the best coverage over here; being a German company, I suppose they’d better be. I know that some of my friends have bailed out from them due to service problems and retention issues but they have been good to me so far and with this phone (which currently they only carry), I’ll be around for a bit.

I enjoy my new Pearl as a phone, a camera and an internet device. I’m hoping to enjoy it as a media player in the near future. The few things that people have pointed out as drawbacks (the ringer problem, the EDGE instead of EVDO, etc) are all things that can change. I hope that it has the durability and longevity to survive out here. I know it has the reputation as a girl’s phone, the way to get a business device into the consumer world and get that Sidekick crowd with a phone that’s not going to drag your purse to the bottom of the ocean; I’m here to tell you that it works for me as well and I don’t have a lapdog or a Mercedes McLaren.

Next up:

other tools… browsers, readers and photo sites.