Research In Motion’s BlackBerry is a PDA with a built-in GPRS modem, so there’s no dialling in — e-mail is delivered to your handset automatically and sent when you press send.
As well as being a handheld e-mail terminal, the BlackBerry is a conventional mobile phone, so you can make voice calls and send and receive text messages on it. And it has all the PDA applications you’d expect — diary, contacts database, to-do list, memo pad, alarm clock, calculator and game (BrickBreaker, a version of the classic Breakout).
These applications are written in Java, an independent language developed to run on any machine, but they are effectively proprietary. When using the desktop synchronising software they prove no less compatible with Windows XP than Pocket PC applications.
Introduced to Australia by Telstra, Blackberry is still only available as a corporate business tool — the cost of server software required is simply out of the consumer league. Telstra does say it is planning to offer a Small to Medium Enterprise version of the package by year end.
Unlike most PDAs, BlackBerry does not have a touchscreen and stylus, which is a big plus in our opinion. You navigate using a thumbwheel at the side, which you also press to select. Situated below is an escape button. The tiny Qwerty keyboard is surprisingly usable despite its small size. It’s good enough for composing short e-mails and a breeze for text messages.
After one charge the battery lasted for a week of a few brief phone calls, several dozen text messages, well over 50 e-mails, and a high score of 4585 on BrickBreaker.
To get your company e-mails forwarded incorporates a layer of complexity that only an IT professional would tackle. We have a few other minor quibbles, too: the Cancel button is easily pressed by mistake just picking up the device, and clicking the thumbwheel without rolling it requires a precise but gentle touch — not something you’re thinking about if you’re in a hurry.
And the alarm doesn’t work when the device is off, unlike many mobile phones. So if you’re using BlackBerry as a travelling alarm clock, you have to leave it on overnight and hope your sleep isn’t disturbed by your stalker, spouse or bozo colleague who doesn’t appreciate the time difference in New York.
But these really are minor issues. To use the BlackBerry is to love it.
BlackBerry is the closest we’ve seen to a universal handheld communicator: e-mail, SMS, mobile phone and PDA all in one pocket-sized package, with a decent colour screen and no stylus to lose. If there was a foolproof, easy way of integrating private and company e-mail accounts it would be truly magical.
RIM BlackBerry 7230
E-mail, phone, text and PDA in one pocketable package. Offers Tri-band support for international roaming (on 900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS networks).
Price: Free on an over 24-month contract, with $95 a month minimum spend. This includes unlimited e-mail, calendar, contacts and tasks. Mobile phone calls and WAP usage is additional.
Phone: 1800 726 008