BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac: Hands-on

BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac is here. We take it for a spin with our BlackBerry Bold, pointing out what's strong and what's missing.

BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac 1.0
Music syncing is the only media feature right now, but it easily grabs iTunes playlists. (Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

On Friday, BlackBerry maker RIM released its first-ever Desktop Manager for Mac users. As we announced last week, the free BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac will update certain apps, back up and restore BlackBerry content, and sync content like music playlists, contacts, and calendar items between your Mac to your smartphone.

We spent some time managing our BlackBerry Bold with it. So far, our experience has been positive. However, RIM did miss some opportunities in this first release, especially on the multimedia front. We'll come back to those a little later.

BlackBerry Desktop Manager replaces earlier syncing software, PocketMac for BlackBerry, which paired an application installer with content-syncing tools similar to RIM's new offering. The new Desktop Manager significantly offers backup and restore options, and limited media transfers.

BlackBerry Desktop Manager installed notably faster than its Windows counterpart (which also includes a separate Roxio-powered media management center.) Like the Windows version, it requires a computer reboot after the initial installation. We were pleased that instead of cloning the Windows interface, RIM tried to construct a Mac-specific feel, down to the Eject icon.

The desktop manager syncs organizer data between your Mac and BlackBerry, like your contacts, calendar items, notes, and tasks--so long as your computer and the apps, like Entourage and Google Calendar, are set up for syncing (details here). You'll need to further configure syncing preferences for each of the items from the application's left panel. If your phone offers wireless data syncing, you can also sync over Wi-Fi.

We were most impressed with the manager's music-loading features, although right now they're limited to songs from your iTunes library, and to the contents of playlists at that. However, the interface of the music pane makes it easy to select all your playlists, only some, or only as many songs as fit the BlackBerry's memory (you'll be able to first choose a storage location for music--media card or device memory--when you set up your phone.) We had to create a new playlist in iTunes to transfer specific songs over, but the BlackBerry Desktop Manager quickly assimilated the change, and our songs transferred over quickly the second time, after the first sync failed.

We just wish that RIM had been able to include photo and video transfers in this release, to enrich the multimedia management offerings.

Now what about those apps? BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac includes an application component that installs and deletes apps. Even better, an updater can automatically install new version updates to your phone, but only to RIM's core software (like e-mail), and to third-party apps that were preloaded in your phone before you bought it. These might include apps like Documents To Go and WorldMate Live. The desktop manager won't update third-party apps that you downloaded after purchasing the phone.

Backup and restore functionality are two other mobile phone management mainstays. Like all modules in this app, they're easily accessed in a click. Backing up your data saves a .BBB file that you can additionally choose to encrypt and password protect, or not. As a nice perk, you can set up the manager to automatically back up your BlackBerry each time you connect. The data restore feature gives you options for restoring all data at once, or selecting specific information.

Apart from more fleshed-out multimedia transferring capabilities, the Mac version of BlackBerry's desktop manager lacks a few other key features that are available in the Windows version. Bluetooth support is one of them. Users also won't be able to easily import the content of their old Windows Mobile, Palm, or BlackBerry to a new BlackBerry on their own, and business users miss out on BlackBerry Enterprise Server features like syncing corporate e-mail. All these need to be enabled in the Mac version to make it a complete package.

BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac 1.0 works with Mac 10.5 and up, and with BlackBerry phones running operating system 4.2 or later (most phones purchased in the last two years should fit this category). To sync your music, you'll need iTunes 7.7.1 at least (iTunes 9 is the most recent version). You'll also need a media card or sufficient on-board phone memory.

Learn more about BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac in our slideshow.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.