Tech Review – BlackBerry OS6

BlackBerry OS6 is finally available to non-touch devices like the 9700 Bold 2 in Singapore some time last week. I have been dying to get it loaded onto my Bold 2 since the Torch was released, for the simple reason that it comes with the new WebKit browser. Once Ridzuan mentioned on Plurk he was installing OS6 on his BlackBerry, I immediately proceed to Starhub’s download page via BlackBerry’s site to obtain a copy.

Other than the fact that it took a little bit of time downloading it, upgrading over the previous version was a breeze for me, though I am not really sure whether it was really a quick install or I was simply too busy doing other things to keep track of the time that day. Once it has completed booting up, the BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Server] Activation kicked in on its own to reactivate after a while. After that, I began to explore the features.

BlackBerry OS6 has added two main new features, such as ‘Trays’ and the ‘Universal Search’ – which allows me to quickly search items on the device to find what I want. This is way better that the previous versions of the OS, in which searching for items can sometimes be a real pain.

However, I start experiencing some odd issues the next day. For the whole of the next morning, I was forced to repeatedly restart the handset because it always appear to be busy loading some thing – a little timer icon keeps appearing (much like Windows’ annoying hourglass). The set’s performance became so sluggish to the point of being unusable and I had contemplated wiping it using Javaloader to reload the previous OS version. I checked the remaining space and I ruled out a memory leak issue because that number remained fairly stable. However, the set miraculously recovered in the afternoon and it has since been behaving. I have no idea what caused that period of sluggishness, since I had made no changes on the set to make it go away.

The browser is nice, and now there are separate icons for the BlackBerry Browser and the Internet Browser (at least for this version for StarHub, since Ridzuan informed me that there was only one browser icon on his). If I recalled correctly, the user has to go into the options to set it so the handset ‘knows’ which browser to go through in the older version. It took me a while to understand the difference between the two, and that is the BlackBerry Browser loads data through BES (or BIS, depending on what the user subscribes to). In the case of the BES, it allows companies to block out undesirable sites and grant access to the company’s intranet on the handset. My understanding is that all data going through the BlackBerry Browser is via the BES (or BIS), and thus ‘free’ for a user with an unlimited BlackBerry access plan.

On the other hand, the Internet Browser loads sites via the ISP instead, and if a user is not careful he will incur a whole load of data charges. This simply means anyone can buy a BlackBerry and use it without the push mail services, though I wonder what is the point of doing so. However, please do not just take my word for it on this matter and make sure to check with the telco. I will not take any responsibilities if anyone incur a large phone bill as a result of the data charges! (I also noticed that the WAP Browser icon is missing and I don’t miss it, since it is my opinion that WAP is obsolete.)

I put the webkit browser through the Acid3 test and it scored a nice 100/100. That was way better than the one on the previous OS which scored just 92 (and even better than that Windows Phone 7 one on the Samsung Omnia7 which never gets past 12/100). It also has tabbed browsing which means I can open several pages and toggle between them. Unfortunately, there is one thing about the browser I didn’t like – and that is I keep getting the message that some sites are too large to load and the tab has to be closed which became very annoying.

Even so, I liked the OS way better than all the versions before. For those who are supporting BlackBerry smartphones in the corporate, it will take a little getting used to. As far as I am concerned, the items under the ‘Options’ icon has changed rather drastically. My recommendation is to get OS6 on at least a set used by those providing support simply to learn how to navigate around it and guide users over the phone.

The following are some screen shots I took from the handset using a 3rd party software… and talking about that, will Research In Motion [RIM] put in that nifty feature which allows me to just press a few buttons and capture the screen like the iPhone iCrap? I thought that would be neat!

01

One of the new feature in Blackberry OS6 is 'Trays'. Shown here is the 'Favorite' Tray where a user can place his favorite icons. There are 5 trays in all - All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, Frequent. The 'All' Tray is shown by default.

02

Clicking on the top row (where the Date, Time and Signal Indicators are), brings out a drop down menu which allows the user to easily turn on / off connections and set the alarm.

03

Click on the speaker icon at the top left of the screen for quick change of sound profile. This feature has remained unchanged.

04

Clicking on the envelop icon indicating the number of unread mails will bring up a short summary containing the latest 3 items in the mailbox and calendar, and also the latest 3 call records.

05

The 'Magnifying Glass' option to the top right of the screen is the 'Universal Search' feature. Here I am searching for 'Kent, B' and it indicates I have 2 items containing the string in Emails, and one in the Calendar. There are options to search for it in Youtube, Google, the Exchange Server's Global Address Book as well.

06

As mentioned, there were 2 items in my emails containing the string 'Kent, B' and it's not limited to just the sender alone. It will also show items containing 'Kent, B' in the body.

07

The 'All' Tray is the default tray and it contains all the icons not already filed in folders.

08

To see all the items, press the Blackberry Button (to the left of the trackpad) to bring up the menu, and select 'Open Tray'. (Show All will display icons that are hidden)

09

The items under the 'Options' icon have been grouped together. It takes a little while to get used to the new locations of certain features.

10

The icons under the 'All' Tray.

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