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Airtel's Blackberry: Not too hot
Joji Thomas Philip in New Delhi | December 16, 2005
If you've always wanted to get the kind of Blackberry service that Airtel offers, but didn't want to buy the Research in Motion (RIM) handsets the service was available on (they have poor memory, for one), Airtel's now increased the range of phones on which this is now available.
You can now get Blackberry's famous push-in mail (email now pops into your phone exactly like an SMS and you can even program alerts in the same fashion) on three non-RIM handsets -- the Nokia 9500 Communicator, Nokia 9300 Smartphone and the Sony Ericsson P910i. The non-RIM service is called 'Blackberry Connect'.
If your Blackberry (either the RIM handset or the Nokia/Sony) is part of an office deal, which means there's a separate server installed in your office to cater to this function, what the Blackberry service also offers, apart from the push-in email, is that you can make changes in your calendar or in the contacts list, and this also gets reflected on your office PC.
Bharti's exclusive tie-up with Blackberry ends in February, 2006, and meanwhile rival Hutch has come out with its own version of always on email which costs a lot less. Airtel offers three packages, ranging from Rs 499-1,099 per month, depending upon your downloads, with the Rs 1,099 offering unlimited downloads.
Our tests using both the Connect smartphones and RIM handsets such as 7100G and the 7290 showed that the feel of mail handling remains the same in terms of speed and synchronization across the models. However, when it comes to the enterprise version features, RIM continues to offer a noticeable edge.
For starters, switching to Blackberry on the Nokia/Samsung comes at an additional cost of the general packet radio service (GPRS). This is because for the Connect client, you need a separate GPRS subscription in order to surf the net as well.
The user therefore has little option but shell out between Rs 399-799 more when browsing on a Nokia and Sony Ericsson, where the Rs 799 package offers unlimited downloads. The other costs of the Blackberry service (Rs 499-Rs 1,099) are the same. Besides, on Connect handsets, one cannot receive email alerts while browsing.
The additional cost apart, the primary difference remains the fact that 'over the air contact synchronization' cannot be handled by Nokia 9500 Communicator, Nokia 9300 Smartphone and the Sony Ericsson P910i.
This simply means, changes to the personal contact list on the Outlook or Lotus notes will not be simultaneous updated on the desktop/notebook. This difference though does not spill over the user's global contact list.
Running Blackberry on the different handset tests also revealed another perceptible edge -- over the air task and memo synchronization remains exclusive to the Blackberry manufactured handsets.
This is a definite let down as 'to-do-list'(not the calendar) and the Wordpad application cannot be synchronized and the changes will therefore have to be repeated on the desktop, or the reverse, it will not reflect on the Connect handset.
These perceptible differences will ensure that pure business users do not make the switch to a more user friendly Nokia and Sony Ericsson just yet.
Despite the complete range of enterprise solutions not being extended to the Nokia 9500 Communicator, Nokia 9300 Smartphone and the Sony Ericsson P910i, these handsets are head and shoulders above any of the RIM devices since their screens are better, the keyboards bigger and the additional memory and other features are a definite plus. Additionally, the USP of smartphones is features such as call groups, call management, and customisation.
As the Nokia 9500 Communicator, Nokia 9300 Smartphone and the Sony Ericsson P910i, come with inbuilt memories, they offer an added dimension to emailing, namely editing.
On the 7100G and the 7290, mails can be forwarded, but not edited. Our tests also revealed that editing on a Spreadsheet or an Excel file is equally seamless on a Connect handset.
The catch though is that large memories can carry disadvantages -- while I did not encounter it during the brief trails, feedback from users indicate that both the 9500 and the 9300 have the tendency to hang and opening applications can sometimes take a while.
The wide range of applications available for downlaod enables these smartphones to do much more than making voice calls and accessing data, thereby increasing the value for customers and more importantly to the operator.
The 7100G and the 7290 counters these advantages to a large extent by offering mobile data services that run on the Blackberry server. For instance, a third party application such as a sales field database where all executives in the company can add data while on the move, can be done only on a RIM handset.
On the security front, the smartphones are a close match to the RIM devises. The wireless IT policies and commands available on the Connect phones include kill handheld, lock hand-held and so on.
For subscribers using Blackberry in the 7100G and the 7290, the advantage remains that security barriers are not features of the phone or SIM specific, but are routed through the enterprise server.
When there is a handset loss, theft or misplacement, one does not need the interface of the operator (Airtel), but can put in place the necessary checks remotely or by just sending an SMS.
Postscript: Before rushing in for mobile mail on the Blackberry, take a look at Hutch Mail, which can be accessed in an array of over 30 handsets, and is more attractively priced at the moment.