I have not been one to jump on the BlackBerry bandwagon, until now.

Obviously, BlackBerry handhelds have been a huge success and don’t need my blessing. However, I haven’t been interested previously because of a couple of factors.

First, they were originally targeted at the strictly business user.  As a single-purpose data device, the way they all used to be, they were for corporate email and messaging only and you still needed to carry a phone. I used to ask lots of people about their BlackBerry when they first came out.

I learned that most users were provided their BlackBerry by an employer and never set them up themselves, though there was the occasional geek who had one and did it himself (no, I never encountered a female who did it herself).  I was not interested in a product so seemingly user-unfriendly as far as set-up was concerned.  It seemed like too much trouble and work, and not something with mass audience appeal.

More recently, RIM (Research In Motion, the company behind the device) introduced BlackBerry models that also included phone and other data services – Internet browsing.  I started to get interested, but it was my observation that the devices were still aimed at the business user, the one who was provided the device and did not personally set it up.


Now, with this new 8700g with service from T-Mobile, which I have been using, I can see it’s all there for the almost average user who wants the functionality of this kind of device. It’s for the consumer who wants to stay connected using a lightweight all-in-one device with excellent performance for e-mail, phone and Web browsing.  It adds IM functionality with AOL, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo!, so users can keep in touch with buddies, easily and with a familiar interface.  Yahoo! integration is enhanced so it even receives Yahoo! mail in real time.   (THIS excellent Website will get your BlackBerry juices flowing, providing product tours and also help with all the shortcuts.)

I found the data experience was acceptable, seeming faster than with other handhelds I’ve tried.  That’s because T-Mobile uses a higher speed and performance network than some of the other players and the Intel XScale processor inside adds to the speediness. The device has a bright, high resolution 320 x 240 screen with an automatic light sensor that dims and brightens according to your surroundings and supports more than 65,000 colors.

I like the speakerphone capability (works just fine), full QWERTY keyboard with integrated number pad, dedicated “send” and “end” buttons, “mute” key. I also like the smart dialing, convenience of conference calling, speed dial and call forwarding features. For world travelers, this is a Quad-band phone with world phone capabilities on T-Mobile’s GSM/GPRS as well as the high-speed EDGE networks.

For those who want to take full advantage or this kind of flexibility and functionality, you’re just going to have to take the time to learn and get used to the shortcuts of the BlackBerry way of doing things.

As one who is new to BlackBerry devices, I have had to learn all about how to get it to do what I want. It’s not exactly as easy and intuitive as a Macintosh computer or even my T-Mobile Sidekick II.  I have to learn the shortcuts and special BlackBerry ways to do just about everything. This device is also far more capable than other phone/messaging/Internet-capable handhelds.  RIM has done their homework!

I can see, however, that this BlackBerry can grow on you.  I mean, the user, with practice and some dedication, can become adept with many if not most of the features and capabilities. I’m thrilled that it also supports the Mac with PocketMac software, free and downloadable on my Mac for this device. With PocketMac for BlackBerry, from Information Appliance Associates, users can synchronize data between the BlackBerry device and the Microsoft Entourage (e-mail program in Microsoft Office for the Mac), Address Book, iCal, Now Contact, Now Up-To-Date and Stickies software on their Macintosh.

Software is on the included CD for Windows computers.

Any device more feature rich than a plain old phone is going to have to be set up and will take time to learn.  That’s just the way it is, and I’m learning.  I’ve even set it up to get my own MrGadget.com POP3 email in addition to the supplied email address that comes with the data account.

BlackBerry devices can integrate with up to 10 existing e-mail accounts, and each one can be configured separately and assigned a its own “sent from” address, auto signature, filters and “friendly” name (i.e., Steve).  There is NO quota management needed, either.  With 30-day auto-aging, the mailbox will never get full.  Remember, for Web-based e-mail, such as Yahoo! and AOL, this is not an issue.   Currently, BlackBerry Internet e-mail accounts cannot be set up to retrieve email from Microsoft MSN and Hotmail accounts, but you can get them through the Web interface.

The phone works just fine and I like the built-in Bluetooth connectivity, though users supply their own Bluetooth headset.  Battery life seems to be excellent, with a rated four hours of talk time and as much as 16 days of standby time.  During my use, I’ve not been able to kill the battery in a heavy day’s use of both talk and data use.

Applications are available on the main screen by scrolling to them, then clicking, all with the side-mounted scroll/click wheel. I particularly like the app called Pocket Express. Clicking there brings up an organized screen with delivered news, weather, sports, stocks, directories, movies, maps and more.  Very convenient.

This is a fun device to have, indeed, though I’ve only touched the surface here regarding capabilities. As I read through the materials with the handheld and the evaluator’s guide that is provided dummies like me who try out things like this, I found wonder and amazement at every turn of the page. Yes, basically, just about anything you could want, and more, it can do.  With this BlackBerry device users can even view attachment formats including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, PDF, ASCII, JPEG, GIF, BMP, TIFF and PNG.

For the corporate user, there will still likely be someone to set up this device for the user. It is so much more than just a phone and email device.

This device can synchronize with your life if you let it.

For the average guy or gal like you and I, or for your dad or grad, it’s worth a look-see and may be just the toy, er, tool that this user would love to have.

And that brings me to the cost.  With a two-year service agreement, this cool BlackBerry 8700g for T-Mobile will cost $299 after rebates. A one-year agreement with the 8700g is $350.  Voice and data plans with unlimited data services start at $60 per month if I read the chart correctly.  Not bad at all for what you get.  You will have to search the link above for plans available in your area of service.

So, now I’ve become a BlackBerry user, pleased to recommend the 8700g from T-Mobile for you or for your dad or grad.

More information is at www.t-mobile.com/blackberry or call 1.800.T.MOBILE.

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