The Storm is Really a Summer Breeze

May 24, 2009

Technology

BB 9530

I love summertime.  And I also love mobile phones.  It’s Memorial Day weekend so I’m ramping up for summer.  But I haven’t had a new mobile phone to play with in quite a while.  Unfortunately, I won’t have a new phone for awhile.  OK, you shouldn’t feel too sorry for me as I’m angling for a Pre when it ships in two weeks.

In the meantime, my wife and kids were up for new phones last weekend.  And so we bit the bullet and renewed our subscription with Verizon.  Actually, it wasn’t that hard of a decision as most carriers make the renewal process quite simple – and desirable.  My kids got new “throw-away” phones (i.e., Palm Centro’s).  And I talked my wife into a BlackBerry Storm.  Yeah, I know it isn’t hard to talk someone into a touch phone.  And I was surprised that we didn’t switch to AT&T in order to get an iPhone.  But network availability trumped everything else.  We had to have a ubiquitous network that worked in the house as well as in our kids dorm rooms.  So Verizon got the nod.

My wife really loves the Storm.  It has a spectacular camera.  And the touch screen is quite nimble.  But my wife was really having trouble with the phone.  First, the phone would periodically become sluggish – and even halted once.  Second, the great camera was terrible.  Specifically, my wife would launch the camera app and it would take 3-7 seconds just to launch.  Worse still, it would take 5-10 seconds to snap a picture.  This was totally unacceptable.  We have a new granddaughter in the house.  And Cindy needed a camera that wouldn’t require the subject to hold still.  Yeah, Cindy has a Nikon D70.  But who wants to pull out the bulky (but versatile) DSLR for some candid snaps?

So I decided to get in research mode and see if there was anything I could do.  For a very long time, I had used custom firmware loads for my WiMo phones.  Indeed, I loved my HTC Apache for just that very reason.  I had no idea if the BlackBerry could be customized.  But I was willing to look.

Wow! The BlackBerry experience is replete with custom firmware.  Better said, there are a whole lot of “leaks” from RIM to choose from.  Indeed, RIM provides plenty of tools to install their uncertified builds.  And there are equally as many tools to deploy “hybrid” builds (otherwise know as “kitchen builds” for the WiMo crowd).

So my task was simple.  I just had to download the deployment tools, select a relevant build and convince my wife that I should be allowed to monkey with her phone.  The first two steps were the easiest. 😉  [Note: Cindy was remarkably willing to do this.  I can only assume that she was so dissatisfied with the camera’s sluggishness that she was willing to cede control to me.  In any event, she said “yes” – so I was off to the races.]

The biggest technical challenge was finding a good build to deploy.  I was stunned about how dissatisfied folks are with the BlackBerry 9530 (Storm) and its camera.  And I was equally stunned by the apparent indifference Verizon was showing to its customers.  There have been several builds that have been worthy of release (and support).  But Verizon has continually deferred for one reason or another.  The cynic in me says that they do not want to improve the Storm too much as they need to have a reason for folks to upgrade to the Storm 2.  Nevertheless, I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I think that they want to ensure a stellar experience.  And after seventy-three (73) successive builds, I think that Verizon may very well certify the 4.7.0.148 build as the next official release for the Verizon 9530.

But I can’t wait for Verizon to finish their internal wrangling on the matter.  So I decided that .148 would be the build for our family.  So I began the deployment process.  I can’t say that the process went without any trepidation.  There were a couple of desktop reboots that were part of the process.  I found that quite odd.  I can understand the phone restarts.  But desktop restarts?  I was getting worried that this might not work as I was running it from my Windows 7 desktop.  Fortunately, everything went superbly.  After numerous desktop and phone restarts, the phone was upgraded with a sparkling new OS – and it is superb.

The new build is substantially faster and more responsive than the stock .75 build.  And up until now, the system appears to be more stable.  [Note: I want to see the phone running for a month before I call it more stable than the supported build.]  Most importantly, the camera is immensely better.  There is still a bit of a lag between depressing the physical camera hot key and hearing the shutter sound being emitted from the speakers.  But overall focusing time is drastically better.

In addition to deploying a new phone OS build, I needed to set up the phone for syncing with iTunes.  Right now, I have the master song library on my desktop.  So I deployed the Media Sync software on my Windows 7 system.  Unfortunately, I did not have the seamless experience I wanted.  The software installer balked at Windows 7.  Fortunately I was able to execute the installer in Windows XP compatibility mode and the install proceeded w/o further fuss or muss.  Once installed, the app itself ran with nary a problem.  Now I need to focus my attention on configuring Cindys instance of iTunes so that it can access my music library from her desktop.  Once done, I can set Cindy up to manage her own sync with the phone.

All in all, the Storm is a fabulous piece of hardware.  And BlackBerry has a whole lot of tools to ensure that the software remains up-to-date.  It’s a shame that Verizon can’t marry the two advantages together and certify a new build for the Storm.  Once they do, they will have an exceptional platform.

-Roo

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