Handheld email device

11 Dec 2003

Product: RIM BlackBerry 5820
Price: €129 + €30 per month

Email has become a core necessity of our business lives and many users now need to read, respond or react when on the move and away from base. Carrying a portable PC and logging on by GSM phone or a modem is fine for an end-of-day email check but a bit awkward and time-consuming if you need to do it more frequently. The BlackBerry is a PDA-sized device that will solve the problem neatly and efficiently.

Or rather, the BlackBerry and the O2 GPRS service will do so. Available to individuals and small businesses, it offers email access through a hosted service. The O2 system can retrieve email from up to ten different Internet POP3 email accounts (iol.ie or 02.ie, eircom.net, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.). Since GPRS is an ‘always on’ service, the email is actually pushed out to the device in the form of the headers and short messages. Longer messages are downloaded when opened, to speed up the process and save storage space on the device, as are attachments.

Yes, this pocket device can display Word files and even spreadsheets on its 2.25 inch square mono screen. They are displayed as plain text, scrolling down in five or six-word lines but eminently legible. Spreadsheets can be scrolled across – trickier, obviously, but again the figures are easily read. Web browsing can read any Wap-enabled site. The mono screen in today’s all-colour world is essentially aimed at maximising battery life between charging. This is done through the supplied cradle that links the BlackBerry to a PC serial port for synchronising (address book, appointments, etc.) and managing the applications on the device through Desktop Manager. Newer versions, for example, can be downloaded from the web when available and installed on the BlackBerry via the PC.

The BlackBerry 5820 also has phone functionality (unlike, notoriously, earlier versions) so that users do not have to carry two devices. There is only, however, a plug-in external earpiece/mike which seems a pity as despite its slightly large dimensions by mobile phone standards it would still be easier to put the thing to your ear in the normal way. You also have to choose the ‘phone’ application before using it although incoming calls can be answered in one click. The Personal Information Manager (PIM) functions of the BlackBerry include the basics – address book, calendar and appointments/reminders/alarms, calculator. All in all, an excellent gizmo for high frequency email users on the move but neither a PDA nor a smart phone substitute for others.

Setting up the BlackBerry initially through a PC and Internet connection takes less than 20 minutes and those who use Outlook can import address book settings automatically. A particularly appealing feature is the inbox which keeps chronological track of all communications in and out. It shows the type of message (phone, SMS, email) with message headers or key information (number dialled or CLI, ‘Missed Call’ or first few words of an SMS) and offers call back or return message options in a couple of clicks.

The tiny but neat BlackBerry keyboard is optimised for thumb typists but is easy to get used to, although the same-size ALT and Return keys could usefully upset the symmetry by being a bit larger. Wap browsing is an Internet experience only for the very dedicated at the best of times, but it has to be said that on our test it was slow beyond pain to numbness and no inducement to GPRS subscription. But for anywhere, anytime email the BlackBerry is certainly an attractive and effective solution.

By Leslie Faughnan