Upgrade Your Life: Why you should wait 6 months to buy a new BlackBerry

Alex Romanelli
Upgrade Your Life

BlackBerry lovers will be happy to know that RIM just announced an entire fleet of brand new smartphones — but there's a catch. While a new generation of phones is usually great news for the consumer, this update poses a big dilemma for BlackBerry buyers. Between the iPhone and Android (and their huge collections of hot new apps) RIM just hasn't been able to keep up in recent years. Loyal BlackBerry fans might be wondering if it's time to jump ship — or maybe it's just time for an upgrade? Should you buy now or wait? We look at the new phone lineup and interpret the BlackBerry rumor mill to help you make a smart buying decision.

1. Meet the new BlackBerry lineup

Before we get into why you might want to wait, let's take a look at RIM's new devices. The new phones are all optimized to run the enterprise-minded company's new-and-improved operating system, BlackBerry OS 7. While OS 7 may look and feel very much the same as OS 6, its changes are largely under the hood. Features like hardware graphics acceleration mean a smoother experience overall, especially for gaming and streaming media, and the improved browser reportedly offers load times 40% faster than BlackBerry OS 6.

* BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930
The new flavors of the BlackBerry Bold offer a 640x480 touchscreen coupled with a familiar full QWERTY keyboard, for the best of both worlds. The new Bold has also been updated to a 1.2Ghz Snapdragon processor, and at .41" thick, RIM touts it as the thinnest BlackBerry to date. Unfortunately, at $300 and $250 respectively, these models are priced high for what they offer.

* BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860
The new Torch models refresh RIM's line of full touchscreen devices that feature no tactile keyboard. This iteration brings the model up to speed with faster 1.2Ghz processors and the new BlackBerry 7 operating system. The phones also pack a 3.7" 800 x 400 touchscreen, and a 5MP back-facing camera capable of 720p HD video capture.

* BlackBerry Torch 9810
More of a nominal upgrade, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 keeps most of the features of the existing Torch like the sliding keyboard and touchscreen, but brings the phone up to speed with the new BlackBerry 7 OS, a faster processor, and an affordable $50 price tag.

* BlackBerry Curve 9350/9360/9370
Delayed until early next month, the new Curve models all feature a 2.44" 480 x 360 screen, a full QWERTY keyboard, a 5MP back-facing camera, and BlackBerry OS 7. It doesn't feature the speedy 1.2Ghz of its peers, but at $80, it's an affordable option.

2. BlackBerry's hardware limitations

While BlackBerry fans might be enticed by the new lineup, there's still plenty that falls short compared to other smartphones on the market. While these devices all run RIM's new operating system (BlackBerry OS 7), their tech specs still don't stack up well compared to new Android devices or Apple's iPhone. Devices like the Droid Bionic and the Samsung Galaxy S II line are built with dual-core processors, which pack considerably more processing power. That means faster load times for websites and email, and a smoother experience with games and other apps.

RIM's phones are also conspicuously missing front-facing video cameras like most smartphones on the market now feature, which makes video chatting (like with Apple's popular FaceTime app) out of the question.

3. RIM's dearth of apps

Ever since the advent of the iPhone, smartphones are often just a gateway to the apps we love. When it comes to apps — even with OS 7's new app offerings — RIM has a big problem: As of February 2011, RIM's app store (BlackBerry App World) was stocked with a mere 20,000 apps. By May of this year, the Android Market offered 200,000 apps, while Apple's App Store offered 400,000 apps as of June. Even Angry Birds isn't offered in BlackBerry App World — but it can be found on just about every other platform imaginable.

4. QNX and Android apps on the way

RIM's new haul of BlackBerry devices does offer some marked improvements over its previous lineup —but the progress is only incremental. The real RIM revolution may be on the way soon: the company has plans to rebuild its phone operating system around a kind of software known as QNX. Unlike its smartphones, RIM's tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, is built on QNX.

The reinvention of BlackBerry OS around this new software will mean a total overhaul of BlackBerry as we know it. The new OS will offer lots of new features and a better user interface, but any phone purchased now with BlackBerry OS 7 will not be upgradable to the QNX operating system. Most importantly, it has been widely rumored that QNX BlackBerry phones will be able to run Android apps. Since RIM's own app stable still lags behind its two main competitors in terms of sheer numbers, support for Android's rapidly growing collection of mobile apps could revitalize BlackBerry — and maybe bring it back from the dead.

This new lineup of Android app-friendly BlackBerry devices is expected as soon as early 2012, starting with the code-named BlackBerry Colt. Since only the QNX-based BlackBerry software will be capable of running Android apps, that unfortunately leaves RIM's late 2011 lineup in the cold. RIM customers eager for an upgrade might be well served to wait it out until early next year.

Read more about BlackBerry:

Review: BlackBerry Bold 9930

23 shortcuts for the new BlackBerry Curve

10 brilliant apps for BlackBerry 7