By: Hillel Fuld
When I first laid my hands on the Blackberry Bold, my declared intention was to try it out and eventually sell it for a new iPhone 3Gs. After two weeks of intense use, I have completely changed my mind, and as of now, I am very much sticking with the Bold. The machine impressed me on every front. The keyboard beats anything I have ever encountered on a mobile device and the same goes for the screen. In fact, when watching a video on the Bold's display, it amazes me every time how clear and vibrant the picture is.
Most people, including myself, have a preconceived notion about Blackberries that they are exclusively for the corporate world. This is understandable with its famous push capabilities, but the new generation offers the same convenient service for web mail, thereby making Blackberries a useful tool for anybody who wants their email fast. The variety of applications available on the Blackberry cannot be compared to the Apple App Store, but it by no means disappointed me. When first learning how to use the Blackberry, I was initially disappointed to discover that RIM's App World was unavailable outside of the US and the UK, but I quickly found replacement app stores that were more than satisfactory.
However, when searching online for a good easy-to-use directory for Blackberry applications, it was nowhere to be found. Of course, there are those 2-3 pages of results when searching Google for the words "Best Blackberry Apps", but I could not find a good list of apps that really worked for me. So I decided to spend some time finding the best apps, testing em out, and sharing them with you. Here you have the top 10 free Blackberry apps I have come across. Please take a look and share others with us in the comments:
1: BuzzMe: Although, this would not be necessary if it was not for a silly Blackberry glitch, it is a very useful app. For some odd reason, the Bold when set to vibrate and ring, vibrates, then starts ringing. There is no setting to vibrate and ring simultaneously. Well, this app solves that. Might sound silly, but all you Nokia and Apple (and any other manufacturer) users out there take it for granted how important vibrate is when you are in a noisy place.
2: SoftReset: OK, I know I am making Blackberry sound bad here, but with all the functionality stuffed into the ever so pretty Blackberry Bold, it is inevitable that you will need to pull the battery from time to time to totally reset the device. Well, that can be extremely annoying when you have a case on your Bold that is not easy to remove. This app simulates a battery pull and totally resets the device with no data or settings loss. Highly effective and useful.
3: IM+: I have already spoken about Shape Services and their astounding abilities to develop awesome apps, and the Blackberry version of IM+ is no different. This application gives you all your IM networks including AIM, MSN, Gtalk, Facebook Chat, Skype, Yahoo, ICQ, Jabber, and Twitter, all in a very customizable, easy, and friendly interface. Add this to their highly responsive support team, and you got yourself a winner. An awesome app that is one of the few I would say is worth shelling out a few bucks for.
4: Vlingo: This is one of those "Blow Your Mind" applications. Vlingo allows you to do all the basic functions on your Blackberry using your voice. You can text, call, open an application, send yourself a memo, and search the web by pressing one button and talking to the phone. You are probably thinking "Big deal, voice recognition, that is old school". I agree that this concept has been around for some time, there is however one big difference between Vlingo and other apps I have tried; Vlingo actually works! It works, and it works well. With the Pro version, you can also email as well as some other features missing in the free version. Might be worth it to splurge, but the free is also pretty darn amazing.
5: Vision for YouTube: Not really sure why this app did not appear in any of the lists I read. A great little app that gives you access to YouTube on your Blackberry. You can search YouTube, and filter the results by relevancy or newest, the same way you can do it on the site itself. A great app all Blackberry users should have.
6: blueCTRL: Another one of those "wow" applications, which belongs on any list that includes the words "Blackberry" and "Cool" in the title. This app lets you use your Blackberry's trackball as a mouse to control your computer. It uses bluetooth to connect and works seamlessly. A very cool app I am not sure I would really use besides to show off the Blackberry to a friend.
7: UberTwitter: As you know, I am a heavy Twitter addict. So naturally, one of the first apps I searched for was a Twitter app for the Blackberry. I went through three different ones, all impressive and very user friendly. At the end of the day though, I chose Uber Twitter. It is as feature packed as a Twitter client could get and makes you forget that you are on a mobile device. You name it, Uber Twitter supports it. I even designated a shortcut button on the Blackberry to open up Uber Twitter. The only two things I think need to be improved are the "In Reply To" feature, which does not seem to work yet and the addition of groups to their feature list. Fix those two and you got yourself the perfect application.
