Date/Time and Time Zone Settings: BEWARE!



HomeScreen_DateTime Today I checked my BlackBerry Pearl 8130 and BlackBerry Curve 8330 and discovered that their times differed by several minutes. How could this be? I had both set to synchronize with the same Verizon Wireless network. I double-checked the settings, and was correct in my assumption. So, what went wrong?

Are you someone who critically depends on your phone’s time being accurate? Do you travel to different time zones to attend important meetings you have scheduled on your phone’s calendar? After some investigation, I discovered that if you’re not careful, you can get into big trouble.

Date/Time Settings

Settings for date and time are found from the Home Screen by clicking Options > Date/Time. Let’s cover each setting individually, then later go over the troubling issues I have discovered.

Time Zone

The world is divided into 24 hourly time zones, plus some fractional time zones and zone offsets, resulting in 40 total time zones. It appears that the BlackBerry can be set to 32 of those. Daylight Savings Time (DST) is not available as a setting; recent versions of the BlackBerry operating system (OS) are supposed to automatically correct for DST. As far as I know, that works correctly for the “major” geographical areas where the BlackBerry is sold.

If you don’t know your time zone, uh…, ask somebody. Somebody where you are. ;-)

If you travel outside your time zone, please keep reading.

Time

This is the time actually displayed by your phone, and used internally by your phone for calendar events, etc. It can be set to any time you want, right or wrong. It’s not guaranteed to be correct–that’s part of why I wrote this article.

Time Format

The choices are 12 hour and 24 hour. As I hope you know, 12 hour time uses A.M. and P.M. to distinguish daytime from nighttime hours. (We often get confused about this: 12 PM is noon, and 12 AM is midnight.) 24 hour time uses 0000 hours for midnight (a popular alternate designation is 2400 hours), 1200 hours for noon, 1300 hours for 1:00 PM, and 2359 hours for 1 minute till midnight. 24 hour time is popular with the U.S. military, so this is often referred to as “military time.” OK, so you knew all that–sorry.

Date

There are no unusual choices here. You can set month, day of month, and year. The day of the week will be automatically set, and you can’t change it.

Date/Time Source

Here’s where things get interesting. There are 3 choices: (1) Network, (2) BlackBerry, and (3) Off. Here’s what they mean, or are claimed to mean:

DateTime[11]Network: Your phone time setting is synchronized with your wireless provider’s network time setting. That is the local time of the cell tower your phone is currently connected to wirelessly.

BlackBerry: Your phone time setting is synchronized with the BlackBerry network’s time setting. I guess that RIM has servers all over the world that know the time where they are.

Off: No external time source is used to synchronize your phone time setting.

Please keep reading, because I think you would easily be misled into misinterpreting how time synchronization works on the BlackBerry.

Time Zone Issues

When you first get your phone, or do an operating system installation/upgrade, one of the very first things you should do is set the correct time zone for where you live. On most computer systems today, date and time is referenced to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Since I live in the Eastern Time Zone, which is 5 hours earlier than in Greenwich, England, my choice is GMT-05:00, fortunately labeled Eastern Time (U.S. & Canada).

When traveling across time zones, you might expect your BlackBerry to automatically update to match the time zone you’re in–right? You’d be wrong. No matter which date/time source you chose to synchronize to, your BlackBerry will stay on your originally set time zone. You need to change time zones manually, always.

Time Issues

DateTime[12]Let’s say you’re one of those people who always runs late. For example, you are related to my ex-wife and are therefore genetically incapable of being anywhere at the appointed time. So, rather than change your habits to be punctual, you set your clocks ahead, say 15 minutes. Let’s not debate just how stupid this practice is–to each her own. Well, your BlackBerry will let you do that. You can set the time to anything you want.

But I discovered something you should know: If you set your BlackBerry time, and for some reason take your sweet time saving that setting (remember, you have no sense of urgency about anything–that’s why you’re setting your time way ahead of reality), your time will not come out what you meant it to be.

If I’m not clear, let me elaborate. Let’s say you set your time 15 minutes ahead. After scrolling to the desired time, you click to save that time, so you figure it’s set, right? Then, your doorbell rings, or you are called to another part of the house. When you return, you save all the Date/Time settings as a whole and return to the Home Screen. Warning: while you were away, your time setting stayed right where you left it. The internal BlackBerry clock did not run for the 20 minutes you were away. Your time is now set 5 minutes behind reality rather than 15 minutes ahead of reality. You’re going to be late.

So, my finding is that even if you change the time setting, you need to save all the date/time settings and leave that Date/Time options screen immediately.

