I am not a gadget guy but I do depend on my wireless PDA (smart phone) for phone calls, e-mail, web access, and web connectivity (phone as modem). With some trepidation, I decided to switch from my Palm Treo 700p to a Sprint Blackberry 8830. My trepidation was justifed. For the first time outside a conference, I am doing a real-time blog post. 

While I am so far impressed with many features of the Blackberry device, the jury is still out, largely because of huge problems dealing with Sprint and possibly Blackbery – it’s hard to tell where the problem lies. Talk about a drain on personal productivity! I’ve spent hours this week on this.

[Updated 8/1/08: Below is a detailed log of my tech woes with Sprint Nextel last week. All the hours I spent were for naught. Sprint called back earlier this week (albeit not at the scheduled time) and could not advise me on (1) how to install AIM IM on my Blackberry or (2) how to synchronize so that all my calendar entries appear on the BB. Worse yet, since last week, after each sync, the Blackberry Device Manager software crashes. I’ve given hope, however, on getting tech support from Sprint Nextel on these issues. There are only so many hours one can invest. I should have thought harder about getting an iPhone.]

Here are the problems I encountered with Sprint Nextel while ordering the phone and then trying to get it set up (“provisioned” in geek-speak):

  • Sprint’s own home page for the Blackberry instructs users to “push the wheel key”. Very useful considering my unit has no wheel key.
  • When I ordered the phone, the Sprint sales rep was wrong about two important facts: (1) a rebate form does not come by e-mail and (2) I cannot simply transfer the voice and data plans from my Treo. The rebate form is on the web and the BB requires a different data plan. It turns out to cost almost the same, so it’s not a big deal, but just more aggravation and lack of clear information, a problem I chronically experience with Sprint.
  • The set up process started very poorly. The “Getting Started” guide booklet that Sprint provides is very clearly written – but very wrong. Long story short: a tech support person immediately acknowledged that the printed documentation is wrong about e-mail set up. She was as frustrated as I that she has to handle many calls similar to mine.
  • Set up continued poorly. After 45 minutes on the phone with a very nice and knowledgeable tech rep, my phone still did not have the “service books” it needs. Not clear if this was a Sprint or Blackberry RIM issue.
  • I found Sprint’s documentation of how to install AOL instant messaging when logged into my account (which “knows” I have a BB 8830). The specific page I found is called “How do I access instant messaging on my phone?” It’s explanation for how to do IM on BB is just wrong. Moreover, during provisioning, was told I would get a “service book” for AIM but that did not happen. This morning I called tech support and the rep instructed me to go to several web sites on BB. After being instructed to several dead ends, got to a page with a download link. I was told to click that link – received “file to big” to download. Meanwhile, the tech rep was replicating the process on a handheld but she had only one bar of signal. Excellent decision by Sprint to locate a service center where there is bad coverage. After much discussion, I asked the rep to send an e-mail with instructions tested by Sprint and was promised delivery within 10 minutes. Another Sprint promise broken.
  • I installed the Blackberry software to synchronize to Outlook via the USB cable. Initially, it appeared the sync worked properly. That was 2 days ago. Now I am trying to perform a sync. The system wants to delete most of my 6,000 calendar entries (I like having my history on my handheld). As I inspect this, I see that the initial sync only captured appointments from the end of May forward, even though the on-screen messages suggested all had been synced. I am currently on hold with a Sprint tech rep trying to sort this out. I’ve just been promised, at 1225pm EDT that a supervisor will call back within 20 minutes to resolve the sync issue. I asked that the supervisor also check into the missing e-mail about AOL IM software.
  • Now waiting… to hear back re sync
  • Just see (1238pm EDT) that I received an e-mail from sprint asking “Do you have aim icon now?” Answer: no. So maybe there was supposed to be an AOL AIM or AIMpro “service book” after all???
  • More than 20 minutes has elapsed (now 1235pm) since promised call re sync issue. Another broken Sprint promise.
  • So it’s now 205pm EDT… no further word on above. So I’m hold with “Executive Services Department”, waiting for a rep there to try to resolve the above. Are we having fun yet?
  • 229pm EDT: Exec Services is friendly but tells me I should call a different number, advanced Blackberry support, to resolve this. Not exactly one-stop shopping. The rep tells me that the service level (SLA) agreement he has with other departments is three days. Wow, Executive Service Team gets worse service than ordinary customers? Not sure what Robert Johnson, Sprint’s Chief Service Office, appointed in 2007 (see Sprint 10-k) was thinking.
  • 232pm EDT: On hold at advanced tech support.
  • 237pm EDT: Talking to a tech rep. On AOL Instant Messaging (AIM), he points to me a Blackberry web site where I can down load the AOL IM servlet. It downloads fine. But then when I try to use it, the app says go back the same URL to activate my phone for IM. Of course, when I go back to that URL, the only option is to download the software. Looks like an infinite loop at this point. [It’s now 3:06pm – how’s that for productive use of time?]
  • 320pm EDT: Still on with tech rep. Can’t get AOL IM to work. He suggests I download to my computer and then sync it to handheld. I run into error messages on attempted download. App shows in BB sync manager but not clear if that’s the download to BB handheld or my desktop. I abandon this for now… moving on to synchronization issue.
  • 338pm EDT: We are unable to resolve the synchronization problem. Even sending e-mail to Sprint is a big challenge. My message with three screen shots takes multiple tries to get through. We schedule a call back for Monday… I ask that Sprint escalate, analyze, and propose a course of action that does not require hours more of my time. I did get an e-mail address from the rep but it’s a Hotmail account. What does this say about customer service that customer service reps reps don’t have corporate e-mail accounts? What does it mean for Sprint Nextel’s records retention and potential future e-discovery challenges?
  • 612pm EDT: Self-help department: I changed configuration options on sync software so that only future calendar appointments sync. I don’t have all my past entries, but at least now I can sync without deleting data in Outlook. Separately, RIM Blackberry web site on AOL AIM for Blackberry says I can download IM software onto the BB phone at http://www.blackberry.com/instantmessaging. Not true. That page has no available links.
  • 658pm EDT: Cleaning up e-mail. Found an e-mail from Sprint on how to install AIM. Go to bookmarks on handheld and click on “Install AOL Instant Messenger”. Nice, but “page could not be found.” Sprint Nextel or RIM Blackberry at fault?
  • It’s very hard to understand why setting up a smart phone should be so hard and time-consuming. With 85% of Americans owning cell phones, many upgrading with some regularity, one might think it would be in the provders’ own interest to simplify to provisioning process. Apparently not.