The Blackberry 8700 series of
phones (different letters after the 8700 simply designate the
different wireless companies that sell it) represent the latest and greatest from RIM.
Reverting back to the full
QWERTY layout, but using narrower key spacing than in 'classic' model
Blackberries, this unit sensibly spurns the 'two letters per
key' approach used in the 7100 series phones.
The unit has limited Bluetooth
connectivity for some data synching and for headsets, but lacks
a camera. It supports higher speed EDGE data connections,
but does not have Wi-Fi capabilities.
If you choose to take the time
to master the Blackberry's interface, it can be an amazingly
helpful unit, but not without occasional regrettable
The Blackberry 8700 - What you
Blackberry 8700 is sold in the US as the 8700g by T-Mobile and as the
8700c by Cingular. As supplied by T-Mobile, it comes complete with a
multi-voltage charger, a data cable to connect the phone to your
computer, a hard plastic belt holster, and a wired earbud
The supplier I ordered the
phone from also included a very nice Bluetooth headset for free.
In addition to this
hardware, the phone came with both a 63 page Welcome Guide
introduction manual for the 8700 and a 132 page warranty book.
Yes, the warranty book is twice the size of the instruction
manual, but this is due to repeating the warranty information
many times in different languages. The 'warranty'
is nine pages long.
I put quotes around the word
'warranty' because it is actually an un-warranty rather than a
warranty, and is full of disclaimers reducing the liability of
Research in Motion (RIM), rather than creating any obligations on
The warranty period
isn't mentioned in this nasty nine page document. To find
out how long the phone is under warranty for, you have to look
in the other manual, where it tells you there is a one year
warranty on the phone.
In addition to this
extraordinarily long 'un-warranty', 23 of the 63 pages in the
Welcome Guide also contain terms and conditions and restrictions
and other legalese, rather than helpful information about
actually using the phone. The other 40 pages of the
Welcome Guide are overly simplistic and insufficient to enable
you to learn how to effectively use the unit.
A CD-Rom is also provided.
This has software that can be installed on your PC to enable the
Blackberry to synch its data with your Outlook contacts and
scheduling data. It also has a more comprehensive manual.
The Blackberry 8700's
capabilities and specifications
The unit measures 2 5/8"
wide by 4 1/4" tall and is 3/4" thick. It weighs
4.9 ounces. The screen measures 2 1/16" wide and 1 1/2"
tall, and has a 320 x 240 pixel resolution, displaying 65,000
The screen is wonderfully
bright and clear, and has an automatic light sensor that varies
the screen brightness depending on the light level in which the
unit is being used.
By comparison, the 7130
(with two letters per key on a 20 key total keypad) measures by
2 1/8' wide by 4 3/8" tall and is 3/4" thick. It has a 1
5/8" wide by 1 3/4" tall screen, with a lower 240 x 260 pixel
resolution. In other words, there's very little size
benefit (but quite a lot of design compromise) to the 7130 and other model 71xx series phones compared
to the 8700.
The traditionally designed
7730 phone is appreciably larger but thinner. It measures 3"
wide by 4 5/8" tall and is 1/2" thick. It has a much
larger screen - 2 1/8" wide by 2 1/8" deep, but although the
screen size is larger, its resolution is lower - 240 x 240
pixels, and it is not nearly as bright as the 8700 screen.
The 7730 shows less data and less clearly.
The Palm Treo 650
measures 2 1/4" wide by 4 3/8" tall, plus an extra 5/8" for the
antenna stub, and is 7/8" thick. It weighs 6 oz and its
screen is 1 7/8" x 1 7/8".
Although the 8700 has the
best screen resolution of all Blackberry units to date, its
320x240 resolution is not as good as a Palm Treo 650's 320x320
resolution, and not nearly as good as my Palm Tungsten T3
which has a massive 480x320 resolution.
The 8700 has an internal antenna
with nothing protruding, and seems to have managed this without
any perceptible loss of sensitivity. It receives at least
as good and perhaps slightly better a signal as does my
Motorola Razr V3.
