BlackBerry 8700c (AT&T) review:
RIM BlackBerry 8700c
Despite Research in Motion’s legal woes, the company continues to produce some of today’s most popular mobile e-mail devices. In fact, RIM’s BlackBerry devices lead the pack of handheld shipments, while Palm, Dell, and HP fall behind; there are even reports of a phenomenon called BlackBerry thumbs. Well, CrackBerry addicts, get your thumbs ready for the company’s latest device, the RIM BlackBerry 8700c. It’s the first EDGE-enabled and Intel-powered BlackBerry, and it offers a winning combination of performance, design, and functionality. Of course, not all is perfect. Bluetooth and instant-messaging capabilities are limited, but the pros outweigh the cons, making the 8700c one of the best BlackBerrys we’ve seen to date. The BlackBerry 8700c is available through Cingular Wireless for $299.99. The RIM BlackBerry 8700c offers best-of-breed design, combining everything we love about the traditional BlackBerry form factor with the best aspects of the newer BlackBerry 7100 series. From the 7100 series, the 8700c takes a similar compact (4.3 by 2.7 by 0.7 inches; 4.7 ounces) and sleek look that won’t weigh you down or cramp your style. The blue-gray and black coloring is attractive, and more important, the smart phone feels good in your hands–solid and easy to use one-handed. On the 7100 series, we weren’t fond of the modified keyboard, which is why we’re thrilled that RIM brought back the full QWERTY keyboard by making the 8700c slightly wider than both the BlackBerry 7100g and the BlackBerry 7100t. Although the 35 buttons are fairly well spaced, those with larger digits may have some problems, especially if they’re used to the roomier keyboards of past BlackBerrys. That said, the squarish and tactile keys are raised above the phone’s surface for easy typing and provide a satisfying click once pressed.
BlackBerry thumbs, get ready: The RIM BlackBerry 8700c features a full QWERTY keyboard for fast and easy typing.
Moving on to the screen, the news just keeps getting better. The RIM BlackBerry 8700c boasts a beautiful 2.5-inch-diagonal display that shows off 65,000 colors and a fine 320×240-pixel resolution. This in an improvement upon past BlackBerrys, and the change is noticeable. Viewing Web pages and images is more enjoyable, as text and images are clearer and more defined. Plus, you can change the font type and size under the Settings menu. The 8700c also features a new light-sensing technology that automatically adjusts the backlighting of the screen and keyboard according to your environment–a nice touch.
The BlackBerry 8700c boasts a bright screen and new Talk and End keys.
Also new are the dedicated Talk and End keys, as well as the customizable soft key, which are all found just below the display. Although these buttons made their first appearance on the BlackBerry 7100 series, the RIM BlackBerry 8700c marks the debut of this feature on more traditional-type BlackBerrys. Finishing out the face of the smart phone is a small LED in the upper-right corner that blinks different colors for network activity (green), message notification (red), low battery (yellow), and Bluetooth connectivity (blue). Other features on the 8700c include a headset jack, a USB port, and a customizable shortcut key on the left spine, while the right side holds the familiar jog dial and the Esc key for easy navigation of the menu. There’s a power button and a Mute key on top of the device. To turn on the speakerphone, which is located on the back of the 8700c, there’s an activation key in the lower-right corner of the keyboard, but you can use it only once you’re on a call.
RIM packages the BlackBerry 8700c with a USB cable for charging and PC synchronization, an AC adapter, and a belt holster. More accessories are available for purchase, such as a car charger ($28.99) and various headsets, both wireless and wired.
The RIM BlackBerry 8700c is distinct for a couple of reasons. It’s the first BlackBerry powered by an Intel processor–a 312MHz PXA901 processor, to be exact–and it’s also the first EDGE-enabled BlackBerry. With this combination, you should enjoy faster Web browsing and download times, as well as quicker overall performance, which, on the whole, we found to be true (see Performance).
