BlackBerry 10: My European Travel Companion(s)

BBZ30.EuropeScreen.450pxOver a recent 24 day period I traveled through eight countries, providing an opportunity to determine the level of access and travel support I could get from my BlackBerry 10 devices (a Z30 and a Z10). I also had available an iPad Air and an iPhone 5; however, they quickly became ancillary to my activities.

We visited England to attend a long time friend’s memorial service, participated in a two week river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest (Rhine, Main and Danube), and spent three days in each of Prague and Munich.

Why two BlackBerry 10 devices?

My Z30 is my primary mobile device when in Canada; its configuration is such that I did not want to lose any of the its features and application set. In addition to about 160 native BlackBerry 10 applications it also contains about 35 Android applications that have been downloaded and installed via Snap, a free Google Play client for BlackBerry 10. It contains a Rogers SIM that was put into airplane mode for the duration of the trip except on two days where I wanted to test out Rogers roaming.

Z10MobileHotspotThe Z10 served fundamentally as my Internet access point. Why? Because I had been asked to review the recently launched Truphone World SIM that provides carrier voice and data access in 66 countries on a single plan, including eight countries in the Truphone Zone. I put the Z30 into airplane mode and connected to the Internet through the Z10 or other WiFi access points such as on the ship, in a hotel or at a restaurant.

Of the eight Truphone Zone countries we traveled through four: a U.S. hub airport, U.K, The Netherlands and Germany. In those countries I could use BlackBerry 10’s WiFi access point feature which provided an Internet connection to my Z30, iPad Air and iPhone 5 – all of which remained in Airplane mode during the entire trip. It also provided connections to my wife’s Q10 and iPad mini.

In the four Truphone World countries outside the Truphone Zone (Austria,  Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic) the ability to create a WiFi access point via carrier data was disabled; however, the Truphone World SIM on the Z10 could still deliver voice and data for the Z10 itself. In these countries WiFi access came through our ship’s WiFi, a hotel, restaurants and the free WiFi found in the centre of several of the cities we visited.

More details on my Truphone World SIM experience are provided in a separate post. In that post I’ll also discuss how European carriers still have a lot of work to do in providing higher speed coverage outside major cities and towns. Often I would only find 2G/EDGE service whether using the Truphone SIM or, in a couple of test cases, Rogers roaming where we could get LTE in the cities but only 2G/EDGE in rural regions.

In the remainder of this post I want to cover some of the activities for which I used the Z30 and, where necessary, the Z10.

The Hub

With this setup I continued to receive and send messages via the BlackBerry Hub – not only two email accounts (MS Exchange and GMail) but also Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and FourSquare. With Rogers One Number service I could access any text messages sent to my Z30 via the RON application on my iPhone 5 or iPad Air (and also send out SMS text messages).

The Markers

Over the course of 24 days one can start to lose track of where you have been and what you saw. Two programs helped to provide trip markers that I could reference once I returned home and started editing my 3,000+ pictures into a reasonable presentation: FourSquare and Untapped. Suffice it to say I now have 70 new checkins and 47 new photos on FourSquare along with 14 new distinct beers on Untappd.

Untapped.4Sq.Europe14

Note: the Budweiser Budvar is the original Czech beer; suffice it to say they have sued the U.S. company for intellectual property infringement. Pilsner Urquell is the original Pilsner beer brewed in Pilzn, CZ; it was originally brewed in 1842 to address a problem with long term storage of beer..

BBM: Sending “postcards” daily to all members of my family in a single step

BBMCourtneyGroupIn the past one might mail a few postcards to family members, say, once a week during a trip such as this – and often they would arrive at their destination after we returned home. Plus you had to find a way to buy stamps and a mailbox. With a BBM Group that comprises my family members I was able to send a daily “postcard” comprising a photo and some text commentary in a single action from any location with an Internet connection.  Basically I found a suitable Z30 photo amongst those taken on a particular day and, using Share options, would simply send it to the Courtney Group on BBM. Occasionally these entries would result in engagement with some follow up text conversation.

For instance, as we sailed into Budapest late in the evening, we were treated to a light show of all the buildings along the Danube – parliament buildings, palaces, university buildings, museums, etc.  This experience turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. In almost real time and with a single action we were able to send a photo of the Hungary Parliament Building lit up at night to my family members.

Social Networking

Often my FourSquare and Untappd entries would be forwarded to Twitter and Facebook. But, of course, I was also able to engage directly with friends’ entries on Twitter and Facebook. I certainly checked Facebook at least daily to follow what others were doing; surprisingly two of my acquaintances were also on trips to England and France during our trip; they also provided some interesting and relevant Facebook commentary. I was also able to follow LinkedIn activity but provided no entries as i was really on a vacation and did not feel the need to participate in business-related discussions.

News and Sports

During our trip we were able to track major news events via various BlackBerry 10 News apps (Globe & Mail, New York Times, CBC News and CNN). We were also able to follow activity involving the World Cup, Wimbledon Tennis and the decline and fall of the Toronto Blue Jays from first place in their division. Weather Eye kept us informed of the daily local weather forecasts. Of course I was also able to keep up to date on BlackBerry and other personally selected activity via BBM Channels. The XE Currency BlackBerry 10 app came in handy for doing conversions involving the Euro, the Hungarian Forint and Czech Crown.