Date/Time Source Issues

This is where I am confused and disappointed. I cannot find any evidence that a BlackBerry will automatically synchronize using either the Network or BlackBerry setting. By “automatically synchronize,” I mean “correct the phone’s internal time against the chosen time source without human intervention, on a reasonably frequent basis.” It just doesn’t seem to happen. At all!

My finding is that the internal clock of the BlackBerry is synchronized (once, and only once) against the selected time source under two conditions:

  • DateTime[3]On the Date/Time options screen, you do (press Menu key) > Update Time. You will see your BlackBerry time update immediately.
  • You change your setting for Date/Time Source, save your settings (all), and leave that options screen. You will see your BlackBerry time updated if you return to the Date/Time options screen.

I think most reasonable people would expect the phone to synchronize against the selected time source either periodically (say, every hour), or any time you connected to the network to place or answer a call. I specifically tested and found that the time is not synchronized under any of these conditions (with Date/Time Source set to Network or BlackBerry):

  • Wait a while (minutes, hours, days): never synchronizes.
  • Place/answer a phone call: doesn’t synchronize.
  • Cycle power on the phone: doesn’t synchronize.
  • Do a battery pull: doesn’t synchronize.

I have no information on whether the typical wireless provider’s network time or the BlackBerry network time is more accurate. I’d hope they are all based on NIST ITS.

Calendar Issues

DateTime[13] When setting a calendar event for that you will attend in a different time zone, be sure to set the time of that event using its home time zone, not your home time zone. That way, whether you update your phone’s time zone or leave it unchanged, when you are at the remote event in a different time zone, your calendar screen and calendar reminder will function as you would want them to. The event will match the time zone where it is held.

 

Conclusion

  • Don’t trust the synchronization of your phone’s time. Occasionally check it and update if necessary. I can’t tell you how often is often enough. It probably depends on the accuracy of the crystal-driven electronic clock of your BlackBerry’s processor.
  • If you ever manually edit your phone’s time, save all the date/time settings quickly and return to the Home Screen! Don’t linger on the Date/Time options screen and allow that time setting to become wrong.
  • When traveling, if you want your phone to reflect the current time zone, you need to change that manually. Remember to change it back when you return to your home time zone. It simply will not change automatically, ever.
  • When entering a calendar event for another time zone, remember to schedule the event for the time zone of the event, not your home time zone.
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About the author

This entry was contributed by Kelly Carter
84 entries have been written by this author.

37 comments on this post

April says:
Sep 7, 2008 - 12:09:58

Thanks for this info, Kelly. I wondered this exact thing this past Labor Day weekend when I traveled through two time zones without a single time change on the phone. You would think this would be a simple task for a Blackberry.

Sep 7, 2008 - 01:09:54

April,
Yeah, with all the other competitor smartphones breathing down the back of RIM’s neck, they need to work harder on issues like these.
Kelly

April says:
Sep 10, 2008 - 01:09:39

Hey, Kelly,

Have you received any insider info about the new Pearl Flip? Do you plan on getting one? Is it the same Pearl with a different design?

Sep 10, 2008 - 07:09:24

April,
I don’t plan on getting a Pearl Flip at all. I’m not sure what the attraction is to the clamshell design. It appears to make the form factor shorter but possibly a bit thicker. I think the original Pearl size is just about perfect–my favorite feature of the Pearl. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s that much different (well, my 8130 doesn’t support Wi-Fi, so that’s different).

I’m worried that RIM may be trying to be all things to all people. I’d rather see them concentrate their resources into making the world’s absolute best smartphone, with only a very few variations that make sense. The competition is already fierce (which is good for consumers), and the competition has some very talented and creative designers that can steal the best of the BlackBerry and add something unique. BlackBerry has to compete just as vigorously to stop on top.

Great questions, April!
Kelly

James says:
Sep 20, 2008 - 11:09:09

Hi, I found your blog on this new directory of WordPress Blogs at blackhatbootcamp.com/listofwordpressblogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, i duno. Anyways, I just clicked it and here I am. Your blog looks good. Have a nice day. James.

MikeM says:
Oct 3, 2008 - 03:10:27

Hi Kelly, Here’s another problem (pearl 8130, sprint). My wife & I commute between CDT & EDT time zones, but normally set at CDT. She found out that when she’s in EDT and syncs, with her laptop in CDT, the time zone changes to CDT and she also loses the picture of our grandchild. Then she tried it by locking the keyboard before syncing, and it kept the EDT time and the picture. SO.. always lock the phone before syncing!!

