Earlier this year, I lost my Blackberry in a taxi.
Losing your phone is inevitably a traumatic experience. I’m not just talking about losing your photos, messages, and memories, although that definitely does suck. Rather, it’s what comes afterwards.
The hours spent on hold with your network, waiting for them to block your IMEI number and send you a new SIM card. The Twitterless and Angry Birds-free commutes. And most of all, the annoyance of having to cough up for a new handset.
Not too eager to fork out the £500 for a new Blackberry, I ended up getting a cheap Android handset. The Huawei Honor C3 ticked all my boxes in terms of specifications, and the egalitarian in me figured the Chinese intelligence services should have the same access to my personal data as the NSA does. It’s only fair.
Millions have switched from Blackberry to Android, as the fortunes of the once dominant Canadian phone manufacturer have faded. Millions more will probably do so, tempted by a greater choice of apps and devices. But I should warn you, it isn’t easy.
Blackberry, I Just Can’t Quit You
Android is certainly more capable than Blackberry 10 — the latest and greatest version of the Blackberry OS. It does more stuff, and it’s vastly more customizable than Blackberry 10.
But while Blackberry is certainly less broad in what it does, it makes up for it by excelling in a few key areas. From travel apps, to messaging, to security. Here’s how you can get the best of Blackberry on your Android.
As a frequent traveler, my killer app was the little known Blackberry Travel. It was, perhaps, the most sublime travel management app ever created.
Once installed, Blackberry Travel will automatically scour your inbox, looking for hotel reservations and flight bookings, which are then aggregated and stored. This allows you to track your flight in real-time and anticipate for any delays, and to have your hotel address on hand.
On the day before you’re due to travel, it’ll also remind you of your trip, and even give you the weather forecast for your destination.
It didn’t do anything special. It was just a really good travel app. It just worked.
I still miss it. That said, there are alternatives for Android that come really close. We’ve talked about some of these in the past, like the awesome (and highly recommended) EasilyDo.
But my personal favorite, and the one that comes closest to Blackberry Travel, is Tripit. Download the app and let it connect to your email inbox, and it’ll start looking for bookings and reservations. It’s not 100% accurate, though, and it’ll inevitably miss some bookings which you’ll have to manually add.
This isn’t too painful, and it can usually fill in the blanks once provided sufficient details. For instance, a flight number and a date is enough for it to work out what flight you’re going to be taking.
Once it’s got your details, it’ll even give you directions to your hotel from the airport.
Tripit can also track and monitor flights in real time, although this is a feature of Tripit Pro, which costs $49 per year. The paid version also comes with more detailed itineraries, and more sophisticated tracking of frequent flyer points.
One of the first products Blackberry ever released was the Blackberry 850; a dedicated emailing device, which came with the now-iconic Blackberry physical keyboard. This was the first in a long line of products that established Blackberry as the king of email.
Even on the newer Blackberry phones, the emailing experience is absolutely glorious. Is the same true for Android?
Well, almost. While it’s nice to have the full functionality of Gmail baked-in, there are a few warts and carbuncles to complain about. Push mail doesn’t work quite as well as it does on Blackberry, and quite a few emails fail to render properly, or at the correct scale. But, being Android, there are alternatives.
I’ve tried a few, but I only really liked one. Mailbox, which is also available for iOS and OS X, turns even the most overloaded inbox into something simple, elegant, and above all, manageable. Something the official Blackberry client manages to do effortlessly. Download it from the Play Store.
But if you’re still looking for inspiration, check out this list of compelling Android email clients.
There’s a reason why Obama, Merkel, the US military, and the Department of Defense all use Blackberry smartphones. They’re the epitome of smartphone security. That’s largely due to the fact they’ve been built from the ground-up with security in mind, and RIM exercises a huge amount of control over its phones. But Android? Not so much.
Besides the fact that Android wasn’t built with the same security-oriented focus, it also suffers from a slow and fragmented ecosystem, with many Android users running older, insecure versions of the OS. This issue is exacerbated by the fact Google’s taken a very hands-off approach, and hasn’t done anything to prevent manufacturers from shipping phones with malware.
But, there are ways to make your Android smartphone that bit more secure.
Perhaps the most effective move you could make would be to escape the staggered, broken Android release cycle. You should consider switching to a community-driven ROM, like Cyanogenmod or Paranoid Android, where updates are issued in a timely manner. Where possible, you might want to consider installing a hardened ROM, like the upcoming GuardianRom or Tails Mobile OS, which will be built with an emphasis on privacy and device security. Until then, we recommend OmniRom, which is one of the most secure Android ROMs on the market.
Until the release of Blackberry 10, all emails sent to and from a Blackberry device, and all browser traffic, was secured with strong, point-to-point encryption, and routed through the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) network. This meant that neither governments, nor ISPs, nor hackers sitting on a hotspot could intercept your mail. Incidentally, this lead to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and India almost banning the devices.
There’s nothing quite like BIS for Android, although if you want to secure your traffic with strong, point-to-point encryption, you can always just use a VPN. Here are some of the best VPN services money can buy.
If that’s not enough, check out these important Android hardening tips.
My God, the iconic Blackberry Keyboard. Where do I begin? It was, perhaps, the most compelling argument to own one of the devices.
Each key is lovingly sculpted and shaped to the exact curvature of the human thumb, and provides a delightful little click, making it a joy to type texts and long emails with both speed and precision. Virtual keyboards simply don’t compare.
Of course, you can always buy a bluetooth-enabled keyboard, although it’s unlikely they’ll compare to the stunning design and build quality of the classic Blackberry keyboard. For serious typists, you can even connect a full-sized keyboard to your phone, like the affordable AmazonBasics Bluetooth keyboard.
With that said, there are a number of virtual keyboards that come close. Swype, for instance, makes it easy to write entire words by tracing your finger across the screen, hitting each letter.
Google’s voice recognition is similarly impressive, and matches the high bar set by Apple’s Siri, making it simple to accurately dictate messages. Although it wasn’t always that good.
But overall, Android gives you a lot of choice when it comes to your keyboard layout and style, though we have tested the best of them. Give them a try. Experiment. Eventually, you’ll find one that satisfies even the most embittered Blackberry refugee.
One of the reasons why Blackberry devices caught on with the public at large was BBM, which made it possible to send real-time messages, without having to pay the (once) expensive SMS costs. For a while, BBM was the king of messaging. But that ended around the time Kik, WhatsApp, and Viber burst on to the scene. Now, there’s more choice than ever.
Whatsapp is the largest, obviously, and almost certainly the one your friends are using
But that’s not to say it’s the only one. There are even options for security conscious users, as Blackberry aficionados usually are. One of the most popular is Wickr, which we took a look at a while back.
Failing that, you can still fall back on the trusty Blackberry Messenger, which was ported to Android and iOS in 2013.
How did your switch from Blackberry to Android go? Are we missing anything? Did you find a killer replacement to an important Blackberry feature? Tell me about it in the comments below.