Blackberries may have been overshadowed lately by the success of the iPhone, but they still offer and incredibly powerful platform.Plus, since the Blackberry operating system is build on Java and has always been open, there are a slew of useful and mature applications, many of which are free. Since I’m a cheapskate when it comes to software, I’ve loaded up my Blackberry Curve with a boatload of free programs. Here are the ones I use the most:
1. Google Mobile
Google Mobile is an all-in-one package combining Google’s excellent mobile apps (Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Sync) with links to Google’s mobile-optimized web services (search, Picasa, Reader, Docs, Google Notebook, etc.). Although Blackberry’s already handle email fairly well, I find the Gmail application a much more comfortable way to access email. The Maps application does everything you can do with Google Maps on your PC (search, get directions, switch to satellite view, and so on), plus it will use either the nearest cell tower or, if you have a GPS-enabled phone, GPS to pinpoint your location. The Sync app lets you do a two-way synchronization between the calendar on your Blackberry and Google Calendar. The rest of the links open services in Blackberry’s integrated web browser, although in some cases with limited functions compared to their PC-based equivalents (Google Docs, for example, are read-only). All in all, this is an incredible piece of productivity software, one I use probably a dozen times a day.
iSkoot puts the power of Skype on your mobile phone. You can send and receive voice calls to and from other Skype users or using SkypeIn and SkypeOut services, and believe it or not the sound quality is pretty good, even on AT&T’s slow 2G network. iSkoot gets all your contacts from Skype, making it a breeze to use. Of course, you can also IM with text. Calls received are handled by the Blackberry exactly like traditional cell calls, using the same controls and the same ringtone, so it’s really indistinguishable from using your mobile phone normally. I have a SkypeIn phone number for my professional life; iSkoot lets me stay connected even when I’m away from my computer.
Although I generally use Google Reader for my RSS feeds, Viigo is a nice alternative – and adds several nice options Google Reader (and most other RSS readers) don’t. The new beta lets you set up weather, sports, finance, and travel alerts, get updates from local Kijiji classifieds (if it serves your area), even get free book feeds from DailyLit. And there’s even a space – inactive for now – for podcast feeds, which developers promise will be enabled soon, letting you download your favorite audio podcasts over the air. All this in a beautiful and very easy-to-use interface – what more could you ask for?
This is a new addition to my Blackberry and, I admit, one that I haven’t found much use for yet – but it’s only a matter of time. The app is called BeeTag, and it is a 2-D barcode reader that uses your Blackberry’s camera to scan those square-shaped codes (like the one next to this paragraph) that are popping up on more and more products, as well as in ads and other places. Already huge in Japan, these 2-D codes can contain a URL, product information, or other material; BeeTag reads the code and sends you to the website indicated or displays the text. Even though you have to get quite close to fill the frame enough for BeeTag to read it – which means a blurry image – BeeTag could read everything I threw at it, including codes captured from my laptop’s screen.
Voice-enable your Blackberry with Vlingo, which goes beyond voice-dialing to voice-texting and even voice-emailing. Vlingo takes over one of your Blackberry’s application keys (my Curve has two, one on each side; I’ve assigned it to the one on the right, the one that controls the camera by default). Hold the key down, say a command, and Vlingo goes to work. For example, I say “Send email to Bob Smith subject You’re an idiot Message You forgot to take the coffee off your car’s roof as you drove away” and Vlingo creates an email reading “You forgot to take the coffee off your car’s roof as you drove away” with the subject line “You’re an idiot” and the email address from Bob Smith from my Blackberry’s address book. You can search the web, update your Facebook status, create tasks and memos, even open built-in applications and a handful of third-party Vlingo-enabled apps, all using your voice.
You can IM through Skype using iSkoot, but if your contacts aren’t mainly on Skype, WebMessenger allows you to chat on just about any major IM network: AOL, Google, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Skype, and Yahoo. Contact lists are imported from the appropriate service, and just like a full chat client, you can see who’s online, set your status, and of course chat all you want. You’ll need to set up a master login account with WebMessenger; after that, it will stay logged in and run in the background.
7. Mobipocket Reader
Blackberry screens aren’t the best for e-book reading – that’s one thing I miss about my old Palm Zire 72, with its great big color screen – but Mobipocket Reader makes the best of what it has to work with, providing a decent if not brilliant reading experience. The .mobi file format is becoming the de facto e-book standard for mobile devices, so there are lots of titles available for purchase, as well as the normal range of classic texts available for free. Or you can convert PDFs or Word files on your PC and transfer them over. The program is easy to use and fairly easy to read, though not many lines fit on the Blackberry’s screen at once. You can also add annotations, although strangely you can’t add bookmarks to return easily to important passages. Still, Mobipocket lets me keep a couple of e-books available for those times when I get caught with time to kill and nothing to do, and for that I’m grateful.
Blackberry’s are great for sending text messages, so of course they’re great for sending tweets on Twitter. Twitterberry makes it easy, letting you access your friend’s timelines – collectively or individually – as well as all your replies and direct messages. Of course, sending messages is a piece of cake, too. My only complaint is that messages are previewed, with only the first 40 characters or so visible in each timeline screen, so you have to click them individually to read them in their entirety. Even with that, though, Twitterberry is still a far better experience than using the Twitter site through the Blackberry’s slow browser.
Poynt is a slick local search app now in beta for the Blackberry. Poynt does local yellow page searches so you can find businesses near you, and has an excellent movie listings feature that lets you find movies near you, theaters near you, or browse by genre or review the current top 10. You can enter your location manually or, if your phone has GPS, let Poynt pinpoint your location automatically. Poynt also integrates with Blackberry Maps to provide directions – alas, AT&T, in its infinite wisdom, has determined that I (and the rest of its customers) should not use Blackberry Maps. I’m sure it’s very cool…
Fortunately, Google Mobile includes Google Maps so I can get all the directions I need!
You like Facebook, right? C’mon, admit it – you want to Facebook all the time. And well you should – you have a Blackberry, after all! The Facebook app makes it easy to send messages, see your updates, and poke poke poke all day long, and that’s pretty darn important, isn’t it?
Those are the apps I’m getting a lot of use out of – what about you? What are your favorite Blackberry apps, free or paid? Let us know all about it in the comments!