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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
- 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.