Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Since so many of my travel writing colleagues have been ticking off reviews about the latest in travel technology, I thought I'd begin the year with my own technbabble column.


Since I'm all technical-like today, to be exact, it's the Blackberry Storm, model 9530. Currently, it is tethered (technical word, I'm sure) to my sexy little Sony VAIO, waiting to be used as a modem. (SPECIFICATION INTERJECTION: the Storm came with the tethering cable, but I have to pay an extra thirty bucks per month--on top of the regular thirty Blackberry bucks per month--to make this modem thing happen.) Why would I want to do that when the Storm can browse and e-mail? Because sometimes you just need to do internet stuff on a big-boy machine.

Those of you who've been reading me for a while already know that this particular Minnesota location, where I come to write, only offers dial-up here at The Farm. Therefore, the modem option sounded appealing. The question is, will it be faster than dial-up? And if it is reliable, might I be able to cancel my landline and the dial-up service? We shall return to these "Big Ifs" later.

For now, let me review what I've thus-far learned about my Blackberry, my FIRST Blackberry EVER. (I'll pause here while you regroup.) Using yet more technical jargon, I shall heretofore refer to the Storm, which I felt like I was living in those first few days, as a smartphone. To be honest, sometimes it's the smarter-than-ME phone, although I'm gaining on it. Why, just day before yesterday, I figured out how to use the Blackberry Desktop software to transfer some of my favorite music into my smartphone. More remarkable, I even know where to FIND the music, and how to listen to it. I've taken pictures (nice!), transferred pictures, e-mailed pictures and often adored the family picture I set as the home screen on the wonderful Storm viewer (or whatever you call the front). I can send and receive e-mails, answer call waiting (this took some training--and my glasses), and receive countless happy-ding reminders about all the things that need doing on my task list, which I've synced with Microsoft Outlook (2003), and lived to tell about. (Talk about SCARY! Thank you, hand-holding technical support!)

My smartphone is SO smart that it turns itself off at the same time every day, and turns itself back on in the morning. It engages in said behavior exactly when I told it to do so, which means I had to at least be a little bit smart, too. (Neener-neener.)

The reason I decided to get a smartphone is simple: I cannot keep up with my e-mail. I don't know how anyone in business can. I just know that those who have smartphones claim they help.

In the world of publishing (perhaps all business?), everyone is overworked and running behind, which means that nearly every e-mail you receive is urgent. "Please get back to us in 2 hours." There is a general assumption that *YOU* are always tethered to your e-mail, and that as soon as the e-mail is sent, it is also read, and will hopefully be obliged. High-speed internet has made for high-speed assumptions. Unread time-lapsed e-mails can cost an author publicity opportunities. For instance, perhaps a radio station needs a guest fill-in, and the show is on in a couple hours, and the message gets relayed in an e-mail because it seems nobody wants to take the time to actually TALK to anybody anymore...

As an author, I receive wonderful e-mail notes of encouragement from my readers. I love personally responding to thank folks who share such remarkable (and often personal) stories with me. As a journalist, I receive press releases by the nanosecond, and as a woman blessed with many friends, all e-mail savvy, I like to keep in touch.

When you travel, there is an extra element of e-mail overwhelm. You finally get to your hotel room, exhausted, dehydrated and needing sleep. You are ready to collapse. But first, you have to rouse your brain enough to boot up and check e-mail. Next thing you know, two hours or more have passed, "that" e-mail utterly ticked you off, "these" get deleted, "those five" need answers--and now your second wind (not the good one) won't let you relax enough to go to sleep.

Here's the reason smartphone users claim they're smart to use one: small increments of time can help them keep up with e-mails.

But buyer beware, lest you become an addict whose smartphone is hermetically sealed to your palm. I've been with those types. The whole time they're talking to you, they're also acting like they're NOT palm-up scrolling through e-mails. However, due to their lack of maintained eye contact, and an extended arm under the tablecloth--and pauses between their words--it's obvious what's going on. They make you feel like everybody who sends them an e-mail is more important than the one they're with.

I SHALL NOT SUCCUMB! When I bought the phone, I promised myself that I would be kinder.

But the smarter I get about my smartphone, the more it lures me. I have to admit that I took it in the bathroom with me this morning. While I was still in bed, the smartphone turned itself on, then started happy-dinging away, beckoning me with the promise that it knew something(s) which I did not. So, I rolled out of bed, picked it up, and into the restroom I wandered. (If you sent me an email recently, pretend you did NOT read that!) Here's what I learned: by the time I got to my laptop to start writing this column, I was all caught up with e-mail! WONDERFUL! However, shall I ever hear that happy-ding when I'm with a friend or client, I will muster my strength and RESIST--until I hit the bathroom. (Just kidding. Maybe.)

