BlackBerry 7100 review:

RIM BlackBerry 7100g

Research in Motion’s slim, lightweight 7100 series makes its way to Cingular Wireless with the arrival of the RIM BlackBerry 7100g. Nearly identical to T-Mobile’s BlackBerry 7100t, this new addition to the 7100 family boasts the same quasi-QWERTY keypad, the ability to sync with corporate servers and POP/Web e-mail clients, and a refreshingly compact form factor. That said, the reasonably priced 7100g ($299; $199 with a two-year service plan) comes saddled with some of the same limitations: Bluetooth that’s restricted to headsets only, no onboard chat client, and a keypad that can be tricky to master. However, those who want on-the-go access to their e-mail without being weighted down by a hefty device will likely warm to the RIM BlackBerry 7100g–as long as they’re willing to deal with the keypad’s learning curve. The slim and trim RIM BlackBerry 7100g looks almost identical to its BlackBerry 7100t sibling; both measure 4.6 by 2.3 by 0.8 inches and weigh about 4.2 ounces, small enough to fit snugly in a jeans pocket and easy to hold against your cheek during voice calls. Some of the cosmetics, though, are slightly different. For example, the 7100t’s blue and silver look gives way to a silver and black color scheme. Also, the 7100t’s blue soul patch beneath the keypad has been replaced by a simple Cingular logo, and the sharp V-shaped keypad arrangement on the 7100t gets a more subtle treatment on the 7100g. While we thought the handset’s design looked pretty sharp, we noticed it was all too vulnerable to scrapes and scratches. Within a mere week or so of moderate use, both the plastic screen and silver lining just above it were scratched up and scuffed; we suggest you use the included protective case.

The RIM BlackBerry 7100g’s 2.1-inch, 65,000-color-plus screen is easy on the eyes with plenty of detail, thanks to its 240×260-pixel resolution. You can change the font size and style, as well as switch on antialiasing to smooth the rough edges of characters on the screen, but we disliked the fact that the 7100g’s display goes completely dark when the backlighting turns off. In standby mode, the main screen shows signal strength, battery life, the time, the date, caller ID info, and a mail icon that notifies you of unread messages. Unlike the nice-looking, icon-driven menu of the 7100t, the 7100g’s main menu appears only in list mode, which is unfortunate but not a deal breaker.

The RIM BlackBerry 7100g features a modified QWERTY keyboard that takes some getting used to.

Like the 7100t, the RIM BlackBerry 7100g manages to fit a QWERTY-style arrangement on a phone-size keypad by squeezing two letters on to each key, but it takes some getting used to, as with SureType’s word-recognition technology. At first, our fingers had a hard time accepting the modified keypad as a true QWERTY keyboard, but with some time and patience, we eventually stopped hunting and pecking and began typing away normally. True to its word, SureType did an impressive job of guessing the words we were attempting to type; when it was confused, a contextual menu appeared, allowing us to pick a word. And while on the whole we were pleased with the results, the setup still got annoying when we wanted to type in a proper name or a number, as we had to stop and change modes midstroke. Those used to painstakingly tapping out words in a standard phone keypad might love the 7100g’s modified keyboard, but speed typists addicted to their full BlackBerry QWERTY setups may regret making the switch.

Wheelin’ and dealin’: Navigate the menus with the jog dial and the Escape button.

The rest of the RIM BlackBerry 7100g’s controls are pretty standard. On the right edge of the handset, you’ll find the typical BlackBerry jog dial–just scroll up or down with your thumb to move the cursor and press to select a function. Just beneath the dial, there’s also an Escape button that brings you back to the previous menu. A headphone jack and a USB port sit on the left side of the phone, while an inset power button is perched along the top. Turn the 7100g around, and you’ll find the speakerphone grille just above the broad plastic battery door.

The RIM BlackBerry 7100g comes with a well-balanced meal of phone basics. The phone book handles as many entries as will fit in its 32MB of onboard RAM (the SIM card can hold an additional 250 contacts), and there’s room in each entry for eight numbers, home and work addresses, Web pages, and more. You also get a speakerphone, which you can engage only once you’re on a call; a calendar; task and to-do lists; a memo pad; a WAP wireless Web browser; an alarm; and a calculator. Some unexpected extras include the ability to search the 7100g’s messages, calendar, address book, memo pad, and tasks, either individually or all at once; there’s also a detailed help section. Unfortunately, the Bluetooth-enabled phone only supports wireless headsets, so if you’re looking for Bluetooth file transfers or syncing, you’re out of luck.

Loud and clear: The 7100g features a speakerphone, but you can turn it on only once you’re on a call.

Clearly, push e-mail is the big draw for the RIM BlackBerry 7100g, and the handset doesn’t disappoint. The device syncs e-mail and calendars in real time with Microsoft Exchange, BlackBerry, and Lotus Notes servers, plus it grabs messages from up to 10 POP3/IMAP accounts or Web mail services such as MSN Hotmail, Yahoo, and AOL. Configuring the device to work with our Gmail account was a breeze; we simply logged on to the BlackBerry Web site and entered our username and password, and we began receiving messages within about 20 minutes. The 7100g’s e-mail client lets you view a variety of attachments, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, and PDF documents, but you can’t edit them. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t have an instant-messaging client that works straight out of the box.

Extra applications on the RIM BlackBerry 7100g are on the weak side. As with the 7100t, the only title you get is the Breakout-style BrickBreaker, and you can’t purchase other games or applications from Cingular’s download service. On the personalization side, you can swap out the wallpaper with one of the six pictures available in the Pictures application (you can buy more wallpaper from Cingular), and you can choose from five ringer profiles, including Loud, Vibrate, Quiet, Phone Only, and a user-defined mode. However, you can’t assign individual ring tones to specific contacts or groups. The 7100g is pretty light on multimedia features; there aren’t any MP3 or media players here.

We tested the quad-band RIM BlackBerry 7100g (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS) in New York City, and our calls sounded loud and clear, both in regular calling mode and with the speakerphone. We also tried the handset in our gadget-heavy living room–complete with a microwave oven, a 32-inch TV set, a wireless phone, and a Wi-Fi network–and didn’t notice any interference.

Pairing the RIM BlackBerry 7100g with a Bluetooth headset was a snap; once we turned on the Bluetooth radio, the phone found our Logitech Mobile Traveller Headset within a few seconds, and we were soon chatting away wirelessly.

RIM promises 4 hours of talk time and eight days of standby time from the BlackBerry 7100g. In our tests, we beat the talk time by an extra half hour and got seven days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the RIM BlackBerry 7100g has a digital SAR rating of 0.86 watts per kilogram.