Review Blackberry's dominance in the push-email arena seems to be letting up not one little bit, and its popular 7230 QWERTY keyboard-equipped handset also seems to be finding its way onto the belts of business users around the world, writes Stuart Miles.
So when Research in Motion, Blackberry's manufacturer, announced an exclusive Vodafone handset that shrunk the keyboard into half the size we must admit we were sceptical. We're big fans of the original unit and wondered how the folk over at RIM would be able to pull this one off.
Still on the large size, at least for a mobile phone, the Vodafone product, dubbed the 7100v, comes in silver and sports a large bright, 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.
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, at first glance, a pain 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 performed through the handset's USB socket.
When it came to using the 7100v and in particular typing on it, we took a couple of attempts to master it. Once we had got 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, things became somewhat 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 correctly from the start, makes a good stab at understanding what you're trying to say. Where there are multiple options, you use the scroll wheel to select the correct word and continue typing.
Brief emails, text messages, 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.
Email is sent to your phone from a Vodafone mobile email account, which you can set up via your PC. There is currently no Mac support. You can also specify up to ten email accounts for the device to poll. The unit will then pull in new messages in those accounts and allow you to reply to them. Although messages are routed via the Vodafone email account, you can set up the device so that replies appear to have come from the relevant POP account.
Unlike business Blackberries and the enterprise email system sitting behind then, rather than storing and forwarding emails, Vodafone has implemented a 3-15 minute email check cycle for this consumer friendly version.
The system checks for new messages 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, and so on. If the 7100v doesn't receive any mail it reverts back to the 15-minute check period
Either way, three minutes isn't that long, unless you're waiting for an important email. After all, you could boil an egg in the same time. What makes this slightly worse is that you can't force the 7100v to run an email check, something which we think undermines its usability.
Pitching itself as a business tool rather than an entertainment device, and rightly so, 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 - though not for 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 7100v is a good unit. However, we have to admit we prefer the 7230 even though it lacks the Bluetooth and quad-band radio. 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 7100v. The size is obviously a definite plus, as is the clear screen. Perhaps if we hadn't used the original, then the story would be different. For now, we want our 7230.
|Vodafone Blackberry 7100v|
|Pros||— Clear screen; more mobile phone looking.|
|Cons||— Keys can be confusing at start; emails only arrive every 15 minutes.|
|Price||Free to £50, dependsing on contract (£18.50-85)|
|More info||The Research in Motion website
The Vodafone website
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