A lot of people have been waiting for this, and the day has finally arrived. Today, AT&T and Research In Motion officially released the RIM BlackBerry 8820, the first BlackBerry to offer integrated Wi-Fi. The 8820 supports 802.11a/b/g standards and is compliant with Wi-Fi security protocols, giving users another avenue to connect to the Web--a good thing since the device shows no love for 3G just yet. It also continues to offer Bluetooth and GPS support like its older sibling, the RIM BlackBerry 8800, as well as push e-mail and multimedia. It's a device built with the business user in mind and definitely won't have the mass appeal of a BlackBerry Pearl or BlackBerry Curve. There's not even a camera option. That said, for the intended audience the 8820 will certainly deliver the goods and performance. The RIM BlackBerry 8820 will be available starting on September 20 for $299.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates.
The RIM BlackBerry 8820 shares a very similar, if not identical, look and feel to the BlackBerry 8800. It sports a classic but sleek all-black casing and measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 4.7 ounces. It's not the quite the compact package of a BlackBerry Curve and as we noted in the 8800 review, the handset is pretty wide, making it slightly uncomfortable to hold when held up to the ear during phone calls. Still, it's slim enough to slip into a pants pocket or bag.
The BlackBerry 8820 sports a 2.5-inch screen that displays 65,000 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution. Text and images are clear and vibrant, and the screen also features light-sensing technology that automatically adjusts the backlighting of the screen, as well as the keyboard and trackball, depending on whether you're indoors or outdoors. We found that this function works well, and we had no problems reading the display under harsh lighting. As with most BlackBerrys, you can adjust the menu style, background image, and theme of the home screen.
The navigation array and full QWERTY keyboard remain unchanged from the BlackBerry 8800. Just below the display you have Talk and End keys, Menu and Escape buttons, and a trackball navigator. These controls are easy to use, but the keyboard may give some users pause. There isn't much space between the keys and though the buttons are pretty large and have a raised ridge to make them more tactile, we found the lacquered finish made the buttons slippery.
There are volume up and down keys on the right spine, while on the left side, you will find a 2.5-millimeter headset jack, a mini USB port, and a convenience key which, by default, launches AT&T's push-to-talk (PTT) services. There is a microSD expansion slot, but unfortunately, it's located behind the battery, so you'll have to take off the back cover every time you want to access it. Finally, the power and mute buttons are on the top of the unit.
Considering it to be a business-centric device, RIM decided not to include a camera on the BlackBerry 8820. This will be a joy to those who work in corporate environments that ban the use of camera phones. And while we certainly appreciate this precaution and understand it's a growing trend among businesses (for security reasons), we still would have liked the option of having a model with a camera. Without one, we think it'll be a disappointment to many potential buyers, especially since this is the first BlackBerry to offer Wi-Fi.
The RIM BlackBerry 8820 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a leather belt holster, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
Obviously, the biggest news here is the integrated Wi-Fi, as the RIM BlackBerry 8820 is the first BlackBerry to offer this option. It supports 802.11a/b/g, whether you're using your home or corporate network or hopping onto a Wi-Fi hot spot. There are enterprise security features, including WEP, WPA, and VPN settings. Our review unit was able to detect our test access point immediately, and we had no problem connecting to it or the Web.
Other wireless options include Bluetooth 2.0 with support for wireless headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking, and A2DP for stereo Bluetooth headsets. Disappointingly, the BlackBerry 8820 doesn't work on AT&T's 3G network, so you'll have to settle for EDGE speeds. For easy access, there's a Manage Connections menu option where you can turn on and off all the various radios.
On a brighter note, we're happy to see that the smart phone continues to offer integrated GPS like the BlackBerry 8800 does. With the built-in radio, you can use a location-based service, such as AT&T's TeleNav GPS Navigator, and you can get color maps and text- and voice-guided driving directions, and points of interest right on the device. Just be aware that if you choose TeleNav GPS Navigator, this is an add-on service from AT&T that will cost $9.99 per month for unlimited trips or $5.99 for up to 10 trips; check out our full review of TeleNav for more information.
As far as other voice features, the RIM BlackBerry 8820 offers a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and world roaming. The phone book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts), offering room in each entry for eight phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home address, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well to a group category, business or personal. Another AT&T-specific offering is push-to-talk capabilities. Plans start at $9.99 per month, and with it, you can instantly see the availability of your contacts before calling them and make individual or group PTT calls.
Of course, we cannot forget what makes BlackBerrys famous in the first place: e-mail. The RIM BlackBerry 8820 offers the famed push technology and can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. All in all, the device can support up to 10 accounts, including POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts, and there is an e-mail wizard on the device to guide you through the setup process. An attachment viewer is also onboard to open popular file formats, such as those from Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Corel WordPerfect, as well as PDFs, JPEGs, GIFs, and more. Other messaging options include text, multimedia, and instant messaging, although the IMs are once again limited to the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger client. The BlackBerry 8820 includes a number of PIM tools for the business users, including a calendar, a tasks list, a memo pad, an alarm, and a calculator.
For fun, the BlackBerry 8820 has a media player that works with MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video formats. The music player is pretty basic. Aside from standard stop and play functions, you can create playlists as "folders" and shuffle and repeat songs within a certain folder. It also displays some track information, such as title, artist, and album art if available. You can continue to play music as you use the device's other programs, and if you happen to get an incoming call, the BlackBerry 8820 will pause the music and pick up where you left off after you hang up. The BlackBerry 8820 also works with AT&T Mobile Music, so you can listen to your songs and watch music videos, shop for music, listen to XM satellite radio, identify songs, and more. The XM access and Music ID services require a monthly subscription of $8.99 and $3.99, respectively.
For videos, the player has play and stop buttons, and you can fast-forward and rewind clips by clicking the trackball and scrolling right or left. There's also an image viewer, so you can check out your favorite photos. Just remember there's no camera on the 8820, so you'll have so you'll have to get your images onto your device another way: via USB, multimedia message, etc. There's about 64MB of flash memory available, but we suggest using a microSD card to store large media files.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) RIM BlackBerry 8820 in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was generally good. We noticed a slight background hiss on our end, but it didn't prevent us from carrying on a conversation, as voices still sounded loud and clear. We were also able to interact with our bank's automated voice response system. Meanwhile, our friends said we sounded slightly tinny, but it was nothing so distracting that they couldn't continue with the call. Activating the speakerphone actually yielded mixed results. Our callers said we sounded better and even more clear, but we found the volume to be a bit weak and had to adjust the audio to the highest setting. On the upside, we had no problems pairing the BlackBerry 8820 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
General performance was decent. We didn't experience any long delays when working with the device. Music playback sounded OK through the phone's speakers, but again, volume was slightly weak, and pumping up the volume would just blow out the sound. Video performance was quite good and offered clear image quality, although there was some pixelation during action sequences, as is to be expected. As we noted earlier, we had no problems connecting to our Wi-Fi access point, and we enjoyed speedy Web browsing. We were also able to surf the Net via AT&T's EDGE network, but the slower data speeds tested our patience.
The RIM BlackBerry 8820 is rated for 5 hours of talk time and up to 22 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 7 hours of talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the 8820 has a digital SAR rating of 1.16 watts per kilogram.