Since its release in September, the RIM BlackBerry Pearl has received much praise from users, earning an average 8.2 user rating. The sleek new design and added multimedia capabilities were a hit, and they made the Pearl a more attractive and viable option for consumers. Yet, there were segments of the market--power business users and SureType keyboard haters--who shunned the Pearl in favor of the full QWERTY keyboards on their traditional BlackBerrys. Not so anymore.
Making its debut at the 3GSM World Congress, the RIM BlackBerry 8800 brings the sexier look and versatility of the Pearl to a full QWERTY device. Not only do you get multimedia functionality and expandable memory, but the 8800 also offers integrated GPS and push-to-talk capabilities. Mobile professionals will be served well by this device. Of course, it's not perfect. We're disappointed by the lack of 3G support and integrated Wi-Fi, and call quality wasn't as good as we had hoped. Also, the device is quite wide, making it a tad awkward to hold as a phone. All that said, messaging is still king on this device, and it performs those duties well. The RIM BlackBerry 8800 is available now for $299.99 with a two-year contract and after mail-in rebates.
Taking its style points from the BlackBerry Pearl, the RIM BlackBerry 8800 is a far cry from the days of the blocky and drab BlackBerry 6280 or even the most recent BlackBerry 8700c, which was fine but still a little lackluster in the design department. That's all changed now with the BlackBerry 8800; it's sleek and sexy with its smoothed edges and a deep midnight blue casing and chrome accents. At 4.4x2.6x0.5 inches and 4.7 ounces, it's slightly taller than the 8700c (4.3x2.7x0.7 inches; 4.7 ounces), but it's definitely thinner and thus, easier to slip into a pants pocket or purse. That said, the phone's pretty wide, so clutching it in your hand and holding it up to your ear is a bit awkward and cumbersome. To be fair, this is typical of the full QWERTY BlackBerrys as well as Pocket PC phones and Treos but even still, the Samsung BlackJack is probably the slimmest of such devices out there.
The BlackBerry 8800 features a beautiful 2.5-inch (diagonal), 65,000-color display with a 320x240 resolution. Text and images are clear and vibrant, and the screen also features light-sensing technology that automatically adjusts the backlighting of the screen, as well as the keyboard and trackball, depending on whether you're indoors or outdoors. We found that this function works well, and we had no problems reading the display under harsh lighting. However, the screen, as well as the casing, tends to hold a lot of smudges and fingerprints.
Also, carried over from the Pearl to the BlackBerry 8800 is the trackball. It's great because you can scroll four ways and also select items by pressing down, but we wish it were larger and raised more above the phone's surface. Also, it's easy to get carried away with the rolling of the trackball and go right past your selection, though you can adjust the trackball's sensitivity under the Options, Screen/keyboard menu. For that reason, we missed the jog dial and Escape key that have been mainstays of BlackBerrys' past, but as with anything new, these changes just take some acclimation.
Surrounding the trackball are the Talk and End keys and the Menu and Escape buttons. Below that navigation array is the 35-button QWERTY keyboard. Though there isn't much space between the keys as with the BlackBerry 8700c or the BlackBerry 8700g, the buttons are pretty large so you should be fine. Each key also has a raised ridge to make them more tactile, but even so, we found the lacquered finish made the buttons slippery. The number keys are highlighted in white, and there's also a shortcut on the keyboard to activate the speakerphone.
On the right spine, there are volume up and down keys, while on the left side, you will find a 2.5mm headset jack, a mini USB port, and a convenience key which, for the Cingular version, has been programmed to launch the push-to-talk (PTT) services. There is a microSD expansion slot behind the battery, but good luck getting to it since it took some superhuman strength to take off the battery cover. We hope RIM reconsiders the placement of the expansion slot on future devices. Finally, the power and mute buttons are on the top of the unit.
Cingular packages the BlackBerry 8800 with a travel charger, a USB cable, a wired headset, a belt holster, a CD-ROM with BlackBerry Desktop software, and reference material.
The RIM BlackBerry 8800 keeps a lot of the same features that made it such a staple among the business set, but it also adds some to make it more than a messaging device. We'll start with those highlights first. To start, the BlackBerry 8800 now has multimedia capabilities. More specifically, you can use the built-in media player to listen to music (MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI formats) and watch video (MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 files). We should note that there's about 64MB of flash memory available, but we suggest using a microSD card to store such larger media files.