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RIM BlackBerry 950 Internet Edition

on February 26, 2001 12:00 am

Product Requirements:

Desktop:
Windows ME, 98, 95 or 2000

Totally wireless e-mail is the holy grail of the mobile professional. The ability to send
and receive messages without needing a phone, modem or desktop computer is just plain
awesome. It is something I’ve been looking for awhile now. But, living in the less than
bustling metropolis of Columbus, Indiana, I’ve not had a cornucopia of choices available to
me. I tried the Palm VII, and the PocketMail
BackFlip
. Both of which are viable solutions,
but just didn’t ‘do it’ for me.

When I found out that the service coverage area for the RIM
BlackBerry
devices included my town, I jumped at the chance to review one.

Research in Motion (RIM) makes two BlackBerry
models. The 957 and the 950. This review
covers the 950 Internet Edition. There is also an Exchange Edition. Both devices are
identical. Only the software is different. The Exchange Edition is designed
specifically for corporate environments using Microsoft� Exchange. The Internet
Edition is designed to provide wireless access to Internet mailboxes. This
edition is offered by select service providers such as BlackBerry.net,
GoAmerica, Earthlink,
and others. 

What sets this device apart from other wireless solutions such as the Omnisky
and Palm VII is that
it is always on and always connected. You don’t need to retrieve your email. Your email finds you.
There is no dialing in and no initiating connections. There are also no antennas to raise. The
BlackBerry is designed to remain on and continuously connected to the wireless network, allowing you to be discreetly notified as new email arrives.
You can move in and out of coverage areas without the fear of losing messages.
As soon as you enter a coverage area, the BlackBerry will start pulling or
sending mail automatically. 

The 950 BlackBerry is a small pager sized device whose main purpose is to send and receive e-mail wirelessly.
This device also has some PIM (Personal Information Manager)  features that
I’ll address later in the review.

First let’s check out the hardware specs:

4 MB flash memory plus 512 Kbytes SRAM
Microprocessor 32-bit Intel386 processor
Embedded RIM wireless modem
Optimized keyboard
Thumb-operated track wheel
User-selectable 6 or 8 line display (with backlight)
Size: 2.5 x 3.5 x 0.93in (63.5 x 88.9 x 23.62mm) (LxWxD)
Weight:
4.72oz. (134g) without plastic holster,
5.68oz. (161g) with plastic holster
Powered by
One AA alkaline
Network used: 900MHz Mobitex networks
Transmitting Freq: 896 to 902 MHz, 12.5 kHz Channels
Receiving Freq: 935 to 941 MHz, 12.5 kHz Channels

The first time you see a BlackBerry device, you are surprised by its tiny
keyboard. The oval keys are arranged in the typical QWERTY layout.  
The keys themselves are made of hard plastic and click when you press them which
gives you nice tactile feedback. A small orange SHIFT key in the lower left
corner of the device allows you to also type most standard punctuation and
numbers characters. Other characters such as {}[]<>&# and others are
accessed via a special onscreen menu.

Typing is accomplished by using your thumbs, and is surprisingly easy and
quick. The only problems that I had were with the outer most keys (which
includes the letter A, SHIFT, and RETURN). Accessing them seemed more awkward to
me than the others. 

There are a couple nice little features that I should mention about the
keyboard. If you hold a key down for more than a couple seconds, that letter
will automatically be capitalized. You can also hold down the spacebar to insert
a period and two spaces.

Because there is no touch screen on the BlackBerry, navigation is done via a
small trackwheel. The wheel is made of hard plastic with a serrated edge that
allows you to spin it with the pad of your thumb without slipping. The wheel can
continuously spin and has no stopping point. It is used to scroll thru menu
items, and when pressed in, it is used to select items.

The display on the BlackBerry is crisp and clear. It reminds me a lot of
PSION displays. The background is greenish while the characters are black. You
can comfortably view the display in most lighting conditions. There is also a
backlight that can be activated if desired. Because the screen is so easy to
read, I rarely used the backlight. 

You also can set the display for 6 lines or 8 lines. Since the display is
small, I preferred the 8 line mode. Reading emails on the small screen isn’t as
enjoyable as larger screened devices. You have to do a lot of scrolling with the
trackwheel. But the sheer convenience of the device totally makes up for it.

The BlackBerry user interface is very simple. The current time and date are displayed along with the battery level and signal strength indicators. Along the bottom of the screen are the feature icons. Using the trackwheel, you can cycle thru the icons to choose the one you want. 

I’ll give a brief overview of each feature with the main emphasis on the
Messages application.

The Messages application allows you to compose, reply and forward e-mail. This is the feature
which you’ll more than likely spend the most time in. Messages are displayed in a list that is
separated by date. Messages with a little envelope icon beside them indicate a message that was received on the BlackBerry. Messages with a little checkmark icon indicate messages that were sent from the BlackBerry.

From this screen, you can read, delete, compose and search thru the messages. Messages can also me
copied to the saved folder. Copying messages that you don’t want to delete just helps unclutter the regular mail list.

There aren’t too many gee-whiz features to talk about as far as composing and/or replying to messages. Basically, you have the ability to CC: and BCC: (carbon copy and blind carbon copy) to other addresses. And, although there isn’t a spell checking tool, you can use the AutoText feature which gives you the ability to keep a list of commonly misspelled words. Whenever you type in the common misspelling, the BlackBerry will automatically correct it. This is a pretty nice feature if you’re like me and are a major typo
creator.