The 8700 has 38 buttons on
its front , two side buttons, and a control wheel. The
Treo has 41 keys on its front plus a cursor rocker/key and three
side buttons. The keyboard layout of the 8700 is slightly
more spacious, but the Treo is perhaps a bit easier to use due
to its extra keys, an observation confirmed in our
Blackberry reader/user survey
Happily the Blackberry is a quad band
GSM phone, meaning it supports all the
different frequency bands used by different GSM services
around the world. This is the very best type of phone to
get, with maximum flexibility, no matter where you travel.
The unit has 64MB of user
memory plus an extra 16MB for its firmware and standard
software. This is much more than earlier units (which had
either 16MB or 32MB) and I am using only slightly more
than half the 64MB, even with most of a month of emails held on
the unit (I don't download all of each email).
The extra memory may come in
handy later on when users add extra programs and store more data on
Unfortunately, and unlike
the Treo, it doesn't have any removable expansion memory slots.
High Speed Data Support
The phone supports regular
GPRS Class 10 data services and also the new EDGE high speed data service
too. GPRS data is slow; typically averaging about 15k -
20k bps (slower than most dialup modems, which vary from 28.8k -
56k bps). EDGE data is much faster, with theoretical
maximum speeds of 236.8 kbps, and real world speeds probably
no more than 100 kbps.
EDGE data is basically just an
improved form of GPRS, using the same equipment and protocols,
merely offering a slightly higher degree of data encoding into
each status change in carrier phase.
Almost all GSM networks
support GPRS data, and because adding EDGE support requires very
little extra investment, most (especially newer ones) now
support EDGE too. In the US, T-Mobile has EDGE coverage in
over 75% of its network and Cingular is believed to offer EDGE
on almost their complete network. What this means is that
EDGE equipped devices will be able to enjoy the extra data speed
of EDGE networks most of the time.
support is a bit haphazard. For example, I found no EDGE
in London or Moscow, but I did find EDGE in St Petersburg and
some smaller cities in Russia.
The unit sends and receives
emails perfectly well using regular GPRS service, but if you're
doing some web browsing, or downloading large email attachments,
the extra speed of EDGE makes a big improvement.
The unit has the latest
Bluetooth 2.0 built into it. But RIM (the manufacturers of
the Blackberry units) have dumbed down the Bluetooth capability
so it only supports headset and handsfree operation and some
very limited file synchronizing.
Strangely, the 8700 won't
work with either of the two Bluetooth units in my vehicles
(other phones have worked with no problems) and the audio
quality when using a Motorola headset is unacceptably
Most other Bluetooth
functions have been disabled, although it is possible to patch
the phone's firmware to enable it to support a Bluetooth
Battery Life and Charging
Earlier model Blackberry
units offered very impressive battery life, with some of the
6xxx models giving as much as two weeks of regular usage between
charges. But the new 8700 with its big bright screen and
much faster processor goes through its battery much more
The official specification
suggests the phone can provide up to four hours of talk time or
up to 384 hours (16 days) of standby time. This may well
be theoretically possible, but there is a catch which greatly
reduces the battery life for most of us. Every time the
phone is receiving an email, it is using up its battery at a
rate close to the talk time rate rather than the standby rate.
You might have your phone sitting untouched, but as long as it
is receiving messages, it is using up its battery at an
Real world battery life
depends on how much email comes to your phone, as well as obvious other factors such as how much time you spend talking on
the phone and how much time you spend with the screen on, eg,
reading and composing emails (as well as sending them).
When I'm using my Blackberry
intensively, I need to charge the unit every day. Yes,
there's still a bit of charge left after 24 hours, but not
enough to get me through a second day.
If I'm using the Blackberry
less intensively, I can get two or even close to three days of
use (I turn it off every night).
This is a relatively short
amount of life compared to a regular modern day cell phone, of
course, but the Blackberry is not a regular cell phone and
should not be compared to a cell phone for this measure.
