My iPhone, the data hog: Why I switched back to a BlackBerry

A series of unfortunate events in Europe led to, well, more unfortunate events on the other side of the world. Flirting with an iPhone for a month, and why I went back to BlackBerry.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Gather around, all, for I have a tale that will send shivers down the spine of any seasoned traveller.

I arrived in New York in February later than planned after leaving my passport on the dining room table at home --- over a hundred miles away from the airport I was leaving from. Despite that pre-flight hiccup, it was only to set the scene for more money-flushing antics that would cost me dearly.

The other thing I left behind --- deliberately --- was my BlackBerry. I stumbled into an affair with an iPhone, but while the fling did not last me long, it caused a great deal of grief.

After a recent trip to Brussels, my BlackBerry involuntarily decided it would slash my battery time by half, thus rendering an already depleted device to drain completely. As soon as got back to London, an iPhone was bought, as the next logical, inevitable step in my smartphone-using history.

I did not, however, contemplate the one downside to no longer owning a BlackBerry. One word: data.

I don't blame my mobile network, nor do I blame any other mobile network for that matter. For a UK user to travel to Europe, the cost of data is heavy, like molten gold or platinum flowing into the virtual pipes on my phone. But the cost is not as great as outside of Europe; the joys it seems of a single European economy.

But sending and receiving email, without doubt the most basic of all data uses, cost me an arm, a leg, and I'm sure somewhere in there, I'm signing away the kidneys to by first-born child.

Pinch, punch, it was the first of the month, and my mobile data bill arrived on my front porch. And what a pinch it was --- particularly on my wallet.

I was the proud owner of an iPhone for all of a month before tossing it in my lower desk drawer never to be used again.

February 7, 2012 --- Brussels, Belgium

During a briefing with the European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, my BlackBerry ran out battery, suddenly and unexpectedly. I swore under my breath, but loud enough for others to notice --- including the Commissioner herself.

In the space of asking two questions to the Commissioner, the battery had fallen from 70 percent to 5 percent. The yellow warning light flashed for long enough for me to notice, before it keeled over and passed out.

The room was packed with journalists, and we all had deadlines and copy to write. Tethering was the only option for many, and my window to the outside world had just completely fogged over. Frustratingly, it was the second time it had happened in the space of a month. The first time it happened wasn't a work situation, but a replacement battery --- I thought --- would do the trick.

I get between 200--250 emails on an average day. I receive roughly 20--30 tweets or direct messages a day. I get dozens of Facebook notifications, calendar alarms, and numerous phone calls. Each and every time, my BlackBerry vibrates for a whole second, and the LED notifier flashes. Yet even with this, my battery lasts two days without needing to charge, while an iPhone seemingly lasts for only 12--14 hours without charge, but only if small animals are not sacrificed to the Apple gods at regular intervals.

Displease the Apple gods, it seems, and one shall be bestowed with the pain and misery of poor battery life.

I had a good, but at times difficult relationship with my BlackBerry. It was --- and still is --- a good smartphone, and it had lasted me for two, nearly three years. But the battery problem was the straw that broke the camels back. Enough was enough. Since switching completely to Macs at home, and struggling with the poor memory capacity on my ageing BlackBerry forced me into the inevitable.

It was time to get an iPhone.

February 8, 2012 --- London, United Kingdom

To my surprise, despite Apple's London's Covent Garden store selling the beautifully crafted device, I was guided elsewhere. The blue-shirted lackey told me I should head to my mobile network's retail store; a five-minute walk around the corner.

With Starbucks in one hand, my busted BlackBerry in the other, and a confused emoticon-printed expression upon my face, I headed down the street to find my mobile network's store.

I opted in the end for an iPhone 4. It was cheaper, and without Siri. 'Antennagate' was something that could be fixed with a $15 bumper, while in the midst of 'Batterygate', with the design in mind for business productivity, one could not be back in the same stakes as my beleaguered BlackBerry.

Plus, Siri would only end up personifying the experience, and already filled with dread at my smartphone affair, I knew I couldn't handle the dulcet tones of my British voiced counterpart whilst in the United States.

Like a scene out of The Italian Job, I was in and out in less than five minutes. My SIM card was replaced with a micro-SIM, and everything was up and working within minutes. The efficiency took me by surprise; despite my technological knowledge, I was aghast at the speeds in which a new phone could be up and running. It had been two years since my last phone purchase.

I was pleased. "It just works," I was reminded of an Apple event last year where iCloud was announced. Finally, the simplicity of going 'completely Apple' was finally met.