Oct 3, 2008 - 08:10:15

MikeM,
That is TOO WIERD. What made her think to lock the keyboard? I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years. I assume photo you meant got lost as the wallpaper, not in the photo gallery?

Thanks for this very strange tip!
Kelly

MikeM says:
Oct 3, 2008 - 10:10:49

Wallpaper, yes. I think you and I are too knowledgeable about computers to try things like that. I assume you tried it out and it worked.

MikeM

Oct 4, 2008 - 08:10:44

MikeM,
No, I didn’t try to replicate what your wife did because of the problem of time zone switching. It’s known in Software Engineering that virtually every computer program of significant complexity has a bug in it. Sometimes it takes a non-expert to find them because they attempt things that an expert would never consider doing.

Thanks for sending this most interesting anecdote about a BlackBerry problem.
Kelly

MikeM says:
Oct 6, 2008 - 06:10:14

Oops! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Aargh!! It’s switching the time zone on me again!

Oct 6, 2008 - 07:10:00

MikeM,
I wish I had some ideas to offer. Kinda wish I could see this for myself.
Kelly

Jack says:
Dec 4, 2008 - 04:12:03

Hey Kelly,
I too just stumbled across your site, and find it very interesting and helpful. I’ve had my Curve for about 3 weeks now, and thus far love the change to the BB OS.

Just one question and comment about this time change thing. When I had a work Treo 650 on Verizon, I didn’t have the option on it to update time with the network, I had to do it manually. On Sprint, my personal choice, I’ve always had phones, including Treos, that changes time automatically when changing time zones. I haven’t had an opportunity to leave my current time zone since changing to the Curve, but I’m wondering could your issue be carrier related, rather than BB related? Or have you personal knowledge of others on other carriers having the same issues of not changing automatically?

Dec 4, 2008 - 09:12:47

Jack,
Thanks for your perspective on this. I have, indeed, read of BlackBerry owners using various carriers all experience the same thing: the BB won’t update when crossing time zones. You have to change it manually. I don’t really see that as a “bug” or defect but as a design decision. Years ago when I had an old-fashioned wristwatch when I traveled across time zones, I decided for myself if I wanted to change my watch to the new TZ, or to leave it set to my home TZ. Either choice was a valid one, and I didn’t always make the same choice. So, I actually like the design decision of RIM: let the user decide. A point of my article was to warn or inform people of how it actually works before they assume it works one way or the other.

Please return and let’s continue having conversation.
Kelly

Jack says:
Dec 5, 2008 - 04:12:18

Kelly,

Good point on the watch analogy, because I do the same thing. Unless I’m going to be out of my local time zone for a long while, such as more than a few days, I never change my watch. It would be nice though if the BlackBerry had the option to truly pick up network time or be changed manually. Nevertheless, armed with your astute info here I will now know to watch for this. It certainly doesn’t change my opinion I have begun to form about the Curve. I absolutely think it is the best smartphone I’ve had, and I still own the Centro, the Treo 800w, and have had the Treo 700p personally and a Treo 650 professionally.

A little off topic, but if I may, one thing I do miss on the BlackBerry is the true threaded messaging of Palm’s. Is there any program you know of that adds this feature to the BB? I know it has a form of threaded messaging, but as you know, at least as default, it adds the full conversation to the next page coming in, but keeps the previous conversation, which requires manual deletion. That’s a kind of nuisance I wish I could find a fix for, but currently am still too much of a “Newbbie” to do so.

Thanks for a really well written and thought out site. Keep up the good work educating the masses!

Dec 6, 2008 - 12:12:54

Jack,
Glad to hear you’re liking the Curve so well. I do, too.

I don’t know of a better way of doing the message threading you’re looking for. It may be that a 3rd-party app can do it, but I haven’t tried any app like that.
Kelly

Matt Coulter says:
Dec 19, 2008 - 01:12:59

Kelly-

I got mine to sync with the network and everything was fine.

The moment I plugged it into my computer with the desktop sync software, the sync with network “feature” was still selected, but the time became the time on my PC. It now seems it will never sync with the network again.

I can’t test this, but it looks like if when you first sync the phone – BEFORE connecting it to your computer, but after installing the software, you should go into the software and in the synchronize area, un-check update the device’s date and time.

-Matt

Dec 19, 2008 - 09:12:07

Matt,
Very interesting observation. I’ve received some criticism for this article, but I think your finding reinforces my warning to beware.
Kelly

EdF says:
Dec 25, 2008 - 05:12:01

It’s pretty lame that such a sophisticated piece of hardware cannot automatically change the time zone. This is a bug! It should be fixed.