Of course, BlackBerrys are known for their e-mail prowess, and the RIM BlackBerry 8700c doesn’t disappoint. With the help of your IT department, the smart phone can sync with your company’s BlackBerry, Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise server to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. The BlackBerry 8700c also supports up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts; we set up our device to receive messages from our POP3 account, and after about 20 minutes of tinkering, we started getting our e-mail, with the smart phone checking for new messages every 15 minutes. The 8700c also features enhancements to attachment viewing. You now can view Excel documents as spreadsheets rather than in plain text, and you have more image-editing options at your disposal. You can rotate, as well as zoom in and out, and once you’ve zoomed in, you can use the Enhance function to recalibrate the image to reduce pixelation. Throughout our test period, we received and opened various documents without any problems. The BlackBerry 8700c also supports text and multimedia messaging, as well as instant messaging. However, the latter is limited to a BlackBerry Messenger, so you can communicate only with those who use that proprietary client.
RIM throws in other useful applications for the mobile professional. There’s a calendar, a task list, a memo pad, and a calculator. A couple of demo apps that we enjoyed and may be worth the download were Quotestream Wireless and AskMeNow. Quotestream allows you to receive wireless-streaming stock quotes right on your 8700c, while AskMeNow gives you quick access to weather, sports scores, flight information, and more. It also has an Ask Jeeves-type functionality called Ask Anything, where you can input a question, and you’ll receive the answer in your in-box. We asked a sports-related question, “Where did Peyton Manning go to school?” and lo and behold, within five minutes, we had our answer along with some other useful information–pretty neat! One final noteworthy addition is the ability to toggle between applications. By holding down Alt, then pressing the Esc key, you can quickly access your messages, your home screen, your phone, your messenger, your Web browser, or your WorkSpace CRM, rather than tediously backing out of several layers of apps.
We definitely hear you now: The BlackBerry 8700c’s speakerphone is plenty loud.
Moving to the phone aspect of the BlackBerry 8700c, the mobile’s address book is limited only by the available memory (an additional 250 names can be stored on the SIM card), and the device comes with 64MB of flash memory and 16MB of SDRAM, which is a nice bump up from the BlackBerry 7290. For each contact entry, you can store up to eight numbers, an e-mail and a Web address, home and work addresses, job titles, and notes. You get 35 polyphonic ring tones, and there’s support for MP3 ring tones, as well as a vibrate mode, conference calling, call forwarding, speed dialing, and smart dialing. Finally, there’s Bluetooth support for wireless headsets and car kits, but unfortunately, wireless data transfers and syncing are out of the question.
As a businesscentric device, the BlackBerry 8700c doesn’t give you too many entertainment or multimedia functions. The BlackBerry 8700c doesn’t have an audio or video player, but it does come with three games: BrickBreaker, Texas Hold’em King 2, and Bass Assassin. Customization is limited to a handful of themes, but more options–ring tones, wallpaper, games, and so on–are available through Cingular.
Using Cingular’s network, we tested the quad-band (GSM/GPRS 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) RIM BlackBerry 8700c in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and call quality was generally good. We had no problems hearing our callers, although they sounded slightly hollow at times, but it didn’t prevent us from holding a conversation. On the flip side, callers said we sounded clear, but they could tell we were on a cell phone. Speakerphone quality was even better. Callers said they couldn’t even tell we were on speakerphone, and volume was plenty loud. In fact, we were a little embarrassed when we activated the speakerphone in a public place because our caller’s voice boomed throughout the room.
Wireless functions on the RIM BlackBerry 8700c were admirable. We had no problems pairing the device with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset, and we were talking, hands free, within minutes. Call quality did suffer slightly, however. Surfing the Web on the 8700c was relatively painless, and the EDGE support helped with faster upload times, but we did encounter some delays and formatting issues with graphics-intensive sites such as CNET.com.
The RIM BlackBerry 8700c is rated for 4 hours of talk time and up to 16 days of standby time. In our tests, we managed to get 5 hours, 40 minutes of talk time, while the standby time fell short at 7 days.