I will start off this review stating that I used to use AvantGo all the time on my old series 60 Nokia so really wanted to like it. They released an version over 2 years ago for BlackBerry devices that was essentially just a glorified link on your home screen to the AvantGo website. They have come back now over 2 years later with an update for BlackBerry devices that caught my attention but despite how much I tried liking it this was just a pure disappointment. Read on for the details…
Installation: I have provided the OTA install link above for the AvantGo program. I have not found a desktop manager installation link but when I do I will post an update. I think you must be logged in on their website to download the desktop manager link but I could not find it myself. Beware: The install file for AvantGo is over half a megabyte. If you are on a limited data plan you may want to think twice about an OTA install.
First Impressions: The first thing I noticed about the new AvantGo program is its size. I am always wary of BlackBerry applications that are over half a megabyte in size. This is especially so because older generation BlackBerry devices did not have a large quantity of RAM to run these large Java applications. The install took over 8 minutes of hourglass spinning on a BlackBerry 8800.
First time login: When you first start the program you will be prompted to either create a account or login. Since I had an old AvantGo login I just used that. (You might find it easier to create a login from their website). The application then tries to automatically determine which connection it should use to contact the Internet. For some reason on mine it chose my BES connection. This seemed to work so I did not complain. The application then went on to synchronize my channel content that I had selected online. This took another 5 minutes. While this update was running it brought the 8800 to its knees. You could not even open email and the whole device was as slow as molasses.
Interface: Well if you have gotten this far and have not given up I applaud your dedication. The AvantGo application seems to load pretty fast once you have synchronized your content. You then scroll through your content and even add channels from the device. I personally selected the New York Times Business & Technology Channel. The software downloads the content for viewing offline and then you can just click through the articles as you can see above. There are two very large ads in the main screen, as you can see in the screenshot above, which can be quite distracting. The funny part about this application is that it seems to try to leverage the BlackBerry browser for its offline content. You can tell that it is doing this, badly might I add, because it has the option to change to Desktop View of a webpage that is only found in the BlackBerry Browser.
The Channels: Above you can see the sample channel I chose for the New York Times Business & Technology Channel. The interface is quite simple and streight to the point. Since all the content is already synced to the device there are no downloads between pages so things are faster than the usual sluggish response the program offers. There is still an unexplainable 3-5 second delay between pages where the application seems to just freeze and then come back to life. Expect the same delay when you hit the back button to go back a page.
My favorite part of the AvantGo’s service and its one redeeming quality is that the content is quite good. You get full articles from websites such as CNET, GM, The History Channel, Rolling Stone and The New York Times just to name a few. It just does not seem ready for primetime yet on the BlackBerry.
A New Twist: Well it was inevitable that AvantGo at some point support RSS feeds and just like Microsoft they have finally come around to offering us what we want. As you can see from the screenshots above I have subscribed to BerryReview from AvantGo using our RSS feed. This seems to work just as well as channels including HTML and image support. (Which is something I have not seen in combination on any other RSS reader) The only downside is that you have to go back to the options and reconfigure the RSS channel to go 2 links into the article so that you get the full text of the post instead of just the first paragraph. This is not ideal since it then also delves into any of the other links in a post causing the synchronization to take 3 times as long. Your other option is to download the full article one at a time which takes longer than doing it in the native BlackBerry Browser. A nice perk is the ability to save each post so that it will remain when you do your next sync.
Configuration: The configuration options of AvantGo are almost identical to the options for the native BlackBerry browser so I will not cover them in much length here. They have added the ability to have different sync servers for AvantGo but I have no idea of why you would ever need to do this. As you can see in the screenshot above they offer you the ability to manage automatic synchronizations but I advise against it, unless you plan on them running while you are asleep, since they bring the device to a crawl and make it unusable. The synchronizations are also almost impossible to cancel since you cannot even bring up the menu due to speed issues. It is quite ironic that they have a cancel sync option in the menu but I have never been able to get that far. You can also change the Transport from the configuration options if you have a carrier that charges you for using tcp/ip.Â Everything else is the same except for the ability to add and delete channels from the channel manager tab.
Conclusion:Â If you are a die hard AvantGo fan you may want to try out this software just to see its future potential then I wont scare you away. On the other hand if you are looking for a good offline news viewer I would advise that you hold off on AvantGo. This is especially so if you have an older generation BlackBerry such as the 7290 which has even less processing power and RAM. I am really praying that the developers over at AvantGo take this to heart and work on optimizing the AvantGo program because writing this review was like pulling teeth. I used to be a die hard AvantGo fan on my PocketPC and on my Nokia Smartphone but on my BlackBerry I will hold off for now. Maybe now that BlackBerry devices have microSD card storage they can lower the compression on the channel content and speed up the program.Â AvantGo has the features that customers want but their delivery needs quite a bit of improvement. Hopefully once they improve we will run a follow up to this review.