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October 07, 2004

Blackberry 7100t: First Impressions

Yesterday my Blackberry 7100t arrived in the mail. It has produced rather mixed feelings.

First a bit of History. I owned one of the first blackberries, the pager model, a few years ago. It was excellent in what it did; forwarding email. No phone, no browser, just email. I had no cell phone and if you wanted to talk to me you would sent me an email asking me to call you. Eventually people convinced me this was not the social thing to do and convinced me to buy a cell phone. There were no blackberries with phones, so I bought a sidekick. which was such a piece of bad engineering hardware and software wise that I hated it. I have written about this before in Death to the Sidekick.

Eventually I switched completely to the cell phone model, after having seen the wonders of Windows Mobile 2003 integration with the Exchange 2003. The over-the-air active sync rocks. My Xphone, known under several other brands also, has served me well. The model is clunky and it is pretty much banged up, but it does what is supposed to do very well. I never got very excited about T9 typing so my replies to messages were always short. I would probably not part with it if it wasn't that my new employer is rightfully concerned about security and only supports one type of handheld access: Blackberries. So I ordered the newest and greatest Blackberry, the 7100t.

My first reaction when it came out of the box was that is was one ugly piece of hardware. It had nothing of the nice shiny blue metallic look and feel that the other blackberries have. It felt like lightweight plastic. But is was certainly smaller than its older brothers, which is why I choose it in the first place. I have big hands, but I always managed to do well with the typing the older BB keyboards and the sidekick. The double key keyboard of the 7100t however is scarily small and it will take some getting used to. The screen is very bright and in sunlight it is readable.

The first disappointment however had already arrived earlier by the report in the New York Times (via Russ) that the Bluetooth only supported a headset, and wouldn't function as a modem or sync channel. I wasn't sure whether the story was correct, but unfortunately I can confirm this first hand. It pairs fine with my laptop, but exports zero services. This is a real bummer, as I do use the GPRS modem in the smartphone via Bluetooth in places where I want to check something on a laptop.

The second disappointment (somewhat) is the browser. I use it  mainly to read bloglines if I have to wait somewhere, and have been rather happy with the way the smartphone interacts. The screen is bigger than the smartphone so this promised a better experience,  but the interaction with the network appears much slower. Pages load slowly, even though service provider is the same (TMobile). One reason for this is that it announce itself as a full browser to the server, so we don't see any server side optimizations. Switching the profile for the browser to pocket-pc emulation mode, provided some relieve, but it lost some of the usable screen real-estate.

My first impression are mixed. I have started to get used to its looks, and am not put off by them anymore. The Bluetooth crippling is bad, but I read that you can use the gprs modem via the usb cable. I am hoping for a software upgrade soon. I hope to tweak the browser into behaving better, but I am worried about the efficiency of the network interaction.

My next step is to hook it up with the enterprise services and see whether the phone part, calendar service and address book functionality are worth keeping it.


the 7100t and smartphone side-by-side

Posted by Werner Vogels at October 7, 2004 12:31 PM
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I'm using the 7100t as a GPRS modem to read and respond to your post right now. Speed is not bad (says 115.2 kbps) and it is not bad. I just moved from a Verizon 1x connection connected via USB on a Kyocera 2235, and I'd say this is a little slower.

Coming from a standard phone, the 7100t is awesome. I really like the SmartType system and am getting to be pretty fast on it. I guess your impression of the phone depends on where you come from. For someone who didn't want something which was not primarily a phone, this was the ideal solution. Also $199 for the 7100t paired with 1000 anytime minutes and unlimited internet, email and SMS on T-Mobile is a heck of a deal.

Posted by: Paul Billings on October 22, 2004 08:38 PM