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7 days with a Rugged Android Smartphone: Part 1

In the run up to launching a revised CONKER ST5, now with 4G LTE and a Sony 13MP rear camera, I decided to evaluate the device personally for 7 days as my primary phone. What makes this an interesting test for me is that I represent the 1 in 200 people with a BlackBerry. Not any ordinary Blackberry either, but the gigantic BlackBerry Passport, a 4 inch/90mm wide enterprise giant.

Why Android? Why now?

I’ve had my personal gripes about consumer smartphone operating systems for some time as an early adopter of Windows Mobile and other smartphone OSes that came before it from the likes of Palm and Ericsson. As I primarily use my smartphone for email it’s easy for me to say that BlackBerry’s in general, and now particularly the Passport, excel with email; the BlackBerry Hub combined with a large QWERTY keyboard allow me to communicate on the go with as much ease as if I had my laptop with me. But the truth is that BlackBerry are either going to exit the hardware business some day soon or sub-contract production of BlackBerry branded Android devices, a journey that has already begun with the model “Priv”.

Frustratingly over time the few apps I do use are also being retired and although Android apps can be installed fairly easily on BlackBerry OS 10, they often run poorly and some will not run at all, especially for example if they look for Google Play Services. Just last week in fact WhatsApp stated they would stop supporting BlackBerry (and Windows Phone) by the end of the year.

Despite the risk of sliding into obscurity there is a greater reason for my doing this, as the CEO of Tablet Technologies I nearly always carry around a rugged smartphone such as the CONKER ST4 to show to people and whenever I’m not carrying one I invariably meet a situation where I wish I was; not to mention the countless times others see me using my BlackBerry without instigating a more useful talking point than merely why I use a BlackBerry.

So this test has two purposes, primarily to serve as a thorough road test of an evolution to our most popular smartphone and second, to prove or disprove to myself that smartphone OS matters. Will this break my allegiance to BB OS 10 and herald a time when I can carry a single device?

Day 1

Physical form factor

Of course the CONKER ST5 is no baby, a 5″ screen on a rugged device has a lot more bezel than on a non-rugged smartphone meaning the ST5 measure 154x82mm. That’s 4mm shorter but 4mm wider than the iPhone 6S Plus so although the screen is a half inch smaller it’s a device size that an increasing number of people are familiar and comfortable with, all be it thicker than an iPhone. Quite honestly coming from my BlackBerry the device did not seem particularly large, the BlackBerry certainly was not designed for a trouser pocket. It was however designed for a jacket pocket and I didn’t feel that the ST5 was suited to that. In brief I had no issues with the size of the ST5 and given the trend towards larger smartphones I don’t think it will be an issue to most people. For the most part I merely tossed the ST5 into any bag I was carrying and got used to tossing it in the car, on the sofa or anywhere else given I had no concern about it being bumped or scraped anywhere.

Software

I actually believe BlackBerry nailed it with BB OS 10, alas they were at least a couple of years too late for it to matter. Gesture driven, efficient at multi-tasking, live app tiles and a communication hub at the forefront of the interface add up to a very neat and slick experience especially for those primarily using their smartphone for communication. Knowing I wouldn’t replicate this and not wanting to spend fully 7 days trying I took the decision up front to stick with the standard launcher. I opted for Microsoft’s Outlook app for email connecting to both our corporate Office 365 and my personal outlook.com mail. I also installed the Google Keyboard which I must say I’ve found quite good, although beyond typing simple sentences, once you need to add a symbol or do anything not in the dictionary, then a touch keyboard becomes frustrating and this was something that kept me loyal to BlackBerry. I’m also one of these people that prefer if my emails didn’t look as though they were typed while driving.

By and large I do not use many apps and don’t use my smartphone for any games. There was nothing BlackBerry specific I was unable to find in the Play Store and I was happy to be able to use some news apps that are far neater than viewing their respective mobile websites. Also the LastPass app for Android is significantly more functional which pleased me greatly as I refuse to allow my browser to remember passwords.

Security

We hear about security issues all the time with Android and I presume most readers will be aware that BlackBerry is highly regarded for its security. Having said that it is obvious that for enterprises the weight has shifted from seeking a secure device to an ecosystem that incorporates a BYOD (bring your own device) policy with MDM (mobile device management) that sandboxes corporate data and activities irrespective of the underlying platform. I was conscious that without any MDM and with installed apps automatically saving access passwords that I was potentially less secure than on my BlackBerry, if only because BB 10 supported fewer apps leading me to access most services through the browser in which I did not save passwords.

Phone calls

It’s become apparent that smartphones are rarely telephones and with email, instant messaging and social media this is truer than ever, myself included. In the office I divert my mobile to my DDI and outside of work I mostly use other electronic means of communication as half the people I do call don’t seem to notice their phones ringing anyway! I was keen however to compare call quality so had a number of “how do I sound” conversations and also hooked up to Bluetooth in the car. I am glad to report that I had no complaints regarding call quality from other parties and I was satisfied with call quality on my side although speaker phone was poorer which was to be expected given that it has to be waterproof.

Now read Part 2

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