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  1.    #1  
    New BlackBerry Combo Takes on Treo - WSJ - by Walter S Mossberg

    Phone-Like Device Solves
    Problems of Earlier Models;
    Nokia Enters the Fray
    September 8, 2004; Page D1

    In a quest to invent the perfect combination of a cellphone, pocket e-mail device and organizer, most companies have failed. Either their products were so big and bulky they didn't look or work like phones, or they were so small and phone-like they had no room for the keyboards needed to create lots of e-mail messages. Or, the hardware was creative, but they had lousy e-mail or phone software.

    Only the palmOne Treo 600 has succeeded so far. It looks and feels like a phone, and yet it has a full keyboard and excellent e-mail and phone software. By contrast, Research In Motion, makers of the BlackBerry e-mail device popular in corporate circles, has failed to meld the phone with e-mail very well. Its BlackBerry models with built-in phones have been bulky, with a clumsy interface for phone calls.

    But the Treo 600 finally has a worthy competitor, and, surprisingly, it's a BlackBerry -- a radically different BlackBerry that looks like a phone, not like the squat models that have so far borne the BlackBerry name. Not only that, but this BlackBerry is inexpensive for a smart phone and is aimed as much at consumers and small businesses as it is at corporations.

    The new gadget is called the BlackBerry 7100t, and it will be available starting early next month from T-Mobile USA. It looks and works like a phone, but includes standard BlackBerry e-mail and a very cleverly designed keyboard. It's smaller and lighter than the Treo 600, and costs just $199. Service plans start at $59.99 a month, including 1,000 anytime minutes of voice calling and unlimited e-mail, Web browsing, instant messages and text messages. The 7100t works on the GSM and GPRS standards and can be used in both the U.S. and Europe.


    A Ringer? T-Mobile's new BlackBerry 7100t will list for $199.99. More on the new Blackberry0


    The new BlackBerry is only the first in a new wave of smart phones with real e-mail keyboards. PalmOne is likely to introduce a new, improved Treo this fall with a better screen, a removable battery and Bluetooth wireless technology. And Nokia today will announce a new, slender e-mail phone with a full keyboard, expected to go on sale next year. But the latest BlackBerry is a real contender. (See related article1.)

    My assistant Katie Boehret and I have been testing the 7100t and comparing it with the Treo, which officially sells for around $450 but can be found for $199 or even $150 at discounters like Amazon.com. Our verdict: The new BlackBerry is a good phone, a very good e-mail device, and the first serious competitor to the Treo as a combination of the two.

    I'm not ready to give up my Treo for the new BlackBerry, mostly because I find the BlackBerry's user interface slower and more complicated than the Treo's. Also, the Treo has a better keyboard, is a better organizer, and is much more versatile and expandable. And, with the Treo, you're not locked into T-Mobile. Every major U.S. cellphone carrier sells the Treo.

    But I suspect there'll be many folks who may prefer the BlackBerry 7100t over the Treo, especially if they are already BlackBerry addicts and are familiar with how BlackBerry e-mail works. Or, they may prefer it to the Treo because it just looks and feels even more like a regular cellphone and has a much lower list price.

    The new BlackBerry is a tapered, candy-bar-style silver and blue-gray phone with a large, vivid color screen. It's narrower and thinner than a Treo 600 and is about 22% smaller overall and 27% lighter, weighing just 4.3 ounces. It fits easily in a pocket.

    Battery life is four hours of talk time and eight days of standby time, less than the six hours and 10 days that palmOne claims for a Treo on the same network. The BlackBerry's battery is replaceable, unlike the one on today's Treo, but the new Treo due later this year will also probably have a replaceable battery.

    Like a phone, it has the familiar green and red buttons for starting and ending calls, and like a BlackBerry it has the scroll wheel and escape button on the side for navigating menus and lists of e-mail messages.

    The keyboard is the most interesting feature. To squeeze it into a narrow, phone-like form, RIM put two letters on most keys, instead of the one letter per key on a regular BlackBerry or Treo, or the three letters on a phone keypad.

    But, instead of having to press a key multiple times to get the letter you want, you can just type away normally as if each key had only one letter. That's because the new BlackBerry uses clever technology called SureType, which guesses what you meant to type with uncanny accuracy. Using a 35,000-word dictionary and real-time speed, SureType works vastly better than similar smart-typing systems on regular phones. If you're typing common words, you almost never have to look at the keyboard to correct errors or select from various letter combinations.