Compared to a Treo 650, it seems the Blackberry 8700 gets
similar battery life, but it is close to impossible to find a
fair comparison with exactly the same usage patterns on each
The phone has a regular 3.7V
Lithium Ion battery inside and uses a standard mini-USB plug for
the charger. Like most phones these days the charging
intelligence is inside the phone rather than inside the charger,
so if you have any other chargers with the same plug and for the
same type of battery, you can probably use it with the
A related very nice feature
is that if you connect the Blackberry up to the USB port of a
computer (or a powered USB hub) it will charge through the USB
It charges quite quickly and
takes about three hours for a full charge, and it seems to take
less time when charging in the car.
One company sells a high capacity battery that gives twice
the life of the regular battery.
Using the Blackberry as a Phone
A common weakness of earlier
Blackberry units has been their poor performance as a regular
cell phone for voice calling. The 8700 seems to have
addressed these limitations, and gives you a fully functional
phone as part of its integrated capabilities.
This means that it has all
the latest and greatest phone related features. Yes, you
can download ring tones to the phone. It has a speaker
phone capability. It can be used with Bluetooth headsets
and in-car units as well as with regular wired headsets (and it
takes standard 2.5mm headset jacks with three connectors - body,
sleeve and tip) making it compatible with many headsets on the
Sound quality and volume
levels were reasonably good. The sound quality improved
noticeably when used with the supplied wired headset, and if you
use a headset, you can simultaneously access the rest of the
phone for things like referring to emails, checking your
calendar, or anything else.
It can have different types
of ring for different callers, and has a sophisticated address
book modeled on the Outlook Contact format that allows for
multiple phone numbers, email addresses, and other information
to be stored for each contact. There is no limit to how
much contact information can be stored (other than the phone's
internal memory limit).
Large 'Send' and 'End' keys
make it easy to place and answer calls. One slight issue
is that the phone number keys don't have the letters on them
that one uses when dialing vanity phone numbers that are shown
as a word rather than as numbers. So if you want to call,
eg, 1-800-2VANITY, it would seem you're left having to guess
which letters correspond to which numbers.
Fortunately, there's a
solution to this. When dialing the number, you enter the
digits as digits, then press the Num key before each letter you
want converted to a digit, and then enter the letter. This
is easy and quick, and I prefer it to having to hunt around the
ten keys on a regular phone to try and spell out a vanity
In the past, many Blackberry
users also had a separate cell phone for regular phoning.
With the 8700, this is no longer necessary, and most people will
find the 8700 is perfectly satisfactory for regular phone calls.
Using the Blackberry for Email
The Blackberry can handle up
to ten different email accounts simultaneously. This gives
you tremendous versatility - you can have a couple of work email
addresses and a couple of personal email addresses all on the
unit, and still have more accounts left over.
In addition to the special
Blackberry type email service which requires expensive
additional software, ordinary regular people can use their
Blackberry to get ordinary regular email (ie POP3 and IMAP4).
The Blackberry will also get email from Yahoo and Gmail
accounts, but not from Hotmail accounts.
It can also interface with
Exchange, Notes, and Groupwise mail servers.
The Blackberry can be set to
either receive just the first part of every email or to receive
the entire contents of every email.
I suggest you set it to receive
only the first part of each email. This seems to bring
in about 3k of message which is often the entire message, and if
it is not the entire message, it is enough for you to know if
you want to then bring in the rest of the message or not.
There are two reasons for
downloading just the first part of each email. Firstly, it
greatly speeds up getting your emails. Every so often I
get a huge email (and usually it is a useless stupid email)
which would terribly slow down getting emails if I were
downloading the entire contents of every email, but this way,
even the biggest email takes no more time to download than the
The second reason is to
avoid overflowing your Blackberry's memory. Although the
Blackberry intelligently manages its memory, and will start
deleting old emails if you run out of storage, it is best not to
have to do this and so by keeping your emails small rather than
large, you shouldn't have a problem.
Because it is just
downloading a small part of each email, my Blackberry typically
gets a large batch of email faster than my main desktop.
An important issue with
the Blackberry is how often it goes to check for new messages on
your email server. If you're using the special (ie
expensive) Blackberry Enterprise Server software, emails are
'pushed' to the Blackberry the instant they are received with no
delay at all. This push technology also applies to Yahoo
email and to email sent to your special Blackberry email
address, but it does not apply to regular POP3 and IMAP4 email.
