For those not familiar with BlackBerry (and we're not talking about the bramble fruit made up by numerous drupelets), it is a wireless solution developed by Canadian-based company Research In Motion (RIM) about five years ago which combines phone, e-mail, web and synchronised organiser tools onto a single device.
RIM produces a range of BlackBerry handhelds and also licences the technology to other phone manufacturers such as HTC, Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Siemens, as well as OS groups Pocket PC, Symbian and Palm.
While there are many devices that can send and receive e-mail, we haven't seen any as efficient as a BlackBerry. What makes Blackberry stand out from the crowd is the ability to automatically "push" e-mail from up to 10 e-mail accounts (eg. Hotmail, Yahoo!, ISP e-mail) to the wireless handset. The devices allow you to open attached documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF documents, sans formatting), reply to messages, compose new e-mails, as well use them as regular mobile phones for calls and SMS.
We're currently taking a look at RIM's BlackBerry 7230 from Vodafone, which -- unlike many BlackBerry devices -- is actually black. Vodafone started offering BlackBerry Enterprise Solution to its corporate customers back in June but last week released an Internet Email version that allows individuals to use the service. In the interest of full disclosure, I received a BlackBerry at the product launch last week, which is allowing me to write this column.
In the case of the consumer version we are testing, we set up three e-mail accounts (one Yahoo account and two ISP accounts) through the browser on the handheld. The BlackBerry service automatically polls the accounts about every 15 minutes and forwards any e-mails to the device. It's rather handy to have as it integrates three personal accounts on the one device and simple to use to compose messages while travelling to/from work. On the other hand it is constantly alerting me to spam and other non-urgent messages that I really couldn't be bothered with half of the time.
Generally, the RIM handhelds sport full QWERTY keyboards, however Vodafone will release the BlackBerry 7100v next month, a smaller handheld with a trimmed down keypad for users who prefer a device a that looks more like a phone than a PDA (see image).
A unique aspect of the 7100 series is the implementation of a squashed QWERTY keyboard ('Q' and 'W' share a key, 'E' and 'R' share another) integrated with a numerical keypad. A feature called SureType acts in a similar fashion to T9 to guess the word a user types.
According to Gartner, 80 percent of workers will use wireless email by 2008 but we're unsure if this technology will fly with consumers at the current pricing structure. With Vodafone, you pay for the device, a BlackBerry plan, call costs and data charges. The 7230 costs AU$800 outright, a Blackberry plan will set you back AU$30 per month for 500 e-mails (at 2KB each) or AU$50 for unlimited e-mails -- on top of phone calls and GPRS data usage.
Optus and Telstra also offer BlackBerry solutions to its customers and RIM's BlackBerry Connect licensing program has opened up Blackberry services to other handsets, including the Nokia 6820 and the upcoming Siemen's SK65, Motorola's MPx and MPx220, and Nokia's 9500 Communicator.
What do you think? Would you like to be receiving e-mail wherever you go? How does the BlackBerry pricing sit with you? Talk back to me below!
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