Exit Review: Blackberry 8700c

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.

Click on the photo above for a much larger version.

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.

20 Responses to “Exit Review: Blackberry 8700c”

  1. Izzy says:

    Believe it or not, I wish there more of this kind of review… It’s one thing to have people review it when they first get it and haven’t spent much time with it to learn the quirks, but it’s another when people(such as yourself) spend several years with a device and knows exactly what it’s good at, and what areas need improvement(If any).

    Also, I just happen to be looking for a new phone right now, so this really helps me… Reliability is a hard thing to establish by looking at reviews(Especially on the windows mobile ones, where there may be 20 different versions of basically the same thing…), and reviews like this that show how rough you’ve been on them and the fact that it still works perfectly are a great thing.

  2. ChoJin says:

    People will probably say I’m an apple fanboy (and I’m not), but I have to correct the part about the iPhone since I own one for almost 10 months now (yes I got it when it went out, but not because I’m a fanboy, just for reversing purposes :) ) and it pretty much still looks like new. I don’t use these rubber things, hardly clean my screen (maybe once every 2-3 months) and usually with my T-shirt not the special microfiber thing it comes with.

    I just put the phone in my pocket, and apart from putting my keys and changes in the other pocket and not trying to throw my phone from the 5th floor I’m really not super paranoid about my phone. So seriously, I think it’s an overstatement to say the iPhone is not robust enough, but yeah, I’m not using it in Irak, nor do I usually drop my phone :)

  3. Mike Miller says:

    I’ve got a 2+ year old 8700c as well and it’s still trucking quite well. The battery is going strong and despite a few dings, it’s working great. I did have one case where I dropped it on a tile floor and it wouldn’t power up the screen, but after I took it apart and put it back together it was happy as a clam (and had a lot less dust between the protective plastic and the LCD panel).

    I agree with you about the insanity of people thinking it’s acceptable to have their phone crash. People shouldn’t put up with unreliable products. I’d be embarrassed if I was a developer on one of those products. Heck, I don’t recall my original PalmPilot 1000 crashing, and shouldn’t developers be designing products that become more reliable over design iterations, instead of less???

  4. Jordan says:

    From one Blackberry wielding engineer to another, that fancy trackball is very easy to replace. You can request samples from Panasonics, one of the vendors for it, and get a few in hands in a couple weeks. Then use a flathead screw driver to pry up the piece and snap a new one in. Email if you’d like more info…

  5. fran says:

    Bunnie, it’s a real piece of shit! From the saleslady in China…

  6. Dave says:

    I’ve been using a pearl since about January of 2007 and other than once in 15 months having to pull the trackball out to clean out the lint collected from my pocket, the track ball has worked flawlessly.

  7. Bunnie:

    “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.’

    As ChoJin suggests above, you’re way off base here. The materials quality on the iPhone is nothing short of amazing. Have you actually held/used one?

    I’ve dropped mine at least a couple of times from waist height onto concrete, with only the slightest abrasions. It looks 98% “minty” after almost a full year of ownership, and unless I really manage to screw it up, it’s safe to say it will continue to look and work fine until I replace it with the next shiny thing (most likely its 3G successor.)

    Crash-wise, long Fark threads will occasionally cause Safari to throw a rod, but none of the other apps including the phone itself have ever misbehaved.

  8. somari says:

    You didn’t use any 3rd party software, to see the software problems of the device :). I almost went batshit crazy when developing software that should run on JDE4.02 (~your phone) through 4.20 (BB Pearl), the bugs that simple and perfect 3rd party code unraveled were mind-boggling. RIM polished their code to run flawlessly only for the included software (mail, browser,..). At my job we fixed bugs at places by replacing/avoiding huge amounts of the API (i.e writing our own GUI from scratch). It really made me think I know nothing about programming (even though I’m always working on large x86/arm-asm projects, with HLL whenever applicable, and have microelectronics as a hobby) >_

  9. boboTjones says:

    Ah, this is a brilliant idea. Mind if I copy it?

    I have to ask, why do you sleep with your phone?

  10. jaxtripp says:

    “I have to ask, why do you sleep with your phone?”

    u don’t?

  11. Tijmen Stam / IIVQ says:

    I am with you Bunnie. The first thing I look for in a phone is it’s crashworthyness. A phone must be sturdy enough, not just to survive a fall but also to surfive a deliberate throw at the ground (I’m tempramentfull) – and the best thing is that this throw should have it recover from a crash.

    When this requirement is met, the extra’s come in. I’d also like my phones such that you can call people with it – however as long as they’re sturdy, I can live without that :-P

    There is a reason why I’m such a fan of Nokia – brought up with nokia’s 3310 I know that the only difference between an armoured vehicle and a 3310 is that the latter doesn’t have wheels (or tracks).

    In fact, after dropping one in tea (liquids is the only thing that killed those for me) the dispay on mine died – but gently tapping it (later: smashing it on table, even later: vigourously slamming it into the floor) got the screen back to live. Only five weeks after the tea incident it finally completely died, also not being able to make calls anymore.

    However, my latest nokia (E50) hasn’t been so good to me: it’s battery connector is broken off to the point that some paperclips and tin foil now serve that function, and also the screen has broken after falling on it – but replacements are cheap and easy to install.

    The ruggedness of nokia’s is also seen in their cirquit boards – one simple board with all components on them – they look “neat”. i once tried to open a samsung (don’t know which one) – a simple slider model which had 3 different boards and took me 2 hours to disassemble, with some parts still not coming apart…

    However, I have had all phones – from the simple 3310 to the complex E50 crash on me – the latter both trough 3rd party software as well as it’s internal software – however then it was only parts of the application. I’ve never got the E50 so far as to not let trough any calls – even when the display had completely been stuck in a 3rd party app.

    Tomorrow my Nokia N95 8G arrives – I hope it will pass the ruggedness test. If not, I go to a motorola FONE F3.

  12. roby says:

    you, who are fortunate enough to travel to china 4 work, just buy what they call “hiphone clone” with Windows mobile6 and wifi support…. CECT T32…Daxian X999…whatever the real name is ;)
    I think it’s a really cool device

  13. […] Keeping in line with the exit review series, I’ve written an exit review of my IBM T60p laptop, which was recently retired. […]

  14. Bunnie, you are spot on. I am currently launching my iPhone (which has been replaced by Apple once already) off the Brooklyn Bridge on Wednesday. I am going back to the 8700c because it was the most reliable little machine I ever owned. I have never been so disappointed with a phone than with the iPhone.
    Excellent job on writing exit reviews. Brilliant.

  15. Brooke Hill says:

    I just got a Blackberry 8330 making the move from my audiovox 6700. I was about to go back to a regular phone, but am glad I didnt. After seeing this review and the performance of my new blackberry, I must say that I am glad i kept with a PDA. Thank you for the review.

    Brooke Hill

  16. lisa says:

    I loved your review as I am trying to decide between the 8700c and the pearl 8110. Honestly I like the 8700c better but don’t want to be dated with no camera and a bulky device. Is the 8700c dated or do people still use it? Please help! Happy Thanksgiving!

  17. Bera says:

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

  18. i always look for gadget reviews on the internet, in particular, reviews about new phones ~

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