    For instance, to type the word "journal" you hit keys that could produce a J or a K, an O or a P, a U or an I, and so forth. At first, before the word is complete, the BlackBerry gets it wrong. But by the end of the word the system has guessed perfectly and entered "journal" -- all without your having to correct anything.

    This is a major feat, and it gave RIM the freedom to use fewer, larger keys than in its standard BlackBerry models or than PalmOne used on the Treo. But the new keyboard has its limitations. If you're typing an unusual word, or a proper name or address, the SureType system is no help at all. So you have to slowly and awkwardly peck it out, correcting as you go. The system memorizes such names after the first time you enter them, but the new keyboard is still slow and clumsy on such things as Web-site addresses.

    Also, the keyboard lacks a Caps Lock key, and typing in some symbols, like a hyphen, involves pressing two keys and using the scroll wheel. Overall, it's not as good as the full keyboard on the original BlackBerry or Treo.

    Dialing phone calls is a snap. From the home screen, you just start typing the number keys, highlighted in white in the center of the keyboard. You can also begin this process by hitting the green phone key while in any other program. As on the Treo, you can dial directly from the address book or from a phone number embedded in an e-mail message.

    The e-mail program looks and works like a typical BlackBerry. You get a free T-Mobile e-mail account, and you can receive your personal e-mail from providers like EarthLink, Comcast, Yahoo or AOL, by consolidating them into the T-Mobile account. You can also get corporate e-mail.

    If you use the T-Mobile address you get with the phone, e-mail is "pushed" to the phone instantly, as with corporate BlackBerry e-mail. If you aggregate other accounts, e-mail delivery is slower. Using a third approach, I forwarded e-mail to the T-Mobile account from an EarthLink account; delivery was instantaneous.

    The BlackBerry 7100t can open e-mail attachments in several formats, including Microsoft Office documents and Adobe PDF files -- but not pictures.

    Just like other BlackBerry models, the new 7100t has a much cruder calendar and address book than the ones found on Palm- or Pocket PC-based devices. It does synchronize calendar and contact data with a PC using a USB cable, and I found this worked well.

    Unlike the current Treo, the BlackBerry 7100t has Bluetooth wireless networking for wirelessly connecting to earphones and laptops. But the forthcoming new Treo is likely to catch up on this front. The BlackBerry screen also sports a higher resolution than the Treo's, but, again, the new Treo should match or exceed the BlackBerry's screen resolution.

    Beyond that, the user interface for the whole device suffers from too much reliance on software commands and on the scroll wheel, the BlackBerry's signature feature. For instance, on a Treo you can instantly open the e-mail application by hitting an e-mail key, even if the unit is asleep. But there's no key for starting up e-mail on the new BlackBerry, not even the keyboard shortcut that exists on some older BlackBerry models.

    And, I find it much easier to use the five-way navigation pad on the Treo to move among e-mail messages than the scroll wheel, long menus and mystifying keyboard shortcuts on the BlackBerry. In addition, most e-mail programs on the Treo offer a two-line display for describing each e-mail, making it much easier to decide whether to open the e-mail than with the BlackBerry's one-line display.

    The BlackBerry also lacks a slot for an expansion memory card, present in the Treo and in many other smart phones. And, while there are thousands of productivity programs and games available for the Treo, there are only a handful for the BlackBerry. Also, the BlackBerry's Web browser is slow, mainly because the T-Mobile data network is slow. My Sprint Treo is about twice as fast.

    But, for many users who just want basic phone and e-mail in a light, inexpensive form, the BlackBerry 7100t may be just the ticket. It brings BlackBerry functionality to the phone-loving masses.
    Attached Images Attached Images
  2. #3  
    Very good analysis. It will be interesting to see who goes for this phone. Treo users probably won't because of all the usability issues cited. Current Blackberry users may be put off by the keyboard they have become so dependent on. The wild card is the $199 price.
    Newton 120 > PalmPilot Pro > Palm III > Visor Deluxe > Visor Prism > Treo 90 > Treo 600 (Sprint) > Treo 700p (Verizon)
    ----------------------------Nokia 5160------------------> Motorola V8160 ^
  3. #4  
    the price is right...

    but we will see if a no touch screen predictive keypad will fly with users.

    My bet is it will have modest success. If I am in a corporation, I may like the cost savings of converging to one device. (instead of separate bb and phone)

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