Blackberry’s stranglehold on the push-email arena seems to be tightening ever further, and its popular 7230 QWERTY keyboard-based handset also seems to be finding its way onto the belts of business users around the world.
Some months on from the Vodafone exclusive last year, Research in Motion, Blackberry’s manufacturers, has slowly but surely been rolling out exclusives with all the other UK manufacturers, this month its T-Mobile. The unit is virtually identical and like the other models in the 7100 series the keyboard has been shrunk in half. We are big fans of the original unit and wondered how the chaps over at RIM would be able to pull this one off. Could we be swayed second time around?
Still on the large size, at least for a mobile phone, the unit comes in a metallic blue this time and sports a large bright and clear screen. The QWERTY keyboard has been shrunk to fit across five columns of keys four rows deep. The standard ten-key number pad sits in the middle and is differentiated with darker keys, T-Mobile’s difference is the addition of a slot for a lanyard - not exactly ground breaking.
RIM has managed to get the number of keys down to only 20 on the new unit by forcing, in most cases, two characters on each key instead of one. What this has created is not only a smaller keyboard than the traditional more familiar Blackberry model, but a unit that looks like a bugger to use.
Other than the 20 keys on the front of the unit the main control mechanism is a jog wheel and additional escape button on the side of the unit. Synchronisation and charging is done via a USB socket.
When it came to using the 7100v and in particular actually typing on it, we must admit that while we had got used to using the 7100v the second attempt was no easier, all the tricks we had learnt had been lost in a memory cell damaged somewhere along life’s trails.
Just as before, the big barrier is getting past the notion that it wasn’t a mobile phone keypad, even though it looks like one, and that we should type like it’s a keyboard albeit using our thumb instead of our index finger, then things became a lot easier.
With two characters per key the software is a big factor in making this unit work and here the 9000 word predictive text dictionary, as long as you spell the word right in the beginning, works very well in understanding what you are trying to say. Where there are multiple options, you use the scroll wheel to select the correct word and continue typing.
Emails, SMS, contacts and calendar entries are all short enough for this to work. However, unlike the larger version we don’t think that you’ll be typing out long essays anytime soon.
Just like Vodafone, email is sent to you phone from a T-Mobile account that is fairly simple to set up either on the phone or via the internet from your PC. Months on, there is still no Mac support.
You can also specify up to ten email accounts for the device to poll. The unit will then pull in those emails and allow you to reply to them, although it’s pulled in via the T-Mobile email account you can set it so that it replies from your own account, however rather than using the push solution of pushing the emails directly to you when they are received (as in the enterprise edition), T-Mobile, like Vodafone, has a 3- to 15-minute cycle for this consumer friendly version - something T-Mobile insist is a RIM thing not them.
The system works by checking for mail every 15 minutes, if it receives mail within this time period, then it will check again after only three minutes. If it receives mail in this time period then it will check again after another three minutes has passed. If however the 7100v doesn’t receive any mail it reverts back to the 15 minutes and continues like this.
Either way, three minutes isn’t that long, until you are waiting for an important email, after all you could boil an egg in the same time and that takes forever. What makes this slightly worse is that annoyingly you can’t force push the email, something which we think undermines the usability of the ideology.
Pitching itself as a business tool rather than an entertainment device, and rightly so, like the 7100v the unit doesn’t include a digital camera or the ability to play MP3s. However, what it does offer is Quad-Band support for worldwide coverage and Bluetooth, albeit not data so you’ll only be able to connect to headsets or car-kits.
As a unit for checking your emails on the road, the Blackberry is a good unit. However, we have to admit even after a second go, will still prefer the 7230 and even the 7290 which we'll be getting our hands on very soon. In both the 7230 and the 7290 the keyboard is easier, the internet browser a definite plus and overall, you are more likely to be happier replying to an email. It's a shame, because we were hoping for so much more from the 7100t as we were the 7100v. The size is obviously a definite plus, as is the clear screen, but with nothing new over the 7100v or any of the other 7100 series apart from being a T-mobile account you get the feeling T-Mobile is doing this purely to keep customers rather than stay ahead of the game. For other networks see corresponding letters after the 7100.