February 9, 2006

Berry Nice!

For most the thought of a BlackBerry conjures up an exotic summer fruit – but mention the word to a business executive and they will almost certainly think about a portable device that lets you take your email on the road. In the world of portable email BlackBerry rules the roost.

BlackBerry is a portable device – about the same size as a large mobile phone with a full size keyboard that allows you to view your email as soon as it is received. There are many devices on the market that allow you to view portable email but BlackBerry uses ‘push’ technology, meaning email comes to you as soon as it is received, rather then you checking for it. BlackBerry also functions as a phone and has a basic contact management system and calendar.

One of the main reasons that Blackberry enjoys success in certain industries is due to its secure encryption of emails transmitted to and from the handheld. BlackBerry encryption is so secure that it is the only portable email solution approved by parts of the US government. For most individuals this level of security is not required, but it’s nice to know that it is available.

The other benefit of a BlackBerry is the convenience of having your email with you wherever you are. Your whole inbox – even the messages you send are stored on the BlackBerry and can be accessed very quickly and efficiently. If you are using the BlackBerry in conjunction with BlackBerry enterprise server (something your office IT department will need to organise) then every time you make a change on your computer (using MS Outlook) the change will be reflected on your BlackBerry, and vice versa. This means that BlackBerry is an extension of your desktop computer. A very convenient service for people who are out of the office a lot and need to stay connected.

There are also solutions available for individuals who would like the convenience of BlackBerry but don’t have the support of an IT department. In Australia you can choose between Vodafone, Telstra and Optus. I have been testing various BlackBerry models from Vodafone, Optus and Telstra for the past month and have been very impressed. Setting up all BlackBerry’s has been easy. You simply logon to a web site, enter your details plus the specific details about your BlackBerry. All the providers will assign you an email address but if you already have an email address you can also use that. Once it’s configured you’ll start receiving emails instantly.

If you decide to go for a BlackBerry there are three different models to choose from. The 7100 series has a reduced sized keyboard with 20 keys and uses SureType technology that is similar to predictive text. The 7200 series has a reduced size but full qwerty keyboard and has a larger screen. Both offer identical functionality but the 7100 is smaller and more ‘phone’ like. BlackBerry also offer the 7250 unit that runs on 1xEV-DO high-speed Telstra network. The 7250 is also capable of been used as a modem in conjunction with a computer. In my testing the results were excellent, especially in city centers where EV-DO reception is best.

The BlackBerry user interface is remarkably simple – you navigate around the device using a jog-wheel located on the right hand side. Scroll to select the option and then click it in to view a list of options. All of the standard email options are available (like reply, reply all, forward) plus if you sync up your BlackBerry you can use your contact to list to find email addresses. Plus, BlackBerry doubles as a mobile phone with all the features you’d expect. Both series have built-in Bluetooth so you can pair the devices to portable headsets or other Bluetooth devices. In my experience the phone functioned well and was easy to use. Dialling contacts from the built-in address book was as easy as finding the number – plus when the BlackBerry is in the ‘home’ screen pushing any of the buttons automatically takes you in to ‘phone’ mode where dialling begins. Voice quality and coverage with the Vodafone network was also excellent.

Individuals can also synchronise their BlackBerry with their PC. BlackBerry ships with Windows sync software that lets you transfer contacts and calendar appointments to your BlackBerry – syncing each day will keep both systems up-to-date. If you are using a Mac you’ll need to buy PocketMac for BlackBerry. This software lets Mac OS X users sync as they would any other device as in a small download from the internet.

BlackBerry pricing is dependant on the network – most networks offer an all-you-can use email package. Vodafone charge $29.95 for up to 500 emails per month (assuming each email is about 2Kb) or for larger limits - $49.95 for unlimited emails (based on their fare-use policy), Optus charge $99 for talk, text (up to $500) and up to 50Mb of emails per month while Telstra offer an unlimited email plan from $40 excluding phone calls.

If email is an important part of communications routine I can highly recommend the BlackBerry – the convenience of having email ‘pushed’ to your phone rather then ‘pulled’ to your phone alone makes it an asset. Other smart-phones on the market can send and receive email – but none as elegantly and as intuitively as BlackBerry.