Take Your E-Mail On The Road -- Checking E-Mail While On The Run Can Be A Major Hassle, But Research In Motion's Blackberry Is A Convenient Way To Stay In Touch
Aug. 13, 1999 (InformationWeek - CMP via COMTEX) -- Users on the go often face a fairly daunting procedure to get their E-mail-find a phone connection, boot their PC, initiate a modem connection, download E-mail, and reply to it. Now, Research In Motion Ltd. provides a two-way pager that lets users receive and respond to E-mail without any difficulties from almost anywhere in major U.S. and Canadian metropolitan areas.
The BlackBerry handheld is the size of a two-way pager-4 ounces and 3.5 by 2.5 by 1 inches. It comes with a plastic holster for a belt and a serial-port docking cradle for a PC. The unit has tiny alphanumeric buttons in a QWERTY arrangement. Research In Motion says users can type as fast as 40 words per minute on the small keyboard, which seems unlikely to us. But with practice, it's possible to create a response of a few hundred words. BlackBerry can be held in both hands while standing or sitting, using thumbs to type-making it easy to use while doing other things such as waiting in line.
There's also a small wheel that turns to scroll messages or move the cursor between menu items; pressing the wheel is the equivalent of clicking a mouse. The wheel makes it easy to scroll through messages or down a contact list; it would be good to see more manufacturers adopt this mechanism.
The bit-addressable display shows as many as five lines by 30 characters. Its dim backlighting is suitable for use only in
almost-complete darkness. In a well-lit environment, the screen is tricky to read unless you hold it just right.
BlackBerry is powered by a single AA battery. The company claims 500 hours of life for one battery; the unit we tested operated for more than three weeks on a single cell when we were careful to turn it off at night.
Inside BlackBerry is an Intel 386 processor, 2 Mbytes of Flash RAM, and a two-way radio-frequency modem to connect with BellSouth's paging services.
The BlackBerry firmware includes a simple E-mail client, address
book, calendar, and task-list software. All are quite usable. The product also includes software for a Windows 9x/NT PC, called BlackBerry Desktop; with the docking cradle, it provides synchronization between the handheld and Microsoft Outlook.