How I Came to Hate the BlackBerry Pearl

In case you weren’t aware my order for a Motorolla Milestone finally came through – bought with my own cash to replace my BlackBerry Pearl 8120 business phone.

But how did I arrive at this level of contempt for BlackBerry, and why Android? It’s partly down to progress in smartphone tech and partly down to discovery of limitations with the Pearl – which led to inevitable smartphone envy.

When I first got my Pearl last summer, it was through our business account. At the time the Android didn’t exist and the only other cutting edge smartphone on the market was the iPhone. I turned down having an iPhone for £50. I’m still glad I made that decision.

I had just returned a HTC Diamond back to O2 because it was a 5 year old Windows Mobile interface with a skin applied to make it look new – but ran and responded 5 times slower than my old SPV C500 – incidentally running the same OS.

I was really pleased with the Pearl at first – the UI was very responsive, the wifi connected seamlessly and didn’t hang up or have trouble reconnecting like some Nokia phones I’d used. I immediately noticed the lack of file system manager, the lack of themes and the dated 2mp camera – but these things didn’t bother me – the GUI was responsive and worked, the wifi connected automatically.

Then there was the email – it took me a while to figure out that email is not configured on the phone but has to go through the BIS server. I had to call O2 get them to push a bunch of services and apps down then log into their website and setup my email accounts. After this it was no trouble – the email service is second to none.

However, the honeymoon was short. The limitations, particularly with the Pearl model, soon started to make themselves apparent…

Lack of GPSr (Pearl models)

I had just started Geocaching after discovering it in Canada and discovered a problem with the Pearl model in particular that wasn’t really a problem before – that is lack of GPSr. Every BlackBerry model seems to have a GPSr but the Pearl is the black sheep of RIM that doesn’t get one. Why is this? I get they were attempting to court the general mobile user crowd with the retooled keyboard but it’s still a smartphone, and not as cheap as a Nokia either.

Consequently a lot of GC apps I couldn’t use because they explicitly require a GPSr enabled in order to seek caches. I managed to discover CacheBerry – which does take PQs and doesn’t need a GPSr, but still.

2.0mp Camera

At the time I got this Pearl, smartphones were already being made with 3+ megapixels. My other mobile, a Nokia N96 was 5mp. So it was a little disheartening to move down to a lower mp camera – particularly one a phone that is more socially network inclined than the Nokia was. I mean being able to load photos up on Facebook is great, but what’s the point when anybody looking at them is going to have trouble working out what the blobs are?

What else, the media library and camera are painfully slow. Sometimes I wanted to get a quick once-in-a-moment snap of, oh say, the nephew doing something cute and funny – too late it’s gone! A full 2 minutes later the camera app loads and is ready to take a picture. Of course better hope in your haste you didn’t accidentally click twice because actions are queued! Yes it will suddenly run everything you clicked all at once, then you have to start it all over again and wait… again.

Email

Everyone applauds BlackBerry BIS email service. It’s fast, efficient and gives companies the option to manage it. But for a small consultancy that uses POP3- unnecessary. Furthermore I found it frustrating when we changed network providers – being without email access for a couple of days until I could get login details to the BIS portal and add email accounts. This is not really useful for consultants who work on client sites where access to their company email is blocked by the customers network.

During times when my BlackBerry was down I switched sim cards to the Nokia as a backup phone – email could be setup easily and I could get on with the job. Now that I’ve moved to Android, the BlackBerry will not be used as a backup phone – it’s useless without having to login to the BIS portal and reconfigure accounts – I’m not prepared to do that every time so the Nokia will stay as my backup.

Facebook

BlackBerry have a Facebook app so I thought I might as well add my account. Sounds like a good idea right? I configure FB to only get alerts when someone sends me a message, but when I did get a message and go to the FB app – it takes forever to load and finally get to the message. Then there’s the pictures, on such a small screen what’s the point? It uses more bandwidth and I can’t see them anyway.

It’s junk, that’s all I’m going to say. I actually tried other apps that gave me FB access but then I encountered the other problem the Pearl has with apps…

Memory

My biggest bugbear about the Pearl. Out of the box the Pearl is quick yes, but install one too many additional apps (that means more than 2 or 3) and the Pearl will start to feel sluggish. Why? Because you just reached the 64mb memory limit, delete some emails and sms or you’re screwed! But don’t worry there’s an app that will help you manage that by flushing all your cache etc… Only trouble is that app will take up 1 slot that another app could have had instead!