February 23, 2012 --- New York City, United States

The plane wheels had barely touched the ground before I switched off the iPhone's "airplane mode". My emails began to stream in from the seven hours my shiny rectangle was disconnected from the outside world. Wedged into a steel tube of other people's sweat, fear and anxiety, it was a pleasure to be connected to the networks; plugged into the 'matrix' as it were.

140 emails. One email per character in a tweet. This could not be good. By the time I had cleared the U.S. border, I had consumed my fill of catching up. I didn't think twice about my data consumption, being so used to a BlackBerry.

Within three hours of being back in Manhattan, I had already spent £20 ($31) on data. By the time I had checked into my hotel and finished having dinner, no more than an hour after the first text message from my network on the other side of the Atlantic, I was told that I had spent £40 ($63) and would be charged no more.

"Using the web costs £6 per meg outside Europe," the text message from my mobile operator told me. Fair enough, I thought, I'll expense it.

That is, the morning after, and not using my iPhone for seven hours as I slept blissfully in my hotel room. It followed with a similar text with this appended: "You cannot use any more than 50 meg."

I panicked.

February 26, 2012 --- San Francisco, United States

Confused and bewildered due to the near ever-changing of time-zones and increasing levels of jetlag, I had forgotten it was a Sunday; the worst day of the week for something to go horribly wrong.

My data had stopped flowing. No emails, no Facebook or Twitter notifications, and crucially no access to Google Maps --- so I had no idea where I was going. To make matters worse, my text messages weren't working, with the friend I was staying with sending numerous messages apparently into the cellular oblivion.

I thought, this could be solved. But herein lies the problem, in that it was 10 a.m. local time on a Sunday in a city I didn't know, and therefore 6 p.m. in the UK, well out of hours of my mobile networks' operating hours. I was stuck without data for at least another 12 hours.

Aside from this, I was wracking my head as to why I could have churned up so much data in such a small space of time.

It wasn't the iPhone per se. It didn't help that the shiny rectangle didn't compress data unlike the BlackBerry, but it fell down to "user preference," combined with an error that an Apple spokesperson unhelpfully declined to comment on.

BlackBerry smartphones includes push technology. Even email accounts that do not support push-to-phone, BlackBerry servers retrieve email as and when it arrives, processes it, and pushes the IMAP email instantly to the smartphone, and it stays there --- on the device --- as it should, frankly.

But my email account runs on Microsoft Exchange, and is natively supported on the iPhone --- a deciding factor in my purchase --- enabling me to synchronise my email, contacts, calendars and tasks without having to plug my former BlackBerry in. The only way to get push email on my iPhone was to use Exchange. When you're reporting breaking news by the minute, you can't afford to wait 10 minutes for a schedule to run to retrieve the email from the server. You need it there and then.

Unbeknown to me --- until I caught it out actively doing it --- my iPhone would re-download my email account contents every hour or so, all 300 of the most recent emails. It would do this again, and again, and churn up my data in the process. That's why I hit 20MB in the space of three hours.

But it was too little, too late. As soon as it hit 8 a.m. GMT, or 12 midnight in San Francisco, I called my network back in England and they pushed the cap to a higher tier and within minutes, an abundance of email began flooding into my iPhone. By this point, I could not help but feel dread in my stomach as I could count the pounds sterling racking up in my head without my iPhone seemingly even doing anything. I was literally throwing money away and I couldn't really do a thing about it.

March 4, 2012 --- Canterbury, United Kingdom

My iPhone now sits on my desk in my office, alone, and securely wiped clean of memory. It has not been picked up in days. A gentle swipe across where one would ordinarily unlock the device reveals a thin layer of dust on my finger.

I ordered an upgraded BlackBerry Bold 9780, one level up from my old and discarded Bold 9700, with double the memory and a slightly better camera. But the greater memory capacity has already significantly reduced the amount of battery-pulls needed in the daily usage cycle, and vastly improved performance, allowing me to juggle email, my social networks, instant messengers and other applications. It's the same shape, design, and reliability as my old BlackBerry, just with a few internal bumps to add that extra lease of life.

And what a lease of life it will be. It will last me at least another two years. That said, if Research in Motion gets flushed down the loo, it could easily end up in the same fate as my iPhone.

In the end, I spent $600 on my new iPhone 4, $630 on dashing back from the airport to retrieve my passport, $230 on data roaming, and $470 for my new BlackBerry Bold 9780.

That's just shy of $1,950 in the space of a fortnight.

My business and work partner for a month, my iPhone. It was fun, don't get me wrong, but I know where my loyalties lie. And perhaps that's what makes the general consumer market so different. We want, we take, and we rarely focus on what we actually need. I need my BlackBerry, and while I still want an iPhone, I know full well it will take time before it needs me.

Image credit: Apple via CNET.


Editorial standards