Since the BlackBerry is always on, you can easily compose a message, press
SEND and then just pop the unit back on to your belt. You don’t have to wait for
the email to transfer, it will just do it in the background. The same goes with
receiving new email. You never go out and press a RECEIVE button… you can’t,
there isn’t one. 

I did some sending/receiving timing tests using the following message:

Testing 123, testing 123. This is a test of the emergency broadcasting
system. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, you’d
all be dead… We now return to your regularly scheduled program which
is already in progress.

Sent this message from an e-mail acct to the BlackBerry. Took 15 seconds for it to show up on the
BlackBerry.
Sent the same message from the BlackBerry to another e-mail acct. Took 3 minutes for it to show up in the e-mail acct.

From my tests, I found that the speed in sending messages back and forth were
more than satisfactory. Also, a great feature that can be implemented will send
copies of e-mails sent from BlackBerry to another e-mail account of your choice
(this is setup thru the BlackBerry.net website). 

All in all, the Message application is adequate for most people’s needs. My biggest gripe
though is with the reply feature. Although you can reply with the text from the original message, the original text is tacked on to the bottom of the reply. You can not add your new text in between lines of the old text. 

You also can not view file attachments. Any attachments are left on the
BlackBerry server so that you can retrieve them later using a desktop computer.
But, if you forward a message that has an attachment, the person you are
forwarding to will receive the attachment. 

The next feature is the Composer. This is the same feature as the Compose feature inside the Messages app. It’s just another way of initiating it. When you select this feature, it brings up the Address application where you pick the person that you to email. I find it slightly annoying that you can’t just type in an address. You actually have to add a new address to the Address Book app in order to send an email to someone. 

The Saved Messages app is just a holding area for messages that you don’t want to delete. Unfortunately, you can’t categorize or arrange the messages in folders. They are just dumped into one big list.

The Search Messages feature allows you to search for specific messages based on different criteria. You can search for a specific name that the email was either addressed to, or received from. You can search for specific text in the subject line, or text in the message body. All messages that fit the search criteria will then be displayed in a list.

The Address Book app is very simple. It lists your contacts by name or e-mail address (depending on what fields you have entered for the particular person). The address listing can be sorted by First Name, Last Name, or Company. For each contact, you can enter the following fields: First Name, Last Name, Email, PIN, Title, Company, Work #, Home #, Mobile #, Pager #, Fax #, Address, City, State, Zip, Country, and Notes. 

It would be really nice if you could display the phone number in the list view or have the ability to search for a contact. This app is pretty anemic and I wouldn’t want to use it as my main Address Book.

The Calendar app is more robust in comparison to the Address Book. You can view your appointments in several ways. Either by the day, by the week, by month or in an agenda view. New appointments can be added in any view and can even be set to reoccur either by a set number of days, by the week, month or year. Unfortunately, there aren’t any search tools in this app.

The Alarm app allows you to set a daily reminder. You can set the time, toggle the alarm on/off, pick from 1 of 6 alarm tunes, and set the volume level. 

The Calculator app is very simple and has the bare basics. It does include square root and percentage features. Using the calculator is pretty tedious since you have to enter the numbers using the keyboard and trackwheel. But it is adequate in a pinch.

The Memopad app allows you to get small notes. You can’t arrange them in categories or folders. They are just displayed alphabetically in a list. There are also no searching features.

The Tasks app lets you keep track of things that you need to do. You can set due dates and priority levels. You can’t however set alarms to remind you when a task is due.

The Options app gives you the ability to edit the BlackBerry’s preferences. Some of the options that you can set are the Auto on/off times. With this option, you can specify when the BlackBerry device is powered on. This will help save your batteries if for example, you never use the device during the weekend. You can easily set it to be powered off during
Saturday and Sunday but to come back on Monday thru Friday.

You can also set the notify option. This is the option that tells the unit what to do when an incoming message arrives. You can set it to beep, vibrate or both. You can even set it to
use different notification methods depending on whether it is in the holster or out of the holster.

The holster is a hard plastic shell with a pinch style belt clip. The
BlackBerry slides in and out easily while still being held securely. 

The BlackBerry also comes with a cradle that allows you to sync your data to
a desktop PC. The cradle requires a serial connection.


With it, you can synchronize the BlackBerry data to various PIMs such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus
Organizer and Notes, Symantec ACT!, and GroupWise with the
included Intellisync software. You can also install 3rd party add-on
applications. 

Throughout the review period, I didn’t have any problems with the 950. It worked
flawlessly and ran an amazing length of time (about 2 weeks) on one AA
battery. 

Although I like this little gadget a lot, I am not as enamored with it as I
was at the beginning of the review period. The weak PIM functions really turned
me off. I didn’t like carrying the 950 with me as well as another PDA. I want
one small solution that does it all. Understand that this is coming from a power PDA user. Someone that
doesn’t need a complex Calendar or Address book application will probably find
no fault with the 950. But I just can’t help but wish the guts of the 950 could
be transplanted into my Compaq iPAQ. Ah well, a girl can dream can’t she? :-)

One other consideration for potential buyers is the monthly service fee.
Depending on the provider, you’ll pay anywhere from $9.95 – $59.95 per month for
the wireless service. 

Price: $399 (plus additional monthly service fees)

Pros:
Easy to use
Always on
No need to initiate a connection

Cons:
Service not available everywhere
Monthly service fee
Weak PIM features

 

Product Information

Price:399.0
Manufacturer:Research In Motion (RIM)
Pros:
  • Easy to use
  • Always on
  • No need to initiate a connection
Cons:
  • Service not available everywhere
  • Monthly service fee
  • Weak PIM features

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