Friday, February 20, 2009

Dealzmodo Hack: Overhaul Your Last-Gen BlackBerry [Dealzmodo Hack]


For most, cellphone trade shows mean carefree gadget porn. For some, they're an assault on beleaguered gadget egos. Last time we helped straggling WinMo users. Now, dear last-gen BlackBerry users, we're reaching out to you.

Users of the Pearl, Curve and 88xx phones, despite being highly capable devices, are getting it from all angles; on one front, RIM left these handsets behind for OS 4.6, and the touchscreen Storm looks like it's from a different planet. Other phone makers are moving into exciting new territory, releasing totally new hardware and software at steady clip. In short, it can be rough to own a last-gen 'Berry, not to mention one of the older 7000 series handsets. But the theory here is the same as before—just because your handset is technically last-gen device doesn't mean it has to feel like one.

Ditch the BlackBerry Browser for Good
RIM's newest browser, bundled with 4.6x and 4.7x handsets, is good. It renders like a modern mobile phone should. NOT SO for the 4.5 and earlier browsers. They might be fine in the exciting world of WAP, but that's yesterday's mobile web.

Opera Mini: This feisty little browser has been backing up RIM's stock software for years, and with good reason. It'll run on almost any BlackBerry, with (old version) support spanning back to the ancient, black-and-white 5810, which was released in 2002. Opera uses server-side optimization! to spee d things up, but the end result is an experience that at least resembles browsing as we know it today.

Bolt Browser: Bolt, which I made note of a while ago for "not looking horrible", is now available to the public, and it's quite good. It uses server-side compression just like Opera Mini, but generally achieves more faithful results in a shorter time. Most of its magic lies in its rendering engine, the same soon-to-be-ubiquitous WebKit found in Mobile Safari, Mobile Chrome and the Pre's new browser.

Dress Your Interface Up Like a New BlackBerry, Or Pretty Much Anything Else
Pre-4.6 BlackBerry OSes share the same awkward aesthetic. It's at once dry and businesslike, pastel and cartoonish. A relic for sure, but one that takes customization quite well. Plenty of themes are floating around on the internet, but loads of them cost money and nearly all reside in horrible, spammy website. Oh, and 95% of them are terrible. But that means that a few aren't—here they are:

Go to Themes4BB. Seriously. Registration is required to access the forums, but once you're done you have access to a huge number of free, occasionally decent BlackBerry themes for almost any model. The obvious iPhone, Mac OS and Windows skins litter the message boards, but the best will give your interface a near-full conversion. If feeling left behind is your problem, there are high-contrast 4.6-inspired skins for most models.

Fill Out Your App List:
While you've got a prime messaging device in your poc! ket, the re are areas where the standard BlackBerry apps are lacking. We've covered browsers, but there are other apps that can have an equally transformative effect on your handset.

Google Apps: Aside from plethora of mobile web apps offered by Google, there are a few native ones as well. Google Mobile provides access to Gmail (possibly a bit redundant), GPS-compatible Maps (a must-have) and Google Sync, which will keep your contacts and calendars neatly paired with Google Apps.

VoIP: BlackBerrys have been sadly neglected by Skype, but that doesn't mean VoIP is out of the question. iSkoot is a surprisingly functional 3rd-party app which uses Skype's network and is able to make and receive relatively clear Skype voice calls, even over 2G networks. Truphone is a simple app that'll route international calls at local call rates. Gizmo5 is one of the better of the sea of second-tier Skypes out there, and their VoIP app, which offers not just free calls to other Gizmo5 users, but instant messaging on a range of popular networks, is worth a download.

WebMessenger Multi-Protocol IM: Some BlackBerrys are blessed with a bundled AIM app; most aren't. WebMessenger does a handy job of combining most popular messaging protocols into an easy interface. And honestly, what is your BlackBerry good for if not furiously typing short messages to all your friends through as many channels as possible?

TwitterBerry: Further facilitating the aforementioned HAVE QWERTY, MUST COMMUNICATE ethos is TwitterBerry, the preeminent Twitter app for any BlackBerry. The iPhone may have seized the attention of the Twitterati, but any BlackBerry, new or old, is better suited to the service that the Apple's buttonless handset. TwitterBerry has the potential to bring upon the world heretofore unseen levels of oversharing, courtesy of you, last-gen BlackBerry users.

Viigo RSS Reader: Viigo is a fantastic RSS reader, able to consolidate any number of feeds—website content, Google Alerts, social networking sites—into a friendly, simple interface.

Dealzmodo Hacks are intended to help you sustain your crippling gadget addiction through tighter times. If you come across any on your own that are particularly useful, send it to our tips line (Subject: Dealzmodo Hack). Check back every other Thursday for free DIY tricks to breathe new life into hardware that you already own.