Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A cheaper blackberry

BlackBerries seem everywhere now. They're an oversized mobile phone, that AirTel introduced some time back, and Hutch is now advertising them too. Rediff is currently singing their praises. Their main selling point seems to be that they let you access your email and the web. Your email provider needs to support it, or you need to use the email service of your phone provider. And the machine is unwieldy and expensive.

Lately I've been using a much cheaper solution, which only requires that your provider supplies GPRS (Airtel does, at Rs 20/day or 375/month, unlimited use) and that your phone supports GPRS and Java (many phones under Rs 5000 now do). For web browsing, I use Opera Mini. It's a really clever solution to the problem of browsing standard webpages on a small phone: it pipes your requests via Opera's dedicated servers, which reformat and compress the webpage to make it mobile-friendly, and shrink the images. For email, I forward my mail to a gmail account and use Google's GMail app (point your phone to -- for some reason with a computer-based browser it doesn't show the same page). You could also use any other webmail via Opera Mini, but that's a bit unwieldy, and the GMail app is as easy as SMS. Really.

And as a bonus, I can even dial-up from my laptop, via bluetooth, if I want to. So basically I can get my laptop online, wherever there's a cell phone signal, for Rs 20 a day. Typically I get 30-40 kilobits/s (4-5 kilobytes/sec), comparable to dial-up: not great but gets the job done when I'm travelling. (For web browsing, Opera Mini generally feels faster, because of the compression. For email the GMail app feels faster, probably because it's stripped down. But in both cases the laptop's big screen and keyboard are nicer, plus I can do other things, like ssh to my work machine.)

Scott Adams boasted the other day of how he one-upped a friend who insisted that drains swirl the other way in the summer hemisphere, allegedly because of the Coriolis force: he whipped out his BlackBerry and looked it up on Just for fun, I tried opening Opera Mini and typing "coriolis snopes" into the Yahoo searchbar, and got the page in seconds.

Unlimited data transfer costs Rs 900 a month on the BlackBerry (according to the above rediff article) and Rs 375 on Airtel GPRS. I would hope the BlackBerry offers a better speed (EDGE?) for the money. On the other hand, I've been unable to find out whether you can use one as a modem and connect your computer, as I can with GPRS.

With all this, and with the small form factor of my current phone, I wonder why I would pay four times more for a BlackBerry. Any BlackBerry fans out there to enlighten me?


Unknown said...

I have Blackberry 6710 which I got on ebay to mainly read ebooks on. It has a large monochrome lcd screen which is perfect for that task. In addition, I thought I could unlock it and also use it as a GSM phone. Unfortunately, there is only one place that can unlock that particular blackberry model in the Greater Toronto area and the cost was $160 CDN. Not worth the unlock since I paid $40 CDN for the phone. In the process I learned that the internet features are only available with the original service provider and there is no way of using my model to provide internet for a notebook computer.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Interesting. Luckily it's illegal to lock phones in India. But that may not mean one can use the internet features if one changes provider -- I don't know.

Unknown said...

Hi Rahul, I gather you are able to get gmail app working on your mobile phone in India which makes you the only person on the list, as far as I know :). I have a hutch connection in Chennai and a Nokia 6630. I am simply unable to get GMail App working although I am able to access it as webmail using Opera Mini.

Can you tell me how you achieved the impossible ?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

karthik -- nothing special, I just browsed to (using the phone's own WAP browser, not Opera Mini) and downloaded. The gmail site warned me that it couldn't tell whether my phone was supported, but I tried anyway and it went through without a problem. Perhaps your phone is not supported. Mine is a Sony Ericsson Z550i and I have an airtel connection.

Unknown said...

I figured out what the problem is. I am using a Hutch connection with basic GPRS (Rs 49/- per month) but for Gmail App or any other POP3 mail applications to work I need to have Hutch Access Package. (Rs 149/- per month).

Swathi Sambhani aka Chimera said...

tatz some useful info u have just provided, i also own a Sony erricson Z series and have a hutch connection, so i wud try it sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

for a long time, I had a windows mobile device and a gprs connection to pop my emails. it worked (mostly) but was always running out of battery or storage space on device.

now, I have a blackberry and I am a happy soul. the advantage of blackberry over a standard pop-based email is only to be experienced to be believed. I have never tried gmail on my cellphone so I do not know the advantage but I think blackberry is useful when your company uses Microsoft exchange or similar and you need a way to access your calendar, task list and emails on the go - which stay in sync with your exchange server.

Anonymous said...

CDMA providers like reliance and tata provide much better internet access on the mobile phones. For eg, in reliance, there is nothing to subscribe to, use whenever you want, you will only be charged for what you use, at 10 paise/10 Kb. Speeds are much better at around 100 kbps.