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Email on steroids

Josey Puliyenthuruthel John | July 29, 2005

Waterloo, Ontario-headquartered Research In Motion Ltd. is a company with more than an interesting name. It is the designer, manufacturer and marketer of the BlackBerry series of devices.

Since the first BlackBerry model came to market shelves in 1998, these palm-sized cuboids have excelled in one particular feature: download and send emails.

Addicted users ranged from Intel's former CEO Andy Grove to founder Marc Benioff. Intense users joked Alcoholics Anonymous was passť; local chapters of "BlackBerry Anonymous" were needed more urgently.

The first few models of the BlackBerry were email-only devices. Over the years, RIM developed new voice-enabled models, but the design remained a clunky box.

It was not unusual to see corporate foot-soldiers moving around with two devices: a BlackBerry for emails and a cellphone for calls.

RIM broke this barrier when it introduced its 7100t model late last year in the US and followed it with the 7100g this February.

This second model is being sold in India through Bharti Televentures that runs the Airtel cellular service. The BlackBerry 7100g is priced at Rs 21,000 by Airtel and for once I don't have the crib that a personal technology device is more expensive in India than, say, in the US.

You'd pay $460 for a 7100g without a service contract. The phone would come much cheaper -- $199 -- if you bought it in the US bundled with a Cingular Wireless or T-Mobile service contract, but that phone is locked to the home networks of those companies.

The 7100g, like the previous BlackBerry 7730 (priced at just under Rs 31,000) that Airtel has been selling in India since last year, is the best personal technology device for email applications in India.

Very often mails would show up on the 7100g I reviewed last week before they'd be thrown up on my broadband-powered computer screen.

Airtel prices the BlackBerry service at Rs 900 a month for corporate users and Rs 1,100 for individual consumers. This fee covers email and browsing and does not include other sundry offerings like multimedia messaging service which the 7100g is not designed to handle.

A customer would pay additional for calls, short messages and roaming, of course.

The biggest advantage with the 7100g over the 7730 -- or the discontinued 7230 and 6230 makes -- is its compact design.

It feels more like a cellphone -- with 117 x 59 x 21mm dimensions and weighing 120 gm -- than the other BlackBerry models.

The 7100g has a high-resolution colour display, 32 MB of internal memory, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and BlackBerry functionality and tools, making it appealing to both business and casual users alike.

The BlackBerry devices run on GPRS (general packet radio service, a technology that enables 24x7 data and Internet access)-enabled networks of Airtel or other service providers.

The screen of the 7100g is optimized for reading emails and browsing the Internet: it is large with a 240 x 260 pixel screen capable of displaying 65,000 colours.

Both the 7100g and the 7730 used the BlackBerry-trademarked QWERTY keypad as different from the numeric keypad on most cellphones.

There's a learning curve to be climbed while using this, but once you are there, it is easy to key in messages quickly and easily.

You can navigate between applications using a jog-wheel -- something popularized by an earlier version of Sony-Ericsson phones -- and an ESC (escape) button.

Yet there are some gripes I have with the phone. One, the screen is virtually impossible to read in bright sunlight; a problem that is surprising because colour display-manufacturers had gotten over the problem over 18 months. The 7730 display is a notch better in comparison.

Two, I had problems synching the 7100g with two Bluetooth headsets (Planotronics and Logitech). Airtel support could not help me out on the problem, but said the phone works well with Nokia and Sony Ericsson headsets.

You want to check that if you're buying a 7100g. Three, the 32MB flash memory should be adequate for most users, but an expandable memory slot would have made a lot of sense especially when users want to store attachments locally on the phone or have their contacts list or calendar crowded with one too many entries.

With the BlackBerry 7730, I had just one crib: it's way too big to be used as a phone.

That's the same grouse I have with O2's XDAIIi, priced at Rs 46,000. It retains the design of the Pocket PC (something like HP's iPAQ and as users will tell you that can be a clunky fit in your breast pocket or even a dainty handbag.

The XDAIIi is not strictly comparable with a BlackBerry and your buying choice will depend on your function-ordering.

If it is viewing pictures or reading documents that is more important to you, the XDAIIi makes eminent buying sense.

But, if it is email that tops your list, the BlackBerry 7100g is the one for you. Both devices are best used with a Bluetooth headset each especially if you want to refer to the calendar while making the call.

Which would I buy? Well, my brand new Palm Tungsten E2, acquired just last month, died on me over the weekend and I'm scrambling to have it replaced under warranty.

Meanwhile, I'm tempted to pick up the BlackBerry 7100g. Trouble is avoiding rehab sessions at BA.

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