Network, Blackberry 7100’s biggest drawback

leftgraphic-3.jpgOkay, so I’ve spent some time messin’ with the new Blackberry 7100t, and while it has some well-implemented features, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never own one. My biggest complaint? Why in hell would the benevolent folks from the north (read RIM) decide to offer a device whose main selling points—i.e., email and messaging connectivity—are completely hamstrung by T-Mobile’s sub-optimal GPRS network.

To be clear: The Blackberry’s keyboard–as is by now well known—kicks mas ass. It took me all of 5 minutes to familiarize myself with its (at first) mystifying keyboard before I was bangin’ out IM’s and emails like the over-caffeinated desk jockey that I am. The real beauty is the SureType software, which thanks to a 35,000 word library, actually makes it easier to type longer words, because by the time you are finished, it’s predicted what it thinks you’ve wanted and given you a set of options to chose from. It does this very well. Trust me, it’s nice to not have to abbreviate each word down to the absolute bare minimum number of consonants. The software can also “learn” frequently used words and phrases. I immediately taught my 7100 such staples as “wanker” and “jenky”. The joy.

What’s less than good—alright, it sucks– is sending and retrieving messages, or loading web pages, on the brutally slow T-Mobile GPRS network. While setting up your Blackberry to sync with an email account is easy, and can be done either via a web interface or over the 7100 itself (I recommend the web option, the URL you need to reach is like 75 digits long), it takes forever because the network is so freakin’ slow. Reaching the Google homepage took about 30 seconds, and that’s about as light a page as you’re gonna find. Meanwhile, reaching ESPN’s header was an adventure: It took me nearly five minutes just to open a front-page story about the Dodger’s rapidly disintegrating playoff hopes. At that speed, it pretty much kills the desire to explore the world wide interweb,. When I was sending IM’s, the network had the nasty habit of taking nearly two minutes to deliver or retrieve them, and some were lost altogether. (I had my IM account set up so that I received messages on my 7100 and at my computer, so I could compare info.)

As a phone, the 7100 is unremarkable, but not bad. It’s lightweight, and cuts a slicker profile than the Treo, without sacrificing too much in screen. It also gets points for offering Bluetooth, which was easy to sync up with a wireless headset. As for the interface, well that was a little odd. The 7100t seems to have been going for some weird retro UI that ends up kinda goofy looking, what with all the icons of saxophones (for downloads, of course) and  gramaphones (to set profiles, go figure). From what I’ve heard, the folks in Waterloo are a little quirky, and that certainly came through in the UI. Hopefully they’ll sort that out, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

In the end, what killed this for me was the T-Mobile network. If RIM is serious about selling this to bidness folks, I hope they branch out and hook up with Verizon or, even better, AT&T/Cingular. At EDGE speeds, this little device would be a lot more interesting. Until then, I can’t recommend it.

Guest review by Matt Maier, Business 2.0’s fearless gizmo correspondent and my fellow traveler into the wireless wonderland. Matt uses six phones at a time, talks on none, takes video clips on two and when he is slowing down he double fists fizzy and fancy caffeine drinks.