Of course, you can expand the memory card up to 8gb, but you can’t install apps or even emails or cache on it. But at least I can store images… taken with… a 2.0mp camera, which means I’ll never fill up the wasted space on that card.

PC Connectivity

OK maybe this is going to be unfair because most phones have some kind of problems like this. As soon as you plug the BB in, you may only want to charge but the SSD card is no longer accessible. What’s worse is my data port has become really loose recently and I have to place the Pearl in an undisturbable position in order to keep the connection active. Why can’t the Pearl be told to behave like charging, not media card access?

Furthermore why no support for the Linux desktop? Sure other phone makers may be guilty of this too, but it does seem easier to find workarounds or partial support for the others, BlackBerry seems to totally ignore Linux.

Small Screen (Pearl Models)

Just one word – email. Ok maybe 2 words: html emails. 3? long html emails. I should have known. This should have been the giveaway I wouldn’t be satisfied long-term. After a 2.8′ N96 screen I should have made the vow never to go back. I’ve learned my lesson. I have a Motorola Milestone now.

Themes

The default themes are trying to be too… Windows XP. The carrier themes are not much better. Furthermore installing new, better themes takes up valuable memory space and you can’t delete the defaults without hacking it. Lame all round.

Security Policy

Sure BlackBerries are secure and they are corporate friendly. So corporate friendly in fact, to the detriment of the user and owner. I would sometimes need to plug my BB into a clients network machine to charge the battery. Trouble is these are XP machines and as customary they will pop up detecting new hardware.* It just so happened that BB Desktop Manager was installed by stealth on the machine I was using when I accidentally clicked for Windows to install the new hardware rather than ignore.

Installing the hardware and drivers allowed my clients corporate BB Security policy to be automatically installed on my Pearl without any warning or permissions given whatsoever. My BB previously didn’t have a security policy in place because our consultancy doesn’t have a centralised system. However my phone was suddenly locked out from allowing me to make all kinds of changes.

I had to find a crack on the tubes, download this and run it to reflash my BB. I lost my data despite backing up with my own Desktop Manager for some reason. Never again.

*Yes, I am now aware you can disable new hardware detection through the device manager on Windows. This shouldn’t have happened without consent though.

Browser

It’s just crap. Oh sure I installed Opera (until I ran out of memory), but BlackBerry refuses OTA installs through Opera which renders it only half as useful.

…And finally

OK, so maybe you would say to someone like me that my experience of BlackBerry got burned by the Pearl – I didn’t get to fully appreciate the large screen, the GPSr, the full qwerty keyboard or the memory(?). But the fact remains is that if RIM want to introduce people to BlackBerry, this is not the phone to try it on. Instead it would be better sticking with the larger models – this way when someone does make the leap they won’t make some half-assed leap like I did and taint the brand.

For all I know the full size models are better, but I’m already put off by the BIS email, the lack of control and the OS itself, I’m no longer intrigued at what RIM have to offer. Besides I’m really loving Android right now – I can’t imagine RIM ever coming near to competing with the open platform.

Curious Problem with Cork City Locale Geocaching Pocket Query

If you’re a premium member with Groundspeak’s geocaching.com then you will be aware of the ability to create pocket queries. These are really useful for throwing up to 1000 waypoints onto your GPSr for a days, or even a holidays caching.

As some of you know we were in Ireland recently (the reason for lack of posts) and I decided to take advantage of Stena Ferries free satellite wifi on the boat. I set a PQ for Cork and waited for it to build. When the query was ready I saved as usual to my shared Dropbox folder and then attached my Garmin 60CSx but despite loading fine onto my CacheBerry – the PQ just wouldn’y upload to the Garmin.

Puzzled, I tried an older PQ and verified that my script was working, as well as the Garmin was not having some kind of software fault. Next most obvious thing that occurred to me was perhaps the file was corrupted during download, after all it was a wireless connection via satellite on a moving ferry. I tested this theory by downloading the PQ again. Then I downloaded one I’d created earlier. The earlier one (Watford) worked, the Cork didn’t.