Instead, for these types of
email, the Blackberry
checks for email with a variable frequency,
depending on how busy the network is. At its most
infrequent level of checking, it will check every 20 minutes; if
the network is not congested, you might get email every 5 - 10
Maybe I'm obsessive, but I
don't find this frequent enough. Sometimes I'm having an
exchange of increasingly important emails, and being forced to
wait up to 20 minutes, with no way to force an earlier manual
check for email, is terribly frustrating and completely
Unfortunately the Blackberry
has very little spam control or filtering. It is possible
to create some very crude filters on their server (which you
access through a web page) but it is usually best not to do
this, for fear of losing real email in with the spam that might
A Simple Strategy for Managing
If you have a regular POP3
type email address, you might want to consider having all your
normal mail be copied to a second email address which feeds all
emails to the Blackberry. That way your regular mail goes
normally to your normal email account (eg on your main computer)
and a copy of everything also goes directly to the Blackberry.
This makes it easy to read
emails in both places. As for sending emails, you should
change your email 'From' address on the Blackberry so it looks
the same as your main email identity, not the duplicate identity
on the Blackberry. That way when you send emails back to
people, it looks like your normal email address and - very
importantly - if they then reply back to you again, it goes to
your normal main email identity.
One last step - arrange for
blind copies of all the emails you send to also be sent to your
main email account. This way, on your main computer you'll
have a record of any replies you send from the Blackberry.
By way of example, say your
main email account is John@Test.com. You would arrange for
a second email account, let's call it JohnBB@Test.com to be
created and for all mails sent to John@Test.com to be copied to
the JohnBB account as well.
Your Blackberry would then
log in and get all the mail sent to JohnBB. But you'd
change its settings so that if you were replying to an email, or
creating a new one, it would show your email address as
John@Test.com, not as JohnBB. The JohnBB account is a
'secret' internal identity only.
Lastly, you'd set the
Blackberry to automatically bcc all messages you send, passing
on a copy to the John@Test.com account.
Having done this, all email
gets originally sent to the John account and is copied to the
JohnBB account, and copies of all emails you send from the
Blackberry get sent to the John account.
Using the Blackberry as a
Wireless Modem for your Laptop
In theory, it should be
possible to use the Blackberry as a modem to enable your
computer to connect to the internet. Just as a computer
would normally connect, via a serial cable, to a modem, which
then connects through the regular phone line to the internet, it
should be possible to connect, via Bluetooth, to the Blackberry
and then from the Blackberry, dialing out to the internet.
Unfortunately the Bluetooth
support for this type of connection has been disabled. But
the good news is you can still connect to the internet through
the Blackberry, simply by using the supplied USB data cable.
There is a very clear
explanation of how to do this
here. I successfully used this method to access the
internet while cruising through the rivers of Russia, and never
had any problems. Connection speeds were noticeably faster
when EDGE service was available, of course, but even with
regular GPRS it was usable, although much slower than desirable.
Blackberry Usage Costs
T-mobile's costs for their
Blackberry service are generally lower than the costs levied by
With T-mobile, you have two
choices - you can either choose any regular voice plan and then
pay an extra $20/month for unlimited Blackberry email and data service,
or you can choose a Blackberry only plan for $30/month and pay
extra for any minutes of voice usage.
If you're going to be
sending SMS messages (or using the IM client, which communicates
via SMS) then you should consider buying a pack of text
messages, too. 400 text messages every month cost $4, and
larger packs of messages have even lower per message costs.
T-mobile have a wonderful
service if you're traveling internationally. A flat extra
fee of $20/month gives you the ability to send and receive
unlimited email, pretty much everywhere in the world.
If you're planning on
traveling internationally, you should add this feature to your
account a few days before you start your journey, and then turn
it off again as soon as you return, so in effect it costs you
only 60¢ for each day you're away to stay connected.
Note that this $20/month
flat charge does not give you unlimited voice calling - that is
When you're roaming
internationally, you don't need to change any of the settings,
the phone just automatically switches to the best available
network and continues to work as if you were at home.