8: iSkoot: This is actually a really funny story. I have been blogging about the mobile industry for years now and have discussed many VOIP applications such as Fring, Nimbuzz, and many others. I had never heard of iSkoot. The reason that is funny is because not only is it a leading contender for the most serious mobile VOIP app, the developers of iSkoot practically live in my backyard. Seriously, their office is down my block. Anyway, iSkoot enables you to use Skype on your phone. Contrary to others apps, this one provides a clean interface and superior call quality. iSkoot is a definite must for any Blackberry user.
9: LED Reset: I was not sure whether to include this app since I seem not to use it anymore, but it is still a useful little application. When I first started to use the Bold, the LED would blink and for no apparent reason. I later discovered that my settings were defined to have the LED blink for pretty much any event on the phone. A new text, email, missed call, voice mail etc. etc. it was driving me nuts that I could not figure out why it was blinking. This app resets the LED and stops the blinking. Of course, once you change the profile settings to only blink for relevant events like new emails or replies on Twitter, this app is pretty useless, but there are those very rare times that I still cannot figure out how to stop the blinking, so I launch LED Reset, and I am good.
10: QIK: No top application list on any mobile platform would be complete without a mention of QIK. If you are not familiar with QIK, you cannot be a mobile enthusiast. QIK amazingly uses your device's video camera to stream live video on the Web. It's as simple and brilliant as that. With a built in Twitter or Facebook mechanism, one click and you can share a link with your networks to come watch your video live. It took me a few minutes to realize how truly amazing this is when I was first introduced to QIK. No uploading, no waiting, real time video from your phone to the world.
OK, those are my top 10 and I intentionally left out some serious apps like Facebook for Blackberry, the entire Google suite and Blackberry Messenger since they are mentioned in every single list you will read online, so no need to repeat them. With all these applications, there really is no one feature I can think of that I would want to do and cannot do with my Bold. In addition, the lack of true background applications on the iPhone makes it irrelevant as true competition for the Bold.
Now, I do want to point out that I am not delusional and I know there is no such thing as the perfect mobile phone. The Bold has some shortcomings too. A lack of a second camera for example, is annoying to me. I know it is not a huge deal but I like using the video calling feature on some phones, and it would have been a nice addition. Another thing I do not love on the Bold is the battery life. I know I am a heavy user but even with Uber Twitter and IM+ running in the background, the phone's battery should last me past 5 PM.
Some other characteristics that need improvement are RIM's BIS (Blackberry Internet Service) interface, although this might be provider related. The interface on the Blackberry has a reputation of being ancient and old school, I agree it is no iPhone interface, but I do not mind it at all, especially when applying themes I downloaded for free. The browser also does not have the best reputation, but even after downloading Opera Mini and Bolt, I prefer the built-in browser, so that is not too bad.
The biggest downside by far of the Blackberry is its second rate Gmail integration. Maybe it is because I am comparing it to a G2, which was of course made by Google with the market's best Google integration, but RIM is just not where they need to be when it comes to their Gmail offering. To make a very long story short, when I am at work and accessing my Gmail from the computer all day, any change I make to my inbox, whether deleting, archiving, or sending emails, should be reflected on the Blackberry, and they are not. When you make changes on your Blackberry inbox, they are reflected in your Gmail inbox but it seems to only work one way. I found a work around to define the Blackberry inbox as IMAP, thinking that would solve the issue, but it seems that RIM supports two way synchronization with BES or BIS using Yahoo, but not Gmail. Wish someone could explain to me why that is.
I am constantly learning new tricks on the Bold as well as finding new apps. I found a nice music player called FlipSide but it is a little pricey. I am now trying to find an app that allows you to browse through your pictures using the scroll wheel as opossed to clicking Menu>Next, there has to be a way to do that. After all is said and done, between its email capabilities, its keyboard, and its display, the Blackberry Bold is a keeper, at least for me, and let it be known, I am no corporate type!