EARLY USERS COMPLAINEd that the seminal BlackBerry models from Research in Motion wouldn’t live up to their potential until they could also be used for voice service, too.

RIM scaled that obstacle a couple years ago, but the result was a little awkward — with a headset and microphone on a dangling

cord, the effect could often be that of someone having a raging argument with a Walkman.

The BlackBerry 7100 is the first RIM unit with a form factor similar to a cellphone, an apparent best-of-both-worlds effort to rival voice-enabled Palms and Treos.

(An aside: One area in which RIM will not compete with the Palm-based devices is in the integrated digital camera area. At a gala for RIM head honcho Jim Ballsillie last fall, a RIM rep told me with absolute conviction: “”One thing you will never see in a RIM is a camera.”” Why? “”Because it’s a BUSINESS product,”” he said, as if it was the most obvious explanation in the world.)

While it’s as capable as any in the phone department, a compromise had to be struck that might be a bit much for dedicated thumb-typists to swallow.

First, let’s look at the BlackBerry as phone: There’s a traditional dialing keypad — an improvement over previous incarnations, which incorporated the number pad into the qwerty keyboard — a Bluetooth connection for peripherals such as wireless headsets, a claim of four hours’ talk time and four GSM frequencies for international coverage. (The default polyphonic ring tone mimics a 70s-era phone bell — nice touch.)

The navigation thumbwheel on the side of the device is the handiest volume control I’ve encountered — though a lefty might not find it so. The speakerphone feature is sonically clear and easy to use, but that’s not the differentiator it used to be — most cellphones seem to have a usable speakerphone feature these days. As a PDA and browser, it’s standard BlackBerry functionality. The colour screen is big and bright, but browsing Web pages that aren’t optimized for handhelds requires the patience of Job.

But now the compromise:

To get the vertical phone form factor, the qwerty keyboard had to be collapsed, with most keys accommodating two letters and much of the punctuation a couple keystrokes deep.

RIM tries to alleviate this with the SureType predictive text function that guesses what you’re typing, and quite accurately — but it’s a pain to enter numbers and odd character strings like passwords, e-mail addresses and URLs in modes other than predictive text.

The verdict on the 7100? Those new to the BlackBerry will feel like they’ll never need another communications device — push e-mail is addictive, the form factor is familiar and, for those in a pinch, Web surfing is possible, though ponderous. But the die-hard thumb-typists will probably opt to stick with previous models for now.

RATINGS (0–5)

Installation……………………………………..5

Features………………………………………….5

Documentation …………………………….4

GUI………………………………………………….4

Overall Rating………………………………..4

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+
More Articles