From outward appearances, this phone looks pretty sweet. Nice big touch screen, great resolution, and an attractive feature-function presentation.
However, it has some infuriating habits and if you’re considering buying it outright or on a 3-year term, I strongly advise against it.
Habits? Can a smart phone be too smart? Can it have a mind of its own?
While I’m certain Usability testing was performed, there were oversights and a lack of devil’s advocate thinking on several fronts. This happens in every company so I’m not dumping on RIM exclusively. However, smartphones are a high-use-touch device so both strengths and shortcomings become evident rather quickly.
The 9900 has plenty of strong points, not the least of which is its click-y keyboard which I prefer for its tactile qualities. 640 x 480 resolution (i.e. clear!), decent camera and I love their messaging feature. I use it every day to communicate with my colleagues. And let’s not forget Blackberry’s encrypted private network which makes it the most secure in the industry. It’s also well-built with several drops attesting to its robust construction.
However….the phone’s latent Usability deficiencies overshadow its advantages. Somewhere down the line, wonderment with its design, creativity and technical wizardry caused those who should know better to overlook its screen’s extraordinary sensitivity. Nothing but calamity results.
“Don’t Touch Me There!”
When the device is in phone mode, merely brushing against the screen with your finger or anything causes a phone call. Who does it phone? A recently called number? No, I’ve checked. I scrolled back a couple of screens yesterday and couldn’t locate the number called or figure out on which basis a choice is made. It happens in-and-out of my pocket; sometimes, it’s just in my lap and a call is made. Since the call is random, I don’t know who’s been called and since I’m in sales, I make a lot of calls. Has my credibility been compromised? I don’t know but it’s really aggravating.
What About Locking the Phone?
Wouldn’t that eliminate random dials? Unfortunately, the brainiacs who programmed the lock function took the ‘either-or’ route. Either allow the phone to run amok or impose a blackout situation. But wouldn’t a lock function be better if I could see if I had messages or phone calls that went to voicemail? I think so.
Who Knew a Smartphone could be a Shutterbug?
The 9900 is an avid photographer but prefers to work alone. It’s the screen problem again. Holding the phone in the palm of one’s hand with fingers cradling it inevitably causes incidental screen contact; 2 successive contacts activates the camera then snaps a photo. It occurs only periodically now, since I’m more cognizant of the problem, but it’s distracting when it does. Every couple of weeks, I erase about 15-20 photos of my pocket lining, car’s dashboard, ground, etc. I’ve tried, without success, to find a way to take the camera image off the main screen.
Random Feature Activation = Rogue Phone
When I first began using the phone, little ole’ naive me thought that head office could remotely program my phone. How else to explain the sudden onset of sound tones and volume levels? I’ve since noticed that the screen changes like a shape shifting carnival fun house when “any kind of contact” is made with it. It’s maddening.
Involuntary Re-set Anyone?
The Friday before Labour Day, I was way out in my territory on a blistering hot afternoon and suddenly could neither make-receive calls nor send-receive any messages.
Had my phone run out of minutes? Was there a problem? I was the new guy in flux. Dehydrated and not thinking straight, I undertook a heated drive to my company’s local office to file some orders; as it turned out, my trip wasn’t necessary.
The 9900 didn’t work the entire weekend until someone called me on my land line to inform me that this model has an idiosyncrasy known only to the folks at the Bell Mobility store: it goes into a holding pattern of undetermined length every 10 days or so. To re-set it, the battery must be removed and replaced and it’s good until the next time it happens.
That’s an awesome feature for any technician lacking a conscious.
The Value of a Hard Question
Which brings me right back to the importance of honest and forthright Usability testing, regardless of who it rankles. Did no one notice the screen’s sensitivity and investigate what problems it might cause before thousands of them were made? Was this type of testing even considered? Did no one ask a hard question about the 9900′s practical use in the field and how its design and feature set might collide unfavourably with everyday human interaction? Apparently not.
So, what we get is not only a poor user experience but a parallel with an old Henny Youngman joke: The patient says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” “Then don’t do that!”
For a professional communications tool and/or for the $600+ my employer or an individual laid out for it, it’s an unacceptable situation. I haven’t tried an Android or iPhone for personal use but my 9900 experience is leading me there.
Let’s hope RIM gets it right with their Blackberry 10 series.