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March 18, 2006

Review: Blackberry 8700c

RIM's latest Blackberry, the 8700c, just may be the perfect single device for all your mobile communications.

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On the surface, RIM's latest Blackberry, the 8700c, seems to be a simple evolution from previous Blackberry generations. But after spending some quality time testing the device, the significance of the changes becomes clear. This $349 Blackberry is a full step closer to the perfect single device for all your mobile communications.

The most obvious change on the 8700c is the screen. It is, without a doubt, the sharpest screen I have ever seen on a Blackberry, and is better than most PDA screens I have worked with. The QVGA (320x240) screen is almost 50% larger than the 240x160 resolution of previous devices.

One of new features I immediately liked is the automatic backlight function. A light sensor built into the device automatically adjusts the backlight to suit the environment. The system works well, but not exactly the way you would expect it to. For example, in a completely dark room, the 8700 will actually dim the screen, in the same way the lights on your car stereo are dimmed when you turn on your headlights. The effect actually works very well: The device is easy read in the dark without blinding you.

The 8700c also got a slimming makeover. The keys have been straightened and also bunched a bit tighter together, allowing the overall width of the 8700 to be reduced. While it did take a little time to acclimate to the keyboard, the adjustment was worth it. The slimmer device, along with the addition of dedicated Send and End keys, make using it as a phone much nicer. The svelte 8700c even feels as comfortable in my hand as the 7100, a Blackberry designed primarily as a phone.

Bluetooth options are unfortunately as dismal as previous devices with one significant difference: desktop sync via Bluetooth. Administrators managing Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) 4.0 or higher can enable this option as part of the overall IT policy. Users of earlier versions of BES are limited to only using Bluetooth with headsets and hands free devices. Security concerns about Bluetooth are cited as the reason for this limited implementation, and considering Blackberry's heavy public sector market, it is a justified concern.

While the exterior on the 8700c has been trimmed down, the internals have been beefed up. The processor has been upgraded an Intel chip running at 312 MHz. The bump in processing power makes both the operating system and applications alike respond quickly. Initial boot up, which could literately take minutes on previous Blackberries, now takes about 45 seconds to complete. The constant little pauses and hour glasses common on the old devices have all but disappeared.

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