Music

The memorial service in England was for a long time friend and mentor with whom I had produced a music record back in the 60’s. I had copied the tracks to my PC and subsequently transferred the files to my Z30. At the reception following the service i was able to play a couple of the pieces as a tribute through my BlackBerry Mini-Stereo speaker – which had enough volume to easily be heard by all attendees across the medium size hall.

Maps

During the trip I often used either BlackBerry Maps or, in the browser, Google Maps. When we arrived in Amsterdam at Amsterdam Central Station we needed to know which tram would take us to the Rijksmuseum. We quickly got the answer in Google Maps to look for tram 2 or 5. When we had to switch ships between Nuremburg and Passau due to low water levels on the Main-Danube canal, BlackBerry Maps told me we had a three hour trip; not the two hours mentioned by our tour guide. As long as I could get 3G service on the Z10 we could usually locate our ship location as we passed through locks or mountain valleys.

MunichHotelMap

When an acquaintance wanted to locate my hotel in Munich I simply used BlackBerry Maps to capture our location (near the main train station on Bayerstraße) and sent him a BBM message with the screen capture.

Voice Calling

Since Truphone World plans include voice calling I made several voice channel calls back to Canada as well as to contacts in England and Germany. The clincher was a call where I had wait 50 minutes to rebook my Air Canada reservation for our home bound flight due to a connecting Lufthansa flight cancellation – we ended up on a non-stop flight that brought us home one hour earlier than our original reservation. (It was 1 a.m. in Montreal when I made that call; that probably speaks volumes about the reason for the long wait).  Over Truphone World’s data channel I also made a few SkypeOut calls. In all cases I had excellent voice quality. I was also able to follow several Skype chat threads during the trip via Skype for BlackBerry.

Photos

While my primary camera was a Canon SX40 with telephoto capabilities, I often used the Z30 camera for photos that I wanted to include with BBM (Group) messages, FourSquare, Twitter and Facebook entries as well as emails or Skype file transfers. It was convenient to be able to take the photo and then simply “Share” the photo immediately to my destination of choice.

The BlackBerry 10 Touch Keyboard

GermanKeyboardAs I occasionally went back to using the touch keyboard on my iPad Air and iPhone 5 I was constantly reminded of the power of the BlackBerry 10 touch keyboard. In summary I probably typed about 25% of the characters I sent due to the powerful predictive text feature. For caps I simply held on the key until I saw a cap; no Shift key required!

However, being in Germany and having familiarity with the German language, I had also activated the German keyboard. Holding down a letter long enough also gave me the option to select characters with the umlaut accent or the Eszett (ß) “double s” character.   And if I typed “Mü”, predictive text would suggest München whereas typing “Mun” would suggest Munich.

Usually if I had entered a local name once in either language it would appear as a suggested word the next time I wanted to use it after only typing the first two or three characters. This often helped when I wanted to type a word ending in either “berg” or “burg” and not recalling which was correct.

OK, so why the iPad Air and iPhone 5?

Fundamentally the iPad Air, with the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard, replaced my need for a laptop PC. I used it for longer email messages and responses; while I had brought my recently upgraded MacBook Pro, it never left its case during the trip. The iPad Air also served to receive photos from the EyeFi Mobi card on my camera via the card’s WiFi access point. (Clumsiest tourist activity witnessed on the trip: taking photos with a 10-inch iPad – any version.)

As for the iPhone 5, the only use I made of it was for panorama photos of some of the spectacular plazas, cathedral interiors and scenery we encountered during our travel. Yes, there is a 360 Panorama app for the BlackBerry 10; however, it does require post-photo editing to crop it down to a rectangular format; hopefully we will see a panorama mode in the forthcoming BlackBerry 10.3 OS.

Prague.OldTownSquare

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Bottom Line:

This 24 day trip provided an excellent opportunity to check out the versatility of the BlackBerry 10, especially the Z30 as a primary mobile device across eight countries. Where there was not an application, the browser usually provided the access and information we were seeking out (Google Maps is a primary example); responsive design and HTML5 contribute significantly to this capability. Did I miss anything? … probably not. My Z30, assisted by my Z10, served all my communications and Internet needs to capture travel activity, maintain communications via voice, email and social networking and deliver news, sports, reference and other information on request.

With all these features – predictive keyboard, excellent display, very powerful browser, messaging integration, BBM, excellent music audio, the browser Reader feature and most importantly the overall productivity benefits – going forward I expect to travel only with my Z30 and iPad Air to keep connected as I travel.

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Some Android applications used: TripIt, Yammer, Starbucks (but they would not take my Starbucks Canada card in Prague for payment), PayPal, Flickr, Kayak, National Post, FIFA World Cup, National Post, Würzburg Tourism, British Airways (LGW-AMS)  and Marriott. Other Android apps installed but not used include NetFlix (the ship TV had lots of movie choices), Instagram (just not into it), Harmony TV controller (only works in my family room), IMDb, MailChimp, Event Brite and WestJet amongst others.

Full disclosure: The BlackBerry Z30 and Z10 were provided to the author as a member of BlackBerry Elite, a group of BlackBerry users who provide user feedback to BlackBerry and assist with evangelizing the merits of this unique multi-tasking smartphone platform (but we don’t have any advance information on upcoming OS developments). There are no affiliate links in this post, nor has there been any monetary compensation provided for publishing this post. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author who does have a very small holding of BlackBerry shares and decades of business experience with multi-tasking environments. His main interest is in supporting a Canadian technology pioneer while at the same time getting maximum benefit from his smartphone.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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