Dec 25, 2008 - 10:12:46

EdF,
It must be related to the reason why the BlackBerry doesn’t truly sync with the network. If it did, then it would be easy to switch to the TZ of the nearest network tower. My gut tells me it was a conscious design decision versus an oversight. There must be a reason why the engineers/programmers didn’t implement either of those features. You and I might disagree with them, but I’ll bet there was a reason.
Kelly

Tom says:
Dec 27, 2008 - 03:12:43

Kelly:

Thanks for your blog work – having just travelled for the 1st time to a new TZ with my Storm, I learned that I, too, wanted to know the answers to both questions you address: why there are 3 date/time sources, and why there is no automatic TZ change. Not having found your blog until today, I had called both Verizon and BB and was unhappily shocked that neither could answer either question!

Though I suspect you are right that the answers to both are the result of a conscious decision rather than a “bug” I also suspect that both decisions 1) were made many years ago and simply never addressed since, and 2) were made by someone who has no experience whatsoever with business travel. The result, imho, flies in the face of business conductivity or efficiency.

1) If I travel outside my TZ and want to schedule an appointment, then I am forced to add the extra steps of choosing the proper TZ in my calendar so that the appointment is scheduled at the proper time. That is slower, inefficient, and dramatically increases the probability of manual errors. On the other hand, if the BB changed time automatically and I wanted to schedule a meeting in EST, I wouldn’t need to do anything additional – - just enter the bloody appointment. BB seems to not understand that 3 p.m. is 3 p.m. – why complicate it by asking in what TZ that 3 p.m. aoppointment occurs?

2) Even if BB were to have some reason to force users to manually choose the TZ, the fact that existing appointment times are changed (i.e., I am in CST so appointments are moved back 1 hour if I manually change the BB clock from CST to EST) is INSANE!! Talk about the height of inefficiency! Example: I travel from CST to EST and manually change my BB’s clock accordingly. While in EST I schedule appointments for when I return back to CST. The result is that the times entered will be based on EST and therefore, when I return home and manually change the clock, all the appointment times will be off by an hour. Worse, if I am looking at my calendar trying to determine when I can schedule an appointment, the calendar will not be accurate because it will be displaying my home appointments in the “current” EST time – - so I have to remember to adjust the calendar in my head and be able to say to myself: “that appointment on my calendar at 2pm back in Chiacgo really isn’t at 2 p.m. it is really at 1 p.m. so I can really go ahead and schedule an appointment at 2 p.m.

UGGHH!

This is ridiculous! My 6 year old Samsung pda phone didn’t require these antics. Nor does the Iphone. Nor do half the $25 flip phones on the market.

Dec 27, 2008 - 10:12:19

Tom,
Thanks for taking the time to make such a well-thought-out comment. I hope RIM reads blogs like mine–they could learn a lot about what their customers want and need. Maybe they’ll address some of these issues in a future OS release. Maybe.
Kelly

Feb 4, 2009 - 09:02:03

Jack-
one of the ways I’ve gotten around the lack of a “thread” feature is by using the search feature. You can search for the subject and get all related emails listed, which is essentially the thread as it’s in order by date/time.

Kelly-
one problem I’ve noticed regarding time and the calendar is that often my calendar doesn’t remind me about an appointment or someone’s birthday until hours later or late at night when it’s almost too late. Any thoughts on what I may need to reset to fix this? i noticed the “problem” of the device not re-setting the time when I change TZ on a business trip. I didn’t know that the calendar might reset the appointment times in the calendar if you change the TZ, yikes!

Feb 4, 2009 - 09:02:42

itinerantactivist,
Nice suggestion for Jack.

I’m not sure why the calendar reminder would be hours late–that’s terrible. I’ve never seen anything like that. If it ever happens again, some very specific details might give me a clue. But if you haven’t figured it out, I doubt I would be able to. Still, it would be interesting to try to solve.
Kelly

Feb 4, 2009 - 10:02:58

Hi Kelly,
I don’t know exactly what’s happening, but it’s happened a few times… I’ll try to keep an eye on it and see if I can eventually get you more specific information. I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had much time to deal with it! I haven’t been on your blog for a while, I’m impressed with the amount of information added since then! Keep up he great work!

