Like more traditional PDA-style BlackBerry devices, the 7290 has a full QWERTY keyboard that, like the display itself, is backlit. Depending on your power-consumption needs, you can change the backlighting to anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes. The keyboard on the 7290 is easy to use. The keys are spaced apart enough that even the most ham-handed user shouldn't have a problem with typos and misdials. Also, when you're at the home screen, entering any of the number key automatically takes you to the phone dialer. In addition to the QWERTY keyboard, on the right spine of the device is a scrollwheel as well as a Back button that takes out of the menu system one step at a time. On the left spine is the minijack for the included wired headset and the USB port for charging the device and syncing it with your PC. On the top of the device, you'll find the IR port and a dedicated button to retrieve your Latest Calls list.The RIM BlackBerry 7290's address book is limited by the available memory, and the device comes with 32MB of flash memory plus 4MB of SRAM. Each contact holds up to eight phone numbers, an e-mail address, and two postal addresses; additional names can be stored on the SIM card. Furthermore, you can enter Web pages, personal information, and notes under each name. A full-fledged PDA, the 7290 also includes a calendar, a memo pad, a task list, an alarm clock, 32 polyphonic ring tones, and a vibrate mode. Similar to other BlackBerry devices, the 7290 lacks an expansion slot.
Though bummed that the 7290 lacked a speakerphone, we were pleased that it sports integrated Bluetooth, which can be used only to connect with a headset and not to sync with other devices. As with all other BlackBerry devices, the 7290 is a business product; subsequently, it's easy to connect it to Microsoft Exchange and BlackBerry servers as well as Lotus Notes servers using the desktop redirector software. Unlike many Windows Mobile 2003 SE devices, the BlackBerry 7290 delivers e-mail in real time, and both messages and the calendar can be synced to the device. If you don't work for a company that has the BlackBerry Enterprise Server installed, you can opt for BlackBerry Web client, which is included in the T-Mobile package service plan. We had difficulty using the Web client over CNET's enterprise servers, but that was unique to our situation. That said, with the Web client, we were able to have e-mail messages wirelessly forwarded to our 7290 from up to 10 POP3 or IMAP4 accounts every 15 minutes.
Primarily a business device, the RIM BlackBerry 7290 lacks multimedia options. There's a picture viewer and nothing else. The 7290 doesn't play MP3s, and like the 7100t, it ships with one Java (J2ME) game, BrickBreaker. As a T-Mobile device, the BlackBerry 7290 lets you download third-party applications or access T-zones for ring tones and games, as well as to browse through news, weather, and sports scores. The 7290 ships with a limited selection of wallpaper, but you can get more from T-Mobile or import your own photos.We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS) RIM BlackBerry 7290 world phone in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City using T-Mobile's network. We had no problem finding a good signal in either location.
As with other BlackBerry devices, sound quality varied when holding the handheld to our ear. It's often difficult to find the sweet spot for both the earpiece and microphone. But since the 7290 has Bluetooth support, we found ourselves using a wireless headset more often than not, and we got the impression that the device was designed with this in mind. We tested the phone with Logitech's Mobile Freedom Bluetooth headset. Connecting the headset to the device was simple, and we never lost our connection.
Battery life was satisfactory. RIM promises four hours of talk time and up to nine days of standby time.