We were fortunate enough to demo a near-production BlackBerry 7100t earlier this week. RIM has seen the success of the palmOne Treo 600 and has taken aim at that device with the 7100t. A similar form factor and price of $200 make it a strong contender. But the funky keyboard and text input system might be a problem for some.
RIM has done several things right with this release:
• They priced it at a very competitive $200.
• The unit is also light, which makes pocketability easy.
• The form factor is familiar for a phone, similar to that of the Treo 600.
• Despite the odd keyboard, they’ve included software that is supposed to learn the user’s tendencies, getting smarter as the relationship progresses.
• Opted to skip the inclusion of a camera.
On the flip side:
• It’s only available on the T-Mobile network right now.
• The body is also plastic, which may show more wear and tear.
• The keyboard will require a steep learning curve.
• It remains to be seen how well the input software grows with the user.
In other good news, RIM has updated the web client to make it more user friendly for those who don’t invest in the enterprise server. When I last used a BlackBerry, I felt strongly that small businesses were left in the cold, due to the lack of functionality when the BlackBerry is not paired with their server product. Simple things like deleting read mail off the server were not possible. I’ve been told that the client for individuals and small businesses is much better. If so, RIM will have access to a much larger audience.
In the short time I spent with the device, I really appreciated its weight more than anything. Smartphone devices are going to be large; there is little that can be done about that until internal components shrink. So if it can’t be small, being light is the next best thing. The form factor is easy to pocket, in pants or in the shirt. And while it is plastic, the 7100t doesn’t really feel cheap.
All of the standard BlackBerry software is included, along with a new web browser. The browser is able to handle most of what we’ve come to expect in the mobile world, but will probably be best suited for viewing pages designed for mobile viewers. Without the touch screen, navigation is a little more work than it really should be. However, text-based pages will be easy to manage. RIM has also added an IM client that handles AOL, Yahoo and ICQ, but we did not have a chance to demo this program.
Of course the big deal is the text entry system. I have to be honest…the learning curve is going to be pretty steep. The entry works much like a cell phone, where you hit a button multiple times to get the letter you want. In this case there are two letters per button. As you enter in letters, the software tries to guess at the word you want to spell. It’s supposed to grow with the user, so it becomes more accurate, resulting in faster input. My initial take is the input is clunky and hard to learn. But to be fair, I didn’t use the device for an extended period of time. At the moment it’s one of those things that sounds interesting, but I’m skeptical about its day-to-day usage. All of this said, people used to text messaging on their phones will probably pick up this entry system rather quickly.
Overall the 7100t is a refreshing step away from the other products RIM has released. They saw the success of the Treo 600 and made a data-centric product that at $200, really has a chance to make a good run. The clincher is going to be the text input system. If buyers can get on board with it, RIM has a sure winner.
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