RIM BlackBerry 8800
At a Glance
This phone's impressive features include excellent e-mail options and built-in GPS, as well as a sleek design.
For a long time, BlackBerry devices were seen primarily as business tools, but the consumer-friendly BlackBerry Pearl shed that image. Now the BlackBerry 8800 combines a sleek look and a bevy of multimedia features reminiscent of the Pearl's with a full QWERTY keyboard. The 8800 retains RIM's business focus, however, by leaving off extras such as the camera found on the Pearl.
RIM claims that the 8800, which is available from AT&T/Cingular for $350 with a two-year contract, is the thinnest full-QWERTY BlackBerry yet. At first glance it looks more like Samsung's BlackJack than like a BlackBerry. It forgoes the typical broadly curved shape of most BlackBerry devices for leaner, straighter lines and a squared-off look. It measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by just under 0.6 inch thick, making it slightly larger than the BlackJack.
The result is a good-looking phone that feels solid in your hand. With the 8800's slimmer design, however, comes a more crowded keyboard: The keys are much closer together than they were on previous models; each has a raised edge to make distinguishing them easy; and we found it easier to type on them than on most other phones' keyboards. Like the Pearl, the 8800 lacks a jogwheel on its right spine for navigation; instead, it comes with a trackball situated directly beneath the screen. Though the trackball is easy to use and allows multidirectional scrolling, I prefer a jogwheel for navigation.
At 4.7 ounces, the 8800 is heavier than some competing models, but even so it's reasonably comfortable to hold during prolonged conversations. Voice quality during calls was occasionally staticky, and I sometimes noticed an echo, but overall it was satisfactory. The speakerphone is easy to access, but its maximum volume isn't terribly impressive. Also, the 8800 supports Cingular's push-to-talk network (priced at an additional $10 per month). Talk-time battery life was superior: The phone was still going strong in our lab tests when we reached 10 hours--our test ceiling.
Though the 8800 lacks a camera, it does include the music and video players found on the Pearl. You can transfer media files to the phone via the included Desktop Manager software. The phone includes a microSD Card slot for additional storage, but the phone ships without a card, so you'll have to buy your own. The built-in music player is passable, allowing you to play, pause, and stop songs, and to create basic playlists. Audio quality was adequate but hardly exceptional--both through the external speaker and through the included headset. The quality of video playback was much better; content looked great on the 2.5-inch, 320-by-240-resolution display.
The 8800 offers built-in GPS functionality, and my review unit came preloaded with the TeleNav GPS Navigator service (available for $10 per month from Cingular). If you travel frequently, this could be the phone's killer app. It requires no add-on devices; you simply launch the app and go. The service occasionally dawdled in obtaining its initial satellite signal; but once it was up and running, it worked very well.
Like all BlackBerry devices, the 8800 handles e-mail exceptionally well. It can support ten accounts, including POP3, IMAP 4, and Web-based e-mail; and adding them is a breeze. For personal accounts, you simply enter your user name and password, on the phone or online; and within minutes, messages are delivered directly to your phone. For business accounts, you can sync the BlackBerry Enterprise server with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, or Novell Groupwise.
Instant messaging options are less abundant: The 8800 supports only the BlackBerry Messenger client. Support for a consumer-level client such as AIM, MSN Messenger, or Yahoo Messenger would have been a nice touch.
Because the 8800 lacks support for Cingular's speedy HSDPA network, you'll have to rely on the slower EDGE network for Web browsing. The BlackBerry doesn't offer Wi-Fi support either, but it does include Bluetooth.
The BlackBerry 8800's strengths--in particular, its battery life, excellent e-mail handling, and built-in GPS features--outweigh its minuses. If you don't need a camera with your PDA phone, the 8800 is worth a look.