Liberty: use your BlackBerry with a large display and keyboard

If you thought you couldn’t possibly use your BlackBerry any more than you already do, you were wrong.

Thanks to Waterloo, Ont.-based Bayalink Solutions Corp., that trusty device in your hip holster has become an even more useful productivity tool when travelling. It turns your BlackBerry into a portable version of Microsoft Outlook and connect-anywhere 3G modem.

The company’s Liberty product is a Bluetooth-enabled USB flash drive that comes pre-loaded with software that interfaces with your BlackBerry. After installing a small client on your device and making a new Bluetooth pairing, you’ll be set to use your device with a large display or keyboard. Plug Liberty into any PC – laptop or desktop – and go.

Company co-founder Trevor Dietrick came by our video studio to give us a demo of Liberty. He also left us with a couple of review units.

Bayalink is part of the BlackBerry Alliance and works with Research In Motion on a daily basis, Dietrick says. The company boast Nick Tidd of 3Com and D-Link fame as a consultant and believes smartphones will become a more important computing platform and that there should be better ways to access them.

“There’s just inherent limiters on the form factor of your smartphone,” Dietrick explains.

I tested Liberty using my BlackBerry Curve 8330 and various desktops and laptop computers.

Out-of-the-box experience

All you’ll need to get set up with the Liberty key is a computer with a free USB port and an Internet connection. After about 10 minutes of configuration, you’ll be ready to use your BlackBerry with the key on any computer at any time. Liberty’s “Getting Started” five-step process and online system make it easy to install.

First you’ll be directed to register your product on Liberty’s Web site. You’ll enter your Registration ID (given to you by Bayalink) and your BlackBerry PIN (find this under your BlackBerry’s options menu in the Status screen) amongst other information.

Next, you’ll receive an e-mail from Bayalink with a link to download the on-device client over-the-air. There’s also some bullet points that explain how to get the Liberty key paired with your device.

After completing the set up, you’ll be pretty much ready to plug-and-play with any computer. Liberty’s software is made to start automatically after being plugged in to a Windows Vista PC. But if you run XP or the program doesn’t start automatically, just open up the folder and run LibertyStart.exe.

Then, run the Liberty software on your device and select Bluetooth for connection. Remember to make exceptions for Liberty in whatever firewall software you are running.

Using Liberty

Liberty’s software client resembles Outlook and that makes it a cake-walk to use. You’ll almost forget that you’re directly reading data from your handheld device when browsing through the calendar, contacts and e-mail options.

Making a change in the software is immediately reflected on your device, so there’s no need to sync after you’ve made your updates. E-mail is also instant – receive a new message on your device and it appears at the same time on your screen.

The ability to respond to e-mail with a large display and keyboard is perhaps the best feature of the Liberty product. Often I find myself delaying response to messages on my BlackBerry until I’m at a real keyboard anyway, because tapping out a cogent response with my thumbs seems too daunting a task.

Again, the reply, forward, and other mail features are represented with Outlook-style buttons and messages are organized by date and time, subject and sender. It makes it easy to read and respond to e-mail.

At times, my messages would take a long time to load and at other times I’d get a time out error. This was quickly fixed by reconnecting my handheld Bluetooth link.

Reviewing my contacts was also made easy with the Liberty key and I didn’t notice any lag here. I was able to go through and clean up my contact list, another chore I deplore doing on my BlackBerry. I found duplicates that I didn’t even realize existed and was able to delete old contacts I’d forgotten about.

The calendar includes features such as inviting someone to a meeting and confirming with them by e-mail. Or call your contact directly from the application and invite them over your Bluetooth headset – all without drawing your BlackBerry from its holster.

Liberty’s key should give road warriors the option of leaving their laptops behind, Dietrick says. It’s like carrying your Outlook in your pocket.

“If I dock into a computer at a hotel or in the airport, obviously your Outlook is not on that,” he says. “That’s when the smartphone virtualization comes into play.”

The Web browsing is one feature I didn’t use too much on the Liberty key, mostly because I found it too slow. On a smartphone, 3G speeds might seem decent. But as those who have tethered their devices know, it doesn’t translate well for a larger browsing window.

Still, connectivity to the Web when you just need to refresh that RSS feed or check on some important information is made easy by the Liberty key. It launches an Internet Explorer window to do your browsing, and subtracts the chore of tethering your phone as a modem from the wireless mobility equation.

You might even save some money on your data plan with this technique, Dietrick explains.

“If you turn your BlackBerry into a modem and go out to your mail server and download the same e-mail message that’s already on your hip, you’re in fact paying twice for every e-mail that you get,” he says.

There’s also a shortcut to open a File Explorer window and view your micro-SD card storage on your BlackBerry.

Final thoughts

The Liberty product is a great way to get even more use out of your BlackBerry and should be added to any good road warrior’s toolkit. It’s goal of making it easier to get work done while travelling is achieved through reliable software that is simple to use.

The initial set up takes 10 minutes and then your key is ready to use on any computer. The Bluetooth connection is fairly reliable, and any problems seems to be fixed with a simple reconnect command. Most of the time, you can use Liberty to access your BlackBerry without even removing the device from your hip holster – so long as you have the on-device client running.

I’d never bothered to try tethering my BlackBerry as a modem before, but this product has unlocked that capability for me.

My only concern is that I might lose this tiny USB flash drive and the software along with it. I wish I could load the software on to my laptop and make a Bluetooth connection through there, so I didn’t always have to risk travelling around with the key. But putting it on a key chain should make it a little bit easier to find.

I’d like to see even more virtualization capabilities for the BlackBerry come out of Liberty. Imagine being able to use Documents To Go to edit Office files through Liberty – that would really make it a productive tool.

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