Then I decided to test the website PQ builder itself – maybe there was a technical problem. I checked the forums but there was nothing reported, so I posted a thread which didn’t go anywhere. I then tried creating an entirely new PQ of Leicester (never run before). I downloaded and Leicester loaded up onto my GPS no problem.

So there was something local to Cork which was borking my PQ which had to be in the file itself. I didn’t have much time left so I tried a splicing the file with my newly created Leicester PQ. I opened up the GPX file and chopped out the header:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<gpx xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xmlns:xsd="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema" version="1.0" creator="Groundspeak Pocket Query" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0 http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0/gpx.xsd http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0 http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0/cache.xsd" xmlns="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0">
<name>Cork</name>
<desc>Geocache file generated by Groundspeak</desc>
<author>Groundspeak</author>
<email>contact@groundspeak.com</email>
<time>2010-06-16T03:12:46.2642819Z</time>
<keywords>cache, geocache, groundspeak</keywords>
<bounds minlat="51.551967" minlon="-9.37105" maxlat="52.428967" maxlon="-7.593717" />
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?><gpx xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xmlns:xsd="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema" version="1.0" creator="Groundspeak Pocket Query" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0 http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0/gpx.xsd http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0 http://www.groundspeak.com/cache/1/0/cache.xsd" xmlns="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/1/0">  <name>Cork</name>  <desc>Geocache file generated by Groundspeak</desc>  <author>Groundspeak</author>  <email>contact@groundspeak.com</email>  <time>2010-06-16T03:12:46.2642819Z</time>  <keywords>cache, geocache, groundspeak</keywords>  <bounds minlat="51.551967" minlon="-9.37105" maxlat="52.428967" maxlon="-7.593717" />

and footer:

</gpx>

I then copied the remaining xml and pasted it below the header in the Leicester PQ, then saved this and zipped it back up.

I ran my script and and uploaded it to my 60CSx – it worked!

I can’t see anything wrong with the header info above but this is where the error seems to lie. Maybe it’s something to do with the coordinates in the boundary tag, or perhaps some hidden character I missed. Does anyone more technical in both xml and WGS84 Datum than me have an idea?

Oddly enough, subsequent PQs for Cork after we arrived worked too.

Just GPSBabel

A while ago I posted my frustrations with running GSAK on Linux, and how I’d found a way of getting the function to send to my Garmin 60CSx to work.

I thought I owed an update to anyone who read that to say I gave up on GSAK and now just use GPSBabel from the command line. Here’s the script I run:

#!/bin/bash

GPXZIP=$1
NAME=`echo $GPXZIP | cut -f1 -d.`

unzip $GPXZIP
GPXFILE=`ls *.gpx`
for FILE in `echo $GPXFILE`; do
    gpsbabel -i gpx -f $FILE -o garmin -F usb:0
done

I called the script ‘sendtogarmin.sh’. I saved it in the directory where I save all my pocket queries are stored as zip files. When it comes to load them, I just hook up the Garmin and then run:

sudo ./sendtogarmin.sh pquery.zip

Works for me, but I never bothered with using GSAK for much more than sending the pocket queries – I’m not at the stage yet where I feel I have to create complicated queries to get a good caching experience.

Fixing A Bricked Garmin GPSmap 60CSx (Part 2)

In Part 1 I explained how my Garmin 60CSx booted up with a completely blank screen and doing a firmware update didn’t work – despite the update being successful. Now I’m going to tell you what I did do.

Frustrated I googled a bit more and happened upon this forum post where someone had taken their 60CSx apart and posted photos. The topic here was a broken receiver but the images were useful to me nonetheless.

I decided to pop open my own device and have a look to see if anything came loose. I didn’t take pictures, though I wish I did now, however I can provide detailed steps I took below on taking the 60CSx apart.

Disclaimer – I am not a Garmin technician, and doing this may void your warranty. You may simply want to send it back to them for repair, but I didn’t have a warranty, I bought mine secondhand.

