As anyone who is on a 24-month contract knows, two years with the same phone can feel like an eternity. But equally, sometimes all it takes is an updated model to rekindle your passion. That's what has happened with me and my BlackBerry Torch.
Regular Lifehacker readers will know that my day-to-day smartphone of choice has been the BlackBerry for quite some time. I'm lucky that in my day job I regularly get to try out the latest devices: there's always an Android handset kicking around, often a Windows Phone 7 option as well, and Apple's annual phone update inevitably catches my attention. But for close on two years, the BlackBerry Torch has been my smartphone of choice, accompanying me for day-to-day tasks as well as more extravagant adventures such as No Luggage At All.
The core things I like haven't changed: the excellent keyboard, first-class browsing and mail, the full-size touchscreen, the impressive battery life, the ease of editing via the built-in trackpoint, and little software touches like system-wide text expansion. But as with any ageing hardware, some things had started to become annoying. System crashes were more frequent. For a long period, the official BlackBerry Twitter app flat-out refused to work. I was very conscious that the built-in camera often failed to deliver. A weird bug in the WordPress app stripped out some essential formatting automatically.
The realisation that the recent update to BlackBerry OS 7.1 wouldn't be available on my Torch was close to the final straw. Ending ongoing OS support for older devices happens all the time (just ask Apple), and it's a sign that you need to move on. So when the team at RIM offered to replace my Torch with a more recent model, I was more than ready to accept.
One obvious advantage of a newer phone is that you get newer hardware. Apps run and load quicker, and the camera is producing much better results so far. It's also pleasing to see the little tweaks that come with upgraded software: better-designed icons, minor tweaks to everyday apps like the clock, an improved App World experience. The process of transferring customised phone settings from one BlackBerry to another works much better than it used to; no more recreating my favourite bookmarks by hand. And the enhancements in 7.1 (particularly the ability to tether) are welcome.
But the truth, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, is that one of the principle reasons I'm really enjoying this new BlackBerry is, unusually, it is white. I've never understood the obsession with varying phone colours. All my previous devices have been standard-issue black, and that's fine. Yet I can't deny that I get a burst of pleasure every time I see my Milky Bar-cloning phone.
Reflecting on this, I think it's because it serves as an unavoidable visual reminder that I have a brand-new phone. If I had upgraded to an identically-coloured Torch, I'd have been hard-pressed to recognise the changeover a lot of the time. The colour change means my phone is screaming 'New! New! New!'. (And yes, doubtless I'd have had the same experience if I'd switched platforms entirely, though I'd not have the benefit of the stuff I like on this model.)
On one level, I think white is entirely impractical: it will show dirt and scratches much sooner. But for now, the ongoing reminder that I am using a new device is enough to keep me grinning. Part of the Lifehacker philosophy is hanging on to gear for as long as it is functional, but another part is recognising the pleasure of trying new stuff.
I'm not suggesting that everyone on the planet should race out and buy a BlackBerry (and certainly not just because of the colour). One of the things I cherish most in technology is choice. The notion that everyone should use the same thing — whether that's a phone, a music store or a browser — is just plain illogical. For starters, we're not all the same. And even when our needs are similar, having just one choice on offer means innovation is less likely. I want everyone to love their choices for rational reasons, and I want competition to drive all those choices forward.
We also need to learn to recognise when it's time to make a shift. Right now, I can't see that happening with this phone, but I shouldn't kid myself that it will be this way always. After all, it was only a decade ago that I was carrying around an iPaq. Things change.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman realises that on reflection 'off-white' might be a more accurate colour description. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.