Notes on Using the Blackberry
I'm left handed, so the
first thing I noticed was that the Blackberry is designed for
right handed people. Both the scroll wheel and the escape
button are on the right of the unit, where your right thumb
would naturally lie if holding the unit in your hand.
Carrying the unit is
something to be careful about. You don't want to scratch
the screen, and you don't want to accidentally be pressing keys
(as may happen if the phone was just loose in your pocket).
There's no lanyard loop for a neck string, and so you need to
have some sort of holster or wallet to carry the unit in.
The 8700 comes complete with
a solid plastic holster that clips onto your belt. This is
a good carrying solution - at least for people wearing belts
(but not too large a belt or else the holster's belt clip won't
fit - maximum belt thickness shouldn't exceed 1 3/8"), and the
8700 intelligently recognizes if it is in its holster or not.
You can set it to make different sounds for different events
depending on if it is in the holster or not.
Some of the 'logic' of the
unit was frustrating. To enter an upper case letter, you
first press the key labeled 'Num'. But to enter a number
value, you don't press the 'Num' key, instead you first press
the key labeled 'Alt'.
inexcusably, the email reader often would get tripped up by html
formatted emails, and instead of presenting either a neatly
formatted message or just a basic unformatted version of the
message, it would instead show all the raw underlying html
format commands. This would make the message close to
It is inexcusable that a
device with its prime justification for existence being its
ability to supposedly do a good job with email can't display
regular normal formatted emails correctly. Shame on RIM.
There are also limitations
on the unit's ability to display email attachments. I've
had regular problems getting pdf files to display correctly.
There is no folder
system for email messages - you can't have a series of folders
within each email account to store messages in.
Be sure to set a password
lock on your Blackberry. Much more so than a regular
phone, your Blackberry potentially contains a huge amount of
very personal information (in your emails).
Cleverly, if an incoming
call rings while the Blackberry is in locked mode, it will still
allow you to answer the call without first having to unlock the
The battery meter is quite
accurate, and there's also a helpful charge level shown as a
percentage in the Status screen.
Another interesting item in
the Status screen is showing the actual signal strength the
phone is receiving, as a dBm level (the bigger the negative
number, the weaker the signal).
The Blackberry unit is
reasonably fully featured, although it does have some annoying,
albeit generally minor limitations that a top of the line unit
should not suffer. These include the following points :
The Bluetooth functionality
is unnecessarily restricted and either doesn't work or works
poorly with many headsets/car kits
There is no removable memory
The phone doesn't have a
built in camera.
Battery life, while typical
for this type of device, is short.
Learning how to use the unit
is challenging, although the rewards from having done so are
It can't take an external
No Wi-Fi connectivity.
Email limitations include
problems displaying some html coded messages and pdfs, too
slow email checking intervals, and
lack of folder hierarchy to manage received and sent
Doesn't display many web
pages correctly (or even at all)
Doesn't play video clips.
Doesn't play audio clips and
How best to buy a Blackberry
Amazingly, the best prices
for Blackberry 8700s and other model Blackberries is generally
to be found on Amazon. Click the link in the left hand
column to go find their current specials, which usually see new
8700 units being sold for close to free in conjunction with new
My Blackberry saves me an
hour or more a day on those days when extra time is most
precious - when I'm out of the office and traveling.
So, is a Blackberry suitable
for you or not? If email is an important part of your
life, too; the answer is probably yes, although you might want to
have a look at a Treo unit as well to see if you prefer the look
and feel of the Treo to the Blackberry.
And increasingly, new
devices such as the Motorola Q or the Cingular 8125 are snapping
at Blackberry's heels, providing similar or possibly even better
Please also see our comments
Blackberry Mindset which puts how one uses a Blackberry into
its proper context.
Part 1 of a three part
series on Blackberry and other personal email units - please
Blackberry 8700 review
2. Reader survey
results on personal email units
3. Reader feedback
and comments/suggestions about Blackberry, Treo, and other
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4 August 2006, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.