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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Going Mobile

A while ago some of you requested that I look at mobile technology as an alternative for PC’s.  Inspired by this, and the fact that I’m trying to save on my internet bandwidth, I decided to see how much of what I regularly do on my PC, I can move to my mobile device.

Now, in my case my mobile device is a BlackBerry Curve 8310 (yes, I know it’s oldish, but it’s still an awesome piece of technology).  With Vodacom South Africa, I have a BlackBerry Bundle on my prepaid sim card which costs me R59 per month.  This includes all of the BlackBerry services, including e-mail push, the awesome BlackBerry Messenger, and unlimited web surfing (sort of).  That’s right, for R59 per month I can surf the web as much as I want, as long as (a) I only use the BlackBerry device (not my PC with the BlackBerry as modem), and (b) I don’t do any large downloads (unless I’m mistaken, the limit is around 7MB per file).  For someone who probably spends around 12 hours per day on the internet, and who’s constantly complaining about the high bandwidth costs in SA, the benefits of this should be obvious.

The good news is that I manage to do most of the things I like to do on-line, on the BlackBerry.  Though web browsing is fairly slow (my 8310 only supports GPRS / EDGE), it is quite fast enough with WAP sites (and many companies are getting them these days, including Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro). 

Normal web sites tend not to display properly; but for this I installed Opera Mini as an extra browser.  It really is quite an awesome piece of software.  When it opens a normal web site, you can see the entire page (with menus and everything) on the small screen, with a box that you can use to select an area to zoom into.  When you select an area, immediately that area is displayed properly on-screen, and you can still move to other areas on the page.

Facebook is quite efficient on the BlackBerry as well.  I installed the BlackBerry Facebook app, which is quite good, but slightly limited.  Sometimes I also use Opera Mini’s Facebook page, which is better in some ways, but worse in others.  But for all those things I can’t do any other way, I use Opera Mini’s standard web page view to open the normal Facebook web site.

Opera Mini also has a very good Feed Reader – so all of the blogs I follow are shown in a single view, with notifications of new posts.  I can even comment!

E-mail is, of course, a pleasure – after all, it was the main selling point for BlackBerry devices a few years ago.  I have my complete address book and everything right there.  Composing and reading e-mails, even with attachments, is a pleasure.

One major drawback with using the BlackBerry as a complete alternative for my laptop was the absence of proper Office suites.  BlackBerry comes with Documents-To-Go included, but the free version won’t allow you to create new documents.  It can display word processor documents, as well as spreadsheets and presentations, and allow you to edit them (to a certain extent), and it is quite compatible with Microsoft Office; but still, it’s very limited. 

So I tried the cloud-based Office packages I discussed in my previous post; Microsoft Office Live doesn’t even open on the BlackBerry.  ThinkFree and Google Docs both open documents, but they are limited to viewing documents only, just like Documents-To-Go.  This begs the question – WHY?!  Apparently the iPhone already supports most of these features (+1 to Apple’s score); why not the BlackBerry?  Well, on the bright side, in my search I stumbled upon Mooo – which is a Mobile version of (a completely free and open source alternative for Microsoft Office, for PC’s).  Unfortunately Moo’s still in development.

Thankfully I have found a slight work-around to enable the creation of new documents in Documents-To-Go; however, since it is… well… maybe not illegal, but dubious in nature, I will not explain it here.  You can Google it if you want it.

Also, there seems to be a shocking absence of good PDF Readers for the BlackBerry – I can open a PDF when it is sent to my phone as an e-mail attachment, but the moment I save the PDF, I need to pay for software to open it.  This once again begs the question – WHY?!  PDF’s can be opened free of charge on PC’s, and that has been the case for years.  Why not on the BlackBerry?

Apart from these things, I already use my BlackBerry as my MP3 player (using the built-in music software), digital camera, movie player (using XPlayer and EncodeHD), Bible (using YouVersion Bible Software), and e-book reader (using MobiPocket Reader).  Life without my BlackBerry is almost unimaginable.

So I have moved the greatest percentage of my PC activities to the BlackBerry.  If only the BlackBerry had a larger screen, proper Office software access, a slightly larger keyboard, PDF reader built-in, and maybe a Lord of the Rings Online client, I may have moved completely…

So, in conclusion; a mere 10 years ago I never would have thought that I would ever be doing all these things on my phone.  So all in all, that’s pretty awesome!  Let’s be thankful for the progress that’s been made so far, and keep hoping for (and working on) improvements!

That’s it for now.  Happy surfing!

Lourens, out.


  1. Who would have thought? Incredible to send this message from a colour screen mobile device laying in bed listning to music from the same device. Just think back to the orange screens and slow floppies an no internet...

  2. Lourens, thanks for the post.
    I share your sentiment, but have to add that it was not 10 years ago but a mere 2 years ago that i had to be content with a lappy and nokia as modem. And also know that crazy feeling where you have to make the link between PDF and BlackBerry. lol

    Would'nt you say that it is amazing how our connection needs has evolved as well?

    Now i get my email on my BlackBerry, which is connected through a mobile network, same time as it comes through on my lappy which is WiFi connected to an ADSL connection. Webafrica went down a few days ago and i connected via a 3G dongle to watch ppl comment on Twitter about how it sucks not having internet. I mean seriously? LOL

    Only a few years ago if you had internet at home your a rich guy, internet on your phone was a slow a.. crazy wap thing and you could'nt wait to get to work to abuse the ISDN. Now most ppl sit with unshaped, uncapped 10 meg lines downloading at speeds that would have mad your eyes go hazy only a short few years ago.
    Now compare this to what ppl have in Europe.
    At home!!!

    It is crazy to comprehend that our minds are keeping up with this. My mind should have melted by now.