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RIM BlackBerry 6710 (AT&T) review: RIM BlackBerry 6710 (AT&T)

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The Good Thumb keyboard; excellent battery life; several included accessories; Outlook- and Notes-compatible software.

The Bad Monochrome, low-resolution screen; awkward navigation; sluggish performance; no memory-expansion slots; no USB (only serial) connectivity.

The Bottom Line The 6710 ably handles e-mail, PIM, and basic online tasks, but it has a low-res, monochrome screen and awkward navigation.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 6.0

Review Sections

intro

Research In Motion's BlackBerry has long been the gold standard for corporate wireless e-mail devices, but its transition to smart phone hasn't been entirely smooth. The latest stage of its evolution brings us the 6710, a GSM world phone featuring strong battery life, solid organizer functions, and basic online capabilities. In exchange for that long-lasting battery, most users will forgive the monochrome screen, but they'll have a harder time overlooking the 6710's interface, which makes navigating the phone options a bit awkward. Still, many corporate customers might live with that flaw (or challenge) to get two devices in one.

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The RIM 6710 is pretty much the same size as earlier BlackBerrys.

At first glance, the BlackBerry 6710 is a dead ringer for the venerable 957 connected organizer that RIM has been selling for years. But the manufacturer gave the 6710 a full GSM/GPRS phone, slimmed it down to 4.7 by 3.0 by 0.7 inches, and decreased the weight to 4.8 ounces. The device is smaller and much lighter than either the Siemens SX56 or the Samsung SPH-I300 smart phones, both of which provide the luxury of a bright color screen. Even with its AC adapter, the 6710 weighs less than 9 ounces; a typical notebook's power adapter is heavier.

The 2.9-inch monochrome display offers only crude graphics, and the black-on-gray presentation can't compare with a color model's bold characters and white background. But the icons and text are generally readable, even the tiny 8-point type that fits a dense 20 lines on the 160x160-pixel screen. Other wireless organizers far exceed that resolution; the newest ones double it. The backlighting, which you also get with the keyboard, helps in the dark.
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It is slightly lighter and a tad more slender, though.
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You can sync via the bottom port and a desktop cradle, but wireless is often the way to go.
In keeping with the 6710's roots, the 36-key, minimalist QWERTY keyboard is oriented more toward keying than calling. While most will effortlessly tap out text with few errors, the numeric pad embedded on the left side makes dialing harder than necessary. The 3.9-by-6.6mm oblong keys are a little too close together for comfort, with only 2mm of space between them. We much prefer the Nokia 6800's fold-out design, which has bigger buttons and plenty of room.

Navigation is both fulfilling and frustrating. The roller switch on the side is an excellent way to get around and choose items, but if you change your mind about a selection, you have to back out screen by tedious screen.

Hitting the dedicated Call button at any time opens the phone interface. Once connected, you can talk via the included in-ear headset or directly into the unit. We liked the latter option better, though it was never loud enough for our taste. While you can autodial any number in an e-mail and type notes while you chat, no other telephone services are available. Despite its Lilliputian dimensions, the 6710 is big on features. Thanks to the efficiency of the operating system and applications, the 16MB of flash memory and 2MB of RAM go a long way; the 6710 does about as well as wireless PDAs that quadruple those numbers. Unfortunately, when you've filled the space, that's it--the unit has no slots for external memory modules.

RIM's software is the key to the BlackBerry's success, and those currently using the 900 series can easily move to the 6710. You get dedicated applications for contacts, the calendar, tasks, and notes, as well as an alarm clock and a calculator. On the downside, the 6710 lacks many of the creature comforts we've come to expect from wireless PDAs, such as an MP3 player and a suite of productivity programs. Like earlier RIM efforts, this model offers add-on programs and services such as DynoPlex's eOffice word processor, spreadsheet, and project organizer.

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RIM has patents on this keyboard, but it could stand some improvement.
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Phone mode is one button punch away.
The 6710 can synchronize with a PC and a variety of other data sources; RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise software enables syncing with a corporate network. Unfortunately, the 6710 is one of the last organizers still using the slow and balky serial port, which pales in comparison with USB. The device links up with recent Windows computers--but not Macs--and can tap into an Outlook or Notes corporate database.

To nobody's surprise, messaging is front and center. The 6710's e-mail, SMS, and instant-messaging features make this unit the corporate handcuff of those for whom success hinges on continuous e-mail access. The system comes with an assortment of useful accessories, including a travel charger with international plugs, a screen cloth, and a belt holster, for which RIM's competitors charge upward of $100. However, the obligatory vinyl protective case is missing.

The icing on the BlackBerry cake is AT&T Wireless's mMode online services, which lets you open any WAP site and offers a good selection of destinations, including news, sports, weather, traffic, and even a surf report for beachgoers. Our only gripe with the service is that every time you choose an item, you need to click twice: once to select it and again to activate the Get Link function. The 6710 also gives you Match Mobile, which analyzes your profile and finds what could be your future significant other--odd for a device as corporate as a dark suit and tasteless tie. Your first month of Match Mobile is free, then it costs $5 a month.
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Recharging the 6710 doesn't take long, and the unit comes with adapters to accommodate various international wall outlets.

In our two-week workout of the 6710, it was a good travel companion almost everywhere we went. With a dual-band 900MHz and 1,900MHz radio, the device works in the United States, Europe, and the parts of Asia that have GSM networks. For the most part, calls delivered by AT&T Wireless's upgraded GPRS network were loud and clear, but some were muffled, and there was an occasional burst of static. We were left waiting for data access a few times, once for an entire day.

Using a Toshiba Satellite Pro 6100 host notebook, we synchronized an Outlook database containing 760 contacts, two months of appointments, and a few tasks in 1 minute, 27 seconds. The Toshiba e740 and Sharp Zaurus SL-5600 are much faster. We backed up the system in 59.4 seconds and restored it in 4 minutes, 30 seconds; again, the 6710 was a slowpoke. Presumably the antiquated serial-port connection caused the lag.

While the display isn't as sharp as the latest color screens, it's fine for reading e-mail and news capsules on the go. The best part of the 6710's performance is the extended battery life. Talk time is 6 hours, 30 minutes; you get about 9 days in standby mode for awaiting calls and checking appointments.

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