Sprint Nextel is helping itself to another slice of BlackBerry pie with the addition of RIM's BlackBerry 7100i. The first of the 7100 series to make its debut on Nextel's iDEN network, the 7100i's design and feature set is similar to that of its siblings; it has a slim form factor, a great display, and a quasi-QWERTY keyboard with SureType technology. Yet, it also offers some new tricks--most notably support for Nextel's walkie-talkie services--that when coupled with the BlackBerry's push e-mail technology makes the 7100i a great device for on-the-go professionals. Plus, with a QWERTY keyboard, the 7100i is easier to use than the Nextel i930 by Motorola. Finally, at $199.99 after rebates, the BlackBerry 7100i is a good deal.
As mentioned earlier, the styling of the RIM BlackBerry 7100i doesn't stray far from that of the other models in the series, most closely resembling the BlackBerry 7100g. At 4.7 by 2.3 by 0.9 inches and 4.2 ounces, the 7100i will make for a tight fit in a pants pocket, but Nextel ships the device with a belt holster. And ladies, the handset shouldn't take up too much room in your bag. The external antenna does add an extra 0.75 inch of bulk, though. Overall, the mobile is comfortable to hold in the hand and up to the ear, but the plastic casing feels a bit cheap.
The RIM BlackBerry 7100's 2.25-inch screen displays 65,536 colors with a 240x260-pixel resolution, producing sharp text and bright images. The screen washes out when viewed in direct sunlight, but we like that you can change the size, the type, and the style of font, as well as the backlight time and the brightness. Below the display, you'll find a customizable shortcut button flanked by the Talk and End keys.
All phone numbers and text are entered through the RIM BlackBerry 7100i's modified QWERTY keyboard, which features two letters per key instead of one; the numerals also share space with the 10 buttons that occupy the center of the keyboard. RIM redesigned the keyboard in this manner in order to give the 7100i's a smaller and more phonelike form factor. If you've used a full QWERTY BlackBerry in the past, this new layout may take some adjustment, but we got the hang of it after a day or two. In addition, the 7100i features SureType technology to make text composition easier. This functionality acts like predictive-text entry; after you input the first couple of letters of a word, the device then presents you with a list of possible words from which you can select.
On the left side of the RIM BlackBerry 7100i, there's a 2.5mm headset jack, a USB port, and a rubber walkie-talkie button, while the BlackBerry's signature scrollwheel and escape button are on the right. To use the speakerphone, there's an activation switch on top, alongside the power on/off button. The speaker itself is on the back. Aside from the belt holster, the BlackBerry 7100i comes with a wired headset, a USB cable, an AC charger, and reference material.