I think it’s time to start a new kind of gadget review: the exit review.
Gadgets always seem to arrive on the scene with a lot of splash and hype, but rarely do you find an article telling you how the gadget fared in Real Life. The Exit Review is something I’m going to try doing every time I retire a major gadget of mine; the idea of it is to reflect upon how the gadget performed over its duration of service. Of course, reviews like this are all hindsight, so they don’t drive sales — which probably explains why nobody does them, because there’s no money to be made doing them. However, as a design engineer I think there are lessons to be learned through reflection, and as a consumer I believe that apples don’t fall to far from the tree — a good gadget maker will get my business again, and a bad one will never see another dime from me.
Recently, my 2-year contract with AT&T wireless expired, so I’m up for a new phone. It’s time to retire my trusty Blackberry 8700c. To set the mood for the exit review, you really must see pictures of how the device looks today.
Laser engraving works great on the Blackberry.
Yes, I’m very hard on my gadgets. I think the cosmetic state of the phone was eloquently summarized by a saleslady in China who blurted, “This looks like shit!”, upon inspecting my phone. Yes, those are in fact two enormous cracks in the front screen protector (they aren’t in the LCD itself — just in the outer protective case), and I’ve been happily using my phone like that for months.
Those cracks are like badges of honor — a real phone keeps working despite being drop-kicked from four feet or being rattled around inside a suitcase against an electric shaver while being dragged over cobblestone streets in Italy. The cracks don’t interfere with the functionality of the phone; they are thin so they don’t distort the text of emails that I’m reading. It’s a testament to the reliability of the phone. This is in contrast to the Apple iPhone, which is definitely a pretty face with a glass jaw. I’ve seen plenty of iPhones with shattered screens, and most of them after a couple months of use look like a dented and beat up old tin can. That is, unless you put your iPhone into one of those ridiculous iPhone condoms that everyone seems to use. What’s with that, anyways? People pay top dollar for a good-looking phone that’s super-slim, and immediately stick it into a bulky and horrific-looking rubber condom.
The crazy thing is those obvious battle scars don’t tell half the story. Every one of those little black nicks on the side of the phone (not really visible in the photos above) is made by a drop onto asphalt. I sleep on a lofted bed, six and a half feet up, and many mornings I wake to find that I’ve kicked my phone off the bed onto the ground. So there’s about a hundred drops there. It’s been hurled across the room, drenched in sweat to the point where it’s condensed on the inside of the screen, thrown in the sand, sat on, stepped on and kicked across the asphalt. So it’s durable.
It’s traveled with me to over a dozen countries in Europe and Asia, and the Quad-Band GSM radio has worked great in every country that uses a GSM standard (I did have to unlock the phone). The data service works overseas as well, too, so I can get my email fix. When I’m in the remote regions of South China I think I grip my Blackberry like a safety blanket, holding on to my final bastion of familiar English text in an overwhelming flood of mandarin characters.
Significantly, it’s still on its original battery. The amount of charge the battery can hold is definitely reduced, but it still lasts for about a day and a half of regular use without needing a charge. You can see in the photo above that the phone’s still at 3/4 full at the end of the day.
The most impressive thing about it, however, is how many times the phone has crashed on me since I’ve owned it: zero. There have been about five times in two years where the radio gets confused, and I’ve had to pull the battery — fortunately, that bug happens only when I’m using the phone to browse the web, and the UI is still working so you know something’s wrong. Also, I’ve never had a bad web page crash the phone outright. I’ve had the phone seize for about twenty seconds on some really nasty webpages, but then the Blackberry OS kills the browser thread and the phone is back to normal.
Thus, even when the phone is struggling, the screen never freezes up: I have never been mislead into thinking the phone is okay when it’s actually just frozen on the home screen. This is the killer failure that plagues users of Treos or Microsoft Mobile powered phones. I hear so many stories of users routinely missing urgent calls and forgetting appointments because their PDA phone crashed on the home screen — so they were fooled into thinking they were lucky and having an unusually quiet day. Maybe you could think of missing calls for a day as an “involuntary vacation mode feature”…I call it bollocks.
It seems ludicrous to me that anyone would accept using a phone that crashes! First and foremost, a phone…is a phone. It makes and receives calls. It must do that, without fail.
And because the engineers at Blackberry built a phone that does just that — make and receive calls without fail — and then also has a good email client in it with a full keyboard, my next phone, currently on order, is a Blackberry Curve 8310. I’m a little worried about that fancy trackball in the middle; I can certainly see me writing an unfavorable exit review of that feature in a couple of years, but I’m willing to take that risk for a phone that I can trust to ring when a loved one or a friend is in trouble and needs my help.