Jumping Ship: Switching to Android from Blackberry

When my three year old Blackberry Pearl 8130 finally gave up the ghost, I decided–for obvious reasons–to eschew RIM and delve into the world of Android. What follows is partly a review of the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket handset and partly a chronicle of my experience as a stalwart Blackberry user switching to Android. Bear in mind I had been a Blackberry user for over five years and have been an Android user for three days. There is a very slight possibility that I don’t know everything yet about using an Android device.

The Skyrocket (on AT&T) is among the more powerful smartphones currently offered. It includes a large screen, fast, dual processors, and the ability to work over AT&T’s newest LTE network. I bought the phone from a Best Buy phone store at the local mall. This is not a full sized Best Buy but rather strictly a phone store that carries practically all devices for every major carrier. My salesperson, Issac, was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. [Prices were as-good-as or better than the AT&T store and Best Buy offers a buy-back loyalty program that is worth a look.]

Most Android phones seem large to me and I was strongly in favor of a phone on the smaller side because I thought a large phone would be cumbersome. Issac had me put the Skyrocket in a pocket for a few minutes and I quickly realized the seemingly huge size increase over my old Blackberry made no difference in terms of what I’ll call pocketability. But the Skyrocket’s large screen is awfully nice to look at. +1 for big screen.

Large tangible keys, the physical click, predictive typing… I was a fan of the BB Pearl’s condensed QWERTY keyboard. Consequently I had limited my virtual search to phones with a physical keyboard. However I went into the store with an open mind and in fact it took 15 minutes of using the Swype enabled touchscreen keyboard to become a complete convert. If you use an Android device and haven’t used Swype, try it! +1 for Swype.

Figuring out how to navigate the phone, find settings, add apps, and generally make the handset do what I want came fairly quickly. I sometimes had the feeling that it was less intuitive than my old Blackberry. But the reality is that Android does so much more and offers so much flexibility–there’s simply more to do and more to get through. All things considered, the amount of effort needed to feel comfortable navigating Android seemed reasonable.

After spending several hours using the Skyrocket as an actual phone I have no complaints. Audio quality has been good, especially when paired with Bose’s newest noise-cancelling bluetooth earphone (pricey but excellent).

Beyond the form factor and basic service as a phone, my highest priority for a smartphone is email. I use multiple accounts on a daily basis and require prompt email throughput along with fast, convenient methods for accessing and using multiple accounts. After three days of intensive fiddling the results are mixed.

For BB users accustomed to push email, it’s mostly there. The phone’s (required) primary Gmail account can be used to push email from other accounts in a manner very similar to the Blackberry Internet Service. It’s relatively straight-forward to set up:
But there’s a big catch: this only works if the other system supports POP access. Many email providers do, but for us Yahoo users, only a paid Yahoo account will work.

There are loads of free and premium mail clients to choose from and finding the right one is largely a matter of taste. It is possible to set up the default Android mail client with a unified Inbox. However this extends only to email–text messages are accessed through a different client. Perhaps there’s an app that combines email and text messages.

The Skyrocket does not have an LED light that can flash for messages and alarms like a Blackberry. Apparently many other Android devices do include such a light. There’s a free app (Light Flow Lite) available that allows a great deal of customization and control over flashing light notification. However, since the Skyrocket lacks the actual multicolor LED hardware, notifications can only occur through vibration, sound, or manually checking the phone’s status bar. This may seem like a minor point to non-Blackberry users, but it may be a deal-breaker for me. The next couple weeks will tell if I can adjust and whether I keep the phone or exchange it for one that has an LED. -1 for no flashing light notification.

I mentioned earlier that Android has lots of options and choices. In some cases this is true to a fault. It seems that changing the email notification ring tone must be done individually for each email account and each client. Then again, maybe there’s an app that let’s you make changes across all accounts at once. In any case, setting up notifications and preferences for multiple accounts and in different clients, whether audible, vibrating, flashing light, or other felt tedious and less straight forward than on the Blackberry.

Battery life is in question. There was practically no way to drain the Blackberry during a waking day. With only moderate usage today, the Skyrocket’s battery hit 0% at 4:00 in the afternoon causing the phone to shut off abruptly and without warning. If this doesn’t improve after a few more cycles of charging, then it’s back to the store for a different device. A review on Endgadget states that that LTE drains the battery and criticizes the Skyrocket for lacking an LTE on/off switch. The currently available apps to control LTE don’t seem to work on the Skyrocket. -1 for battery life.

I have only begun exploring calendar functions and have yet to sync the device and load my 2000 contacts. My hunch is that these applications will follow suit and need some tweaking and perhaps third party apps to work as I’d like, but that ultimately the features will meet my requirements.

The Skyrocket excels as a multimedia pocket rocket and browser. Viewing images and YouTube videos, addictive word games, device speed and responsiveness–Android and the Skyrocket live up to expectation and beyond. The screen is stunning and there’s no delay when launching apps or navigating settings. +1 for speed and dazzle.

To summarize what I have learned so far:

  1. Embrace the touchscreen and give Swype a chance.
  2. Bigger is better.
  3. There’s an app for that.
  4. LTE needs an on/off switch.
  5. Why, Oh Samsung, why didn’t you include a multicolor LED?
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