In Praise of the BlackBerry

Why the New York Times is wrong to dismiss BlackBerry users as "uncool" and "embarrassing."

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Reuters

The day had finally arrived: My two-year cell phone contract was up, and I could finally ditch my BlackBerry. It also happened to coincide with the release of the Samsung Galaxy S II, the first Android that reviewers said could compete with the iPhone. I gleefully took the plunge. Like those ashamed BlackBerry users profiled in yesterday's New York Times, I was sick of the "mockery and derision" directed at the last remaining holdouts, and was excited for all the possibilities of my new Android.

Two months later, I switched back to my BlackBerry.

The primary reason I went back is the physical keyboard. I always had trouble using a touchpad to type when I would borrow friends' iPhones or Androids, but foolishly believed their assurances that "It gets easier" and "You'll get used to it in a few days." It didn't.

On my BlackBerry, I could easily write entire articles (which I often had to do on the road as a Middle East correspondent). On my Samsung, I struggled to write a standard email. I found myself waiting until I got back home to my laptop to type anything that was more than a sentence or two. Downloading a SWYPE keyboard (which is weirdly lacking on iPhones) improved things significantly, but I still had to pause in between each word, which made typing on a touchpad remain an awkward and frustrating experience.

The other dealbreaker for me is the horrible battery life. On my BlackBerry, I could go two days without recharging. On my Samsung, I was lucky to get to dinner without a recharge -- and on busy days, I often needed to recharge twice. (I hear similar complaints from honest iPhone users.) And I was not a heavy user, most days averaging a few short phone calls and a few emails. I resorted to carrying both a charger and a spare battery around with me. This is not acceptable for a smartphone in 2012.  I don't care how fancy a phone is -- if it can't make it through the day without a recharge, it's not worth it.

A related complaint is that, while Android does have a setting for "push email" -- meaning that emails get delivered to my phone in real time, rather than checking for new emails every few minutes -- it is a huge battery drain. One of the main reasons I have a smartphone is so that I can get emails immediately. I shouldn't have to choose between push email and battery life.

One of the vaunted advantages of Androids is that the open-source software allows develops to correct flaws or weak programming in the system. For example, I hated that my Android played a loud jingle whenever it booted up -- so thankfully I found an app that disabled the sound for that.

But there is not an app for everything. I could not find an app to turn off the sound when I shut down, or get rid of the boot up animation altogether. Yes, you can always "root" your phone (an operation that seems to crack open the entire operating system to hacking), which seems to vastly increase the number of ways you can tweak your phone. But it is pretty complicated to do for an average user like me, and also invalidates the phone's warranty.

Presented by

Zvika Krieger is a former editor and writer at The New Republic and a former correspondent for Newsweek based in Egypt and Lebanon, covering most of the Arab world. More

Krieger has received fellowships to study topics including the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the Kifaya reform movement in Egypt, public health in Bombay slums, religious identity in Kashmir, historical memory in Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, and the role of religion in Lebanese politics. He has also reported from such places as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Libya, North Ireland, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Korea. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Slate, New York, Arab Reform Bulletin, New Stateman, Chronicle of Higher Education, Daily Star (Lebanon), Cairo Magazine, Jerusalem Post, Christian Science Monitor, and various other publications, and he has appeared as a Middle East analyst on NBC News, CNN, Fox News, and Air America. His writings have earned him awards from the Overseas Press Club, the Scripps Howard Foundation, and the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. He is a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. He has a bachelor's degree in Middle East Studies from Yale University and studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo.

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