  1. Pop open the battery cover and unscrew the 4 screws on either side, plus the 2 screws at the top of the casing in the deeper holes.
  2. Carefully tug at the back casing to remove – it should come away fairly easily but you’ll need to tear the silicon gel which will affect how waterproof your device is afterwards.
  3. Io unplugged the power supply for the USB/serial connector, I couldn’t remove the other cable for the compression connector but I was able to get inside anyhow with care.
  4. The next part was to prise out the clear plastic chassis. This is quite tight and I actually broke one of the screw hinges. I found the best way was to slide the mini screwdriver down the side and push the side of the casing outwards until it popped out.
  5. After you have the chassis out it’s possible to lift and slide the motherboard and screen downwards, being careful to slide the antenna out of the shock absorber at the top.
Inside the Garmin GSPmap 60CSx
Inside the Garmin GSPmap 60CSx

It then became clear to me what problem was. I noticed as soon as I lifted the LCD screen – the flex connector at the back had come loose!

After reconnecting and putting the motherboard back into the casing, I used superglue to fasten the screw hinge back on the chassis and then No More Nails glue to affix the rubber back in place on the outer casing ( I don’t have any silicon gel to hand). Hopefully it’s going to be waterproof enough again – but I’m glad to say I once again have a fully functioning 60CSx.

I thought this post might be helpful for anyone who finds themselves one day with the same problem.

Fixing A Bricked Garmin GPSmap 60CSx (Part 1)

Last week I had a minor panic attack and bout of depression. After coming back from one of the 10 Year Lost and Found Geocaching events late at night, I dropped my Garmin GPSmap 60CSx on the floor, picked it up and thought nothing of it. The reason being is that the 60CSx is a rugged piece of equipment which can withstand a lot of shock and even full immersion – this one in particular in an unrelated incident has survived being tossed 20-30 feet in a field – hardly a dent on it.

However the next evening I was preparing to load a new pocket query onto the device and powered it up the screen was completely blank! Nothing was loading, I tried banging it, replacing batteries powering up with USB cable but I got nothing. So I did what any guy with insufficient technical gonads to handle this problem, I turned to Google.

My googly friend soon pointed me to this page by Brilliant Corners. Essentially the solution to a similar looking problem was the following method:

  1. Download the latest firmware file.
  2. Double click the .exe and extract the files.
  3. Since the unit won’t be recognized by the firmware updater on its own, use the following key combo: hold down the power button (on the top of the unit) and push the directional button in the up (“^”) position.
  4. While holding those buttons down, double click on the Updater.exe file.
  5. While still holding down the two buttons, make sure your GPS device is selected, and then click the “OK” button to start the firmware update.
  6. During the entire firmware update process you need to hold those buttons down. Then when the update is finished, release and reboot.

Now, this meant I had to boot into Windows Vista and suffer a myriad of updates and other crap until that was finished so I could get to the fix. I had already downloaded the firmware, but I found BC’s link was broken so I went to Garmin direct for 4.00. However, I hardly used Windows for connecting to my Garmin before, so I decided to download the Webupdater to give that a try – turns out the Webupdater worked automatically and using xImage I was able to grab a screenshot of the 60CSx’s ‘desktop’ to confirm it had worked.

But as the discerning amongst you can already tell, if I had to use xImage to take a snapshot of the device – I still couldn’t see past a blank screen. Queue desperate monologuing to my wife as she’s trying to catch up on Lost and reminds me I am speaking over the TV…

So, what did I do next? You’ll have to read Part 2 (coming soon)…

OpenStreetMap for Short Trips and Holidays with GPS

Last week I took my wife to Prague Where we enjoyed the Christmas markets and caught up with our Czech friends.

I had brought my Garmin along with Western Europe maps installed looking forward to trying out a few of the caches there. To my surprise, but more to my ignorance, The Western maps do not seem to extend as far as the Czech Republic, so there I was looking at a blank map background.

Thankfully, I did manage to pack the trusty netbook, and the hotel had a free wired Tubes connection so I fired it up and got looking for an OpenStreetMap image file.

A few minutes of googling and I was able to find this site, which provided a free routable gmapsupp.img file of the Czech Republic. Simply connected my Garmin, renamed the original gmapsupp.img and replaced it with this one and we were up and running with routable street names in no time!

the OSM wiki actually maintains a list of Garmin download sites around the world, which is perfect if you’re ever planning a short/holiday trips and don’t want to fork out for expensive proprietary maps.

I hadn’t really got interested in the OSM project before now, but I must admit, it makes me feel like getting my GPSr out and contributing if I find some spare time.


View Larger Map