The biggest news in the smartphone business last fall was the launch of Google’s new mobile operating system, Android. There’s a lot to like in this new platform, but if you use your smartphone for business, odds are Android isn’t for you.
This is because it lacks support for the email systems used by most mid-sized to large companies — Exchange ActiveSync and BlackBerry Server.
However, if you’re a BlackBerry user, you can get many of Android’s consumer-friendly features without giving up the business features you need.
Better yet, the software to do this is all free and easily available.
But there’s something to be aware of. While there’s no cost for any of the software, it will require wirelessly exchanging data over the network. Carriers charge for this sort of thing, so be sure your wireless contract includes data service. If it doesn’t, you will be hit with a nasty bill at the end of the month.
One of the most important features of Android is the ability to keep the smartphone’s contacts and calendar automatically synchronized with Google’s servers. Thanks to a utility called simply enough, Google Sync, your BlackBerry can do this, too.
This software able to synchronize your Google Calendar with the built-in Calendar on your smartphone, and it can do two-way contacts synchronization, too. This process happens in the background and over the air, so information is always up to date.
To install, enter m.google.com/sync in the BlackBerry web browser.
Google Maps Mobile
Many recent BlackBerrys, including the Bold, come with a GPS receiver. You can take advantage of this with Google Maps Mobile.
Don’t confuse this with the version of Google Maps you use on your desktop browser. On the BlackBerry, this is a stand-alone application that needs to be installed, not a website.
Naturally, Google Maps Mobile can show you where you are on a map, but that’s just the start. It can also give you turn-by-turn directions, show you traffic tie-ups, and even supports Google’s Street View, giving you images of the locations you’re looking for.
And even if your device doesn’t have a built-in GPS, Google Maps Mobile can still get an approximation of your location. That’s good enough to help you find the nearest Starbucks or gas station.
Oddly enough, I think the BlackBerry version of this application is better than the Android one; It’s more polished, less prone to problems. Still, it has the same limitations that all versions do: there’s no spoken directions or automatic rerouting.
To see a video of software in action, read this article, or you can download it by visiting m.google.com/maps on your BlackBerry.
The default BlackBerry web browser has gotten much better in recent years, but it still has plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, there’s an alternative: Opera Mini
This is absolutely superior to the default browser in every respect I can think of — speed, page rendering, displaying images, you name it.
Naturally, it’s made by the same company that makes the Opera desktop web browser, and it’s available for free.
Google offers a stand-alone application that ties into Gmail. This comes in handy if for some reason you can’t get your messages from Google with the standard email application.
This is a fairly basic application, but it does the job. If you’re using it, you have access to your Google Address Book without having to use Google Sync because it directly accesses Google’s servers for this.
The down side is that this application can’t connect to the other applications on your BlackBerry, including the address book. You also can’t save attachments to your device.
To install, go to m.google.com/mail in the BlackBerry web browser. To learn more about this software, and see a video of it in action, read this article.
When I started this, I know I promised that all the software would be free, but DroidBerry is so appropriate I can’t resist tacking it here on the end. Be warned though, it’s for the BlackBerry Bold only, and costs $6.
DroidBerry is a theme that makes the Bold look remarkably like Android (see image at right). All of the notification, battery, and signal icons are the exact same, while the application icons resemble the ones from Android.
It can be purchased from JasonCalhoun.com.