One other question… I’m not in any hurry to do this, but I’m mulling over upgrading my pearl to a fancier model… am looking at comparisons of the Storm and the Bold. Any thoughts on this…? (I know that one has the actual keyboard and the other is virtual with a larger screen. Am wondering if the virtual typing will drive me crazy as I’m used to the actual keyboard. Can’t decide, so will wait a while and try to play with my friend’s Storm at some point to try it out)…

worldtraveller says:
Mar 10, 2009 - 10:03:38

Had a question about Blackberry Curve–where is the best location to put birthdays and get a reminder? I currently have them in the “open field” on Microsoft Outlook, with a 5-min prior reminder. It works on Outlook, and just before midnight, I get a reminder. But on my Curve, I get the reminder 8 hours prior on the previous day.
Someone suggested that I’ll need to set a time for such open fields, like putting the birthday in at 6 am, and scheduling it like an appointment from 6 am to 7 am.
Any thoughts?

Mar 10, 2009 - 09:03:28

worldtraveller,
I’m not sure what the best way is, but for something like a birthday I schedule a calendar event as “all day” where my time is shown as “free” and reminder of 15 minutes (or so).
Kelly

William says:
Mar 24, 2009 - 03:03:55

This is a great summary, Kelly. Thanks. Just got a BB and I can’t believe how lame the time handling is — your summary of what you should expect (periodically update without user intervention) is spot on. It’s only a minor inconvenience, but so many phones get this right that I don’t understand why RIM can’t.

Mar 24, 2009 - 04:03:16

William,
I wish we had a good way to get our (customers) ideas to RIM. Not sure if they read sites like these. Appreciate your feedback!
Kelly

Roman H. says:
Jun 27, 2009 - 05:06:58

I put in a 3GB memory chip in my Curve 8330 and when I take Pics my phone will not save them on to it. Says “File System Full” How do I make my phone save my new pics on my memory chip?

Thanks,

Roman

Roman H. says:
Jun 27, 2009 - 05:06:59

Never mind…. I found it… I needed to press the blackberry button while taking pics and go to options and allow all pics to be saved on memory card.

Jun 27, 2009 - 10:06:57

Roman,
Glad you found your answer…and returned to tell me.
Kelly

Michael says:
Jul 22, 2009 - 09:07:49

Hi Kelly,
What a great resource for people with BB phones! I can’t tell you how good it is to see so many other having this same issue with “automatically updating the time”. It never fails, the internal time gets out of sync with the network time. I have to keep updating it myself. Even after AT&T helped me, it went out of sync. My hope is the people who make improvements with BB systems with get this one right. It seems like a “no brainer” where so many basic phones do this. Thanks for all the great infomation too.

Jul 23, 2009 - 10:07:34

Michael,
Thanks for the feedback. I now own four BlackBerrys, and it’s kinda stupid when all four read a slightly different time of day.
Kelly

Al says:
Jul 30, 2009 - 01:07:49

Kelly,
Interesting article and site in general. My boss just got a BB Flip on Verizon network. In the time setup, the timezone is correct, the Time is correct and the Network time is correct. The time is displayed correctly in the window on the cover of the phone. The clock app shows the correct time.

But – when you open the phone, the time displayed on the main screen is incorrect – not by an hour, but pretty random. For example, when all other displays showed 12:45 PM, the main screen was showing 8:43 AM.

Any ideas?

Jim Black says:
Aug 28, 2009 - 01:08:59

Kelly,

I just wish to add my moral indignation to that of all the others who would like their phone to display the correct current time in whichever city they happen to be in.

I have both a wristwatch and a mobile phone. When I travel somewhere, the wristwatch maintains the time of my origin (unless and until I change it). I therefore require my mobile phone to automatically update to whichever time zone I am in. This is particularly critical when I am in some intermediary airport and need to make a connecting flight. Which time zone is Tucson (or Las Vegas, or Kansas City) in anyway? Mobile phone networks broadcast time accurate to the second. There are Nokias available on eBay for 99 cents that can adjust to this.

Nuts. Wish I had read your web page before I bought this turkey.

But… shouldn’t there be some application available that would fix this?

–Jim Black, traveling engineer.

Aug 29, 2009 - 03:08:42

Jim,
I don’t know of an app that addresses this issue, but I haven’t searched for one.

Thanks for your contribution to this discussion.
Kelly

Damond Horner says:
Sep 22, 2009 - 11:09:52

It’s been said, that if you live in New York and you have an appointment, in let’s say LA, when you set the meeting for 1600 and you get to LA and reset your time, the meeting will be on schedule… however, if you don’t do that it will show the meeting at 1300.

Everything should work together, it’s a smart phone…

1600 is 1600 where ever you may be… The time and calender should be able to reflect this.

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