After using the RIM (Research in Motion) Blackberry handheld it’s easy to understand why so many business people carry this device. It’s easy to use, keeps the user always in contact with e-mail and it works as a mobile phone too.
Vodafone is selling the Blackberry 7230 in New Zealand, with two different services: the Blackberry Enterprise Solution is compatible with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino servers and is aimed at medium and large companies with their own servers. The alternative is the Blackberry Internet E-mail, a better proposition for smaller companies and individuals.
The Vodafone theme: fewer icons on screen, but better looking than the default
Roughly the same size as other PDAs, the RIM Blackberry is small (113mm x 74mm), and light (136g). It has a 240x160 pixel colour backlit LCD screen. The OS offers the option of standard fonts, anti-aliasing or sub-pixel rendering, making it easier to read e-mails and other content.
Similar in size to other handheld devices. Note the screen backlight is set to max in both devices
Unlike Palm devices and Pocket PCs the Blackberry does not have a touch screen. The user interacts with the Blackberry mainly through a thumb wheel on the right side of this device (what about us lefties?). Using the wheel the user can scroll through the icons, and “click” to activate the function. The “click” function also brings context sensitive menus. For example when reading an e-mail the “click” will open the menu with Reply, Delete, File options.
The thumb wheel, used to navigate, open/close menus and select options
The QWERTY keyboard is easy to get used to, and typing can be quite fast after some practice. The keys are backlit, and the backlight here is more of a glow, unlike what users might have seen on other handhelds. But it is enough for use in places with poor lighting.
QWERTY keyboard detail: easy to use
The Blackberry 7230 is a tri-band GSM/GPRS mobile phone. Just insert your SIM card, and it’ll connect to the GPRS network (if available and if data services are enabled). Like other GSM mobile phones, users are able to place and receive phone calls and to send or receive SMS. These actions can be initiated manually, or from entries in the Contact database. To use the Blackberry services your account must be properly configured by Vodafone (or your operator if in another country).
Battery life is a winner on this device: up to ten days of standby, or four hours talk time. In my case it seems true, since I’m still using the device a week after its first full charge and it's at 50%.
For this review we had the Blackberry Internet E-mail functionality active. When using this service the user can choose an e-mail address on @vodafonenz.ap.blackberry.net domain. To register follow the instructions from Vodafone, enter the phone number and the unique id associated with this device. After authentication, and if the username is available we’re ready to go. The Blackberry Enterprise Solution on the other hand requires additional planning, server configuration and service integration, which should be provided by Vodafone.
Everything in one inbox: e-mail, SMS, call log
The Blackberry 7230 works with a permanent connection to its servers. When a new message arrives there it’s immediately “pushed” to the handheld. The message is also available through a web e-mail interface. Alternatively users can configure other e-mail addresses from known ISP through the Options menu. The Blackberry server will then poll the ISP e-mail server for new e-mails every 15 minutes. This time is not user configurable, so in the worst case e-mails to these addresses will appear on a device 15 minutes after arriving on the ISP. And there’s no option to pull e-mails on a user’s initiated request.
This functionality is also the main problem in my view. I understand some users will need a constant and always-on connection to e-mail. But there’s no option to create a schedule for e-mail forwarding. It’s always on – or not at all. If the user wants to use it as a mobile phone during the weekend, but want to be completely away from e-mail, the only option is to change the Default Forward Rule through the web e-mail interface, or to set a profile on the Blackberry that does not notify the user (no alarm, no vibrate).
Otherwise, the e-mail client on the Blackberry 7230 itself is very good. It's easy to read e-mails on the wide screen, the fonts are well drawn, and the program comes with viewers to handle Microsoft Word and Excel files. All functions are acessible by doing the "click" with the thumb wheel, and selecting the action. Forward, Reply, Delete, Save are there. The client synchronises fully with the web e-mail client, and e-mails read or delete on the hadnheld are later marked as read or delete on the web e-mail client and vice-versa. This action is not propagated to external POP servers, which are out of the control of the Blackberry software.
The Blackberry 7230 can be connected to a PC via a USB port. Through this connection it is possible to synchronise Contacts, Calendar and Tasks. It’s also through this port that new programs can be installed on the Blackberry. The Blackberry comes with 16MB RAM, but in my case only 5MB were free. Not a big problem, since most of the programs are small Java applications. You can find applications for your RIM Blackberry in our Geekzone Software Store.
Unfortunately the Blackberry Internet E-mail service will not allow use of other Internet services. I tried 45239 WebViewer, a web browser for Blackberry devices, but it didn’t work. It seems that only the Blackberry Enterprise Solution is capable of routing requests, pretty much like a proxy. It means that users can’t use Instant Messaging solutions or any other program that requires Internet access when connected through the Internet E-mail version of this service.
The Blackberry 7230 comes with an infrared port. This port seems to be disabled though and can’t be used to transfer information. The Blackberry 7230 (at least the one from Vodafone) can’t be used as a mobile modem to connect other devices to GPRS. It makes sense, since the idea is that users will not be carrying other devices. A Bluetooth enabled version seems to be underway, and should be available earlier next year.
Since the introduction of Blackberry services Canadian company RIM (Research In Motion) sold more than 1 million devices around the world, with support from multiple mobile operators. It also had its platform and services incorporated to solutions from other PDA manufacturers. The concept is so successful that it was actually replicated by other developers, now being available for Windows Mobile Pocket PC and Smartphones (see our article Windows Mobile and e-mail: keeping all up-to-date), and Palm OS handhelds.