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Living the Keyboard Dream

September 12, 2019

For some time, I’ve been fixated on finding the right mobile device for me. A device that’s curated just for my use case, not a black slab of glass that is just a notification vehicle. In my heart I thought this was a device with a physical keyboard. Thinking of this I fondly remember my days as a Blackberry Curve user and how much I loved that phone. But now, I’m not so sure if I wanted it for getting more work done, or if my rose-colored nostalgia for the early days of smartphones.

A messaging phone

Up until the iPhone 3GS I was an avid Blackberry user. I was first of my friends and family to get a smartphone, often opening the door for them to get one themselves. My wife’s first smartphone was the original Android phone, the G1. The commonality between us was that we both loved the physical keyboard on the phones. By the time my wife needed to upgrade, she continued on Android but absolutely had to keep the physical keyboard and jumped the G2.
However, I stayed on the Blackberry train. In fact, I stayed using a Blackberry all the way until my employer required me to use an iPhone 3GS just before it reached end of life in 2012. My love affair with Blackberry never died, a hole in my heart that any new phone hasn’t been able to fill since.

Recently I’ve been primarily using an Honor 5x as my main mobile device, running LineageOS 16 with minimal Google apps. This phone combined with my Samsung Tab S5e I feel I have a good balance. The tablet functions as both an Android device and a laptop replacement (For me. I know not everyone can use a tablet as a laptop) while the Honor 5x is specifically a messaging device.

I could get all high and mighty about reducing my “phone addiction” by only having messaging apps on my Honor 5x. But the reality is my tablet is my primary device, and the 5x is not the smoothest experience so limiting it to just messaging at least keeps it functional. In these last few months using my mobile strictly as a messaging device, it got me thinking about changing it to something that I would like to use, rather than just being the device, I currently have. I researched, read more info about Android Go devices and continue to lament the lack of feature phones in the US.

Then something struck me. What if I just bought a used Blackberry?

Between the studies of smartphone access and privacy invading social media articles many people have in some way attempted to reduce their reliance on the small computer in their pocket. Often, the goal is to reduce the “addiction”. The correlation is simple, if we all reduce the amount of time we spend on social media […]

Quick search on eBay and I phone a Blackberry Curve 9360 for $30 and it sold me. Being on a GSM carrier, when the new device arrived, I just dropped the SIM in and was ready to go.

The Blackberry

Switching to the Curve I knew there would be some challenges. First, I know there would not be Telegram, WhatsApp or Slack apps available. But that was okay. All I really need is SMS and email. My tablet handles the other misc. chat applications that are all work-based, so not seeing them on-the-go isn’t a problem but a feature. After some configuration, I was ready to start messaging and use the amazing Blackberry keyboard again.

For the last year or so, I’ve been convinced that I needed a real keyboard. In the beginning of smartphones, it felt natural to have a physical keyboard on the device. Coming from only having a desktop computer and using a keyboard, I also expected my minicomputer to have one. That’s why it was so ludicrous the iPhone was touchscreen only. How can you use a computer without a keyboard? As phones transitioned away from the minicomputer feel and towards being a media device, reducing the screen size in lieu of a keyboard was a losing battle. Bigger screens with high DPI and refresh rates for playing games or watching videos were more important than getting real work done.

My desire for a real keyboard rose again when I realized my mobile device is just for work. All day long I message, Slack, email, edit documents and to get real work done you need a real keyboard. Therefore, I was so excited to get my hands on a Blackberry again, especially since I’ve been watching the development of their Android-based KeyOne and Key2 phones. I thought, “Those are devices for getting real work done.”

Not once did I ever think getting a Blackberry Curve from 2011 would be my long-term mobile device. It was always a fun, little experiment while collecting a piece of old technology that has special memories for me. There’s real way I stop having a mobile device that doesn’t connect to modern messaging apps. As much as I think I could get away with only SMS, Slack and WhatsApp get used more than anything else on my device.

But using the fabled Blackberry keyboard again, I now know I can’t go back. Using the keyboard is not glamorous or better for messaging. In fact, it’s downright hard to use. Touchscreen keyboards have gotten so good in recent years that I rarely pay attention to what I’m typing. Physically pressing down on buttons is much harder work, takes more concentration while requiring further finger travel across the device.

As quickly as my excitement climbed when the Curve arrived, it crashed in disappointment. This has obviously crushed my excitement for other, new devices that have physical keyboards like the F(x)tec Pro 1. I would still love to see the Key2 in action and get some hands on to see if a modern operating system helps a physical keyboard on a new device. But I’m not holding my breath. This is all quite the letdown. I’m still not happy with most of the offerings for mobile devices. I still don’t think they serve people who are typing all day long very well. But its plainly obvious, at least for me, that a physical keyboard doesn’t solve it.