Hey! How did I digress from the technology review straight into potty talk?

NO! You will not get me, smartphone! I'm going back to my review.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED ABOUT MY SMARTPHONE [this is a subliminal message written and delivered by me, the Blackberry Storm 9530: I am the smartest!]:

--TETHERING: Here in this remote area, on Verizon's extended network, I cannot receive EV Verizon service. I only get 1X. (I cannot TELL you how technical I feel to even discuss this, although I'm holding my breath, awaiting that happy-ding from Travelinglaughs readers telling me that I am still clueless.) That means the modem part works, but slowly--often not faster than dial-up, and sometimes slower and more glitchy. So, the verdict is out as to whether or not the extra thirty bucks is worth it, when extended network use is my only option. (For the record, it was way faster in Verizon's EV service. I checked back in IL.)

VERIZON ADVANTAGE: Since modem use is an add-on, I can move it on and off my services, therefore only having to pay for the time I'm actually here. However, whether I use it or not, landline and dial-up service charges soldier on.

However, until I make the decision, I'm paying for ALL the options, so it's a spendy month or two. But I have to be able to communicate, and I don't want to hamstring myself. In the end, even if I decide I don't like using the smartphone as a modem here in extended network 1X-land, the main Blackberry service is still a huge timesaver over having to dial up twenty times a day to check my e-mail. That part works great!

--KEYBOARD: Since this is my FIRST Blackberry, and since I've read so many terrible reviews of the Storm (along with some good ones), I have no point of reference with which to compare it to previous Blackberry models. But I can tell you this: I LOVE the Storm! [Subliminal message from Blackberry Storm: I knew you would ... so much so that you cannot live without me.] I'm now relatively accurate at typing with my thumbs, and find myself using the vertical keyboard more often than the full horizontal option. I've discovered that if you do not LOOK at what you're typing when you use the vertical method, it goes very well. If you look, and keep trying to correct what it hasn't figured out yet, you'll make yourself nuts. So don't look. But it's nice to have the horizontal option. [Subliminal message from Blackberry Storm: Plus, my blue touch light is sooooo bright and pretty, and I know how much you like it. Neener-neener.]

--TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Both Verizon and Blackberry technical support rock. I've been with Verizon since they were Ameritech, which is a long time. I have never received bad technical support. Period. My only complaint is that much of Wisconsin and Minnesota are still "extended network" for Verizon service (thus 1X), but I'm told that is changing. We'll see. I'm glad the e-mails push through on the Storm better than the modem service works.

--EASE OF USE: I admit that I almost never read manuals. I learn by poking around until I figure things out, which I have. I've only seriously referred to the manual once or twice, and that had to do with setting ring tones for different things. It's a bit of a convoluted path, but once learned, easy to follow.

--ACCESSORIES: A couple I really like: the Blackberry Storm swivel holster. (QUICK DRAW!) When you put the phone in the case, there is some magnetic something-or-other that makes the phone hibernate or something, which saves battery. (Technobabble, in case you missed it.) You can set all sounds to either SOUND or NOT SOUND when it's in the holster, which I clip to various things when traveling in the car. Even when you drag the holster around in your purse, the Storm's volume is magnificent. A girlfriend with an older BB used to complain about not being able to hear it ring when it was in her handbag.

I also like that rubbery skin [subliminal message from Blackberry Storm: But not as much as me], which keeps it from sliding around on my desk. I occasionally just use that, rather than the case. (I always use the case when it's in my purse. I'm rough on electronics.) Plus, I use the screen skins, which I'm told help protect the glass.

--FUN APPLICATIONS: Haven't had time to check any of them out. Perhaps some of you can chime in here, and let me know the gooders. In fact, please DO use the comment section to do so. All smartphone topics are welcome. Now that I'm a member of the smartphone club, I'm all ears--and e-mails and happy-dings. BRING IT ON!

As for YOU, Blackberry Storm, please keep your opinions to yourself. I'm wise to your ways.

WAIT! What's that ding?


Allie Pleiter said...

You know I love mine! I use it to listen to audio books as well. And as a mobile points tracker for my Weight Watchers program. I hear tell there's an "apps" store (ala Apple) coming this!

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Thanks, Allie!