As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and this certainly applies to the design of the entire BlackBerry 8700 series. Similar to its GSM cousin, the BlackBerry 8700g, the RIM BlackBerry 8703e sports a nice and compact form factor at 4.3x2.7x0.8 inches and 4.7 ounces. True, it's not as sexy or sleek as the BlackBerry Pearl; it has a blockier, wider form factor that takes some acclimation to use as a phone, but the trade-off is you get the advantage of a full QWERTY keyboard (not that pesky SureType deal) and a large 2.5-inch diagonal QVGA display. Also, the 8703e is extremely easy to use one-handed, thanks to the trademark BlackBerry track wheel and escape button on the right spine.
The screen shows off 65,536 colors at a 320x240 pixel resolution, which makes for a great viewing experience as images and text appear sharp and colors are bright. The BlackBerry 8703e's display also features a light-sensing technology that automatically adjusts the backlighting depending on whether you're indoors, outdoors, or in a dark environment. Sure enough, we had no problems reading the screen even when in direct sunlight. As with other BlackBerrys, you can change the backlighting time, the home screen theme, and the font size, style, and family, all through the Options menu.
For phone calls, there are Talk and End buttons right below the display, as well as a convenience key in the middle that can be programmed to launch any app, while the full QWERTY keyboard can handle all your messaging needs. The 35 individual keys are tactile and well spaced, but they are a bit slick and feel plasticky. Still, we had no real problems writing any e-mails or text messages, and they're adequately backlit for typing in dim rooms.
There is a 2.5mm headset jack, a mini USB port, and another customizable soft key on the left side of the BlackBerry 8703e, while the power button and mute key are on top of the unit. Finally, the speakerphone is located on the back of the device. Verizon packages its BlackBerry 8703e with a travel charger, a USB cable, a belt holster, and reference.
As with other BlackBerrys, e-mail is king on the RIM BlackBerry 8703e. The smart phone is compatible with BlackBerry, Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise servers and the famed push technology delivers your corporate e-mail in real time right to your device. In addition, you can access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts, and thanks to the handy BlackBerry Internet E-mail service, you can set up everything right out of the box. Just go to the E-mail Setting utility on the device, enter your e-mail address and password, and let the 8703e do the rest. We used this process to access our SBC Global account, and we started receiving our messages without any problems within about 10 minutes. Of course, mobile professionals may need more functionality than e-mail to get work done on the go, so the BlackBerry 8703e's attachment viewer opens popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, and GIF.
Disappointingly, the Verizon BlackBerry 8703e doesn't come with any instant-messaging clients (not even BlackBerry Messenger) preinstalled on the device. We were able to log onto Yahoo Messenger via the phone's Web browser, and even though the 8703e is more of a business-oriented device, we still appreciate the convenience, or at least the option, of having a preloaded IM app. That said, the phone does support text and multimedia messaging.
One great advantage of the Verizon BlackBerry 8703e is the EV-DO capabilities. With the support of the carrier's 3G network, you'll be able to connect and browse the Web at almost broadband-like speeds. While data speeds can reach up to 2Mbps, you'll probably experience more in the 400Kbps to 700Kbps range. You can also use the 8703e as a tethered modem for your laptop using the included USB cable, but you will need to sign up for Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess Connect service in order to do so. If you already have an unlimited data plan with qualifying voice plan, you can get unlimited BroadbandAccess Connect for $15 a month, otherwise, it will cost $30 a month. The 8703e also has integrated Bluetooth 2.0 (no Wi-Fi) but it's limited to wireless headsets, hands-free kits, and synching with Bluetooth-enabled PCs. It does not support the object exchange (OBEX) profile.