image: 7230
The new color BlackBerry with a new screen layout and icons will delight any BlackBerry fan, MSNBC.com's Gary Krakow writes.
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msnbc.com

While Microsoft and Palm have been working on their own versions of combination PDA phones, the creative makers of BlackBerry have quietly molded their new handheld device into a wonderful email-PDA-world phone — with a spiffy new color screen to boot.

InsertArt(1977228)IN A NUTSHELL, the folks at Research in Motion (RIM) have transformed what used to be a pager that handled 2-way emailing into a compact, smart all-in-one device.

According to RIM, their new 7230 is superior to older models because of:

E-mail, phone, SMS, browser and organizer applications available in a single wireless handheld,

Increased memory (16 MB of flash and 2 MB of SRAM) for greater application and data storage,

Full-featured connected organizer with PC synchronization,

International roaming support,

USB connectivity,

Smaller form factor with a light and comfortable feel and

World Tri-band handheld, operates on 900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS wireless networks, allowing for international roaming in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific

BY THE NUMBERS

The 7230 is about the size of a deck of cards, and weighs under 5 ounces. The nifty new color display screen supports more than 65,000 colors. The unit’s QWERTY keyboard and screen are backlit. Navigation is handled by a thumb-operated trackwheel and an escape key on the right. A phone button on top of the device takes you directly to the 7230’s phone functions.

There’s an integrated speaker and microphone (for holding the BlackBerry up to your ear) and a jack for a hands-free headset. Message notification is handled by your choice of tone, vibrate, on-screen or LED indicator. The removable/rechargeable Lithium battery is supposed to provide up to four hours of talk time and 10 days of standby time — although RIM warns that battery life may vary on usage.

The 7230 incorporates Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) operating software — which means that this BlackBerry can do a lot more that previous models. Integrated inside, the 7230 allows e-mail attachment viewing on several platforms, including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, Adobe PDF and ASCII text. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

HOW IT PERFORMS

I’ve been playing with a 7230 for a few weeks now. I’ve been using it as my cell phone, phone book, portable Web browser, appointments calendar, and e-mail device (not just my corporate account, but also e-mail from a few POP3 Internet accounts.)

You have to synch the device with your PC before you can use it wirelessly. That’s simple — it comes with a USB cord which also charges the battery while your BlackBerry is attached to your computer. The USB cord also comes with an attachment that allows it to double as your portable AC adapter. RIM even provides U.S. and European plugs for when you travel. The entire install/synch routine took less than 5 minutes.

I have to test these devices without ever trying their server solution. MSNBC.com does not run e-mail forwarding software from any company on our servers. (More than 11,000 companies worldwide do run it.) Too bad, when your company uses server software you can do many tasks — such as kill an e-mail on your PDA device and have it removed from the server — and most importantly you can wirelessly coordinate your appointments calendar as well as your e-mail.

Even though I’m forced to run the BlackBerry desktop redirector software on a remote PC, I get the idea. The e-mail portion of the 7230 works just like I remember it from previous versions: quick, easy and fast! Data access was good on T-Mobile’s GPRS data system — when I was in an area where I could access that network. Overall, Blackberry still provides the best wireless e-mail user experience.

The color screen is terrific. The screen’s backlighting is on the weak side, but it does the trick when I must check something in a dark bedroom or movie theater. The keyboard is small for my fingers, though your mileage may vary. Navigating around the device sometimes takes some getting used to, although that’s the case for just about every device I test. Once you get in the groove with using the trackwheel and the buttons, everything begins to make sense. Playing games is actually fun.

As for battery life, I was able to squeeze 4-5 days per charge out of my 7230. That included constant e-mail use (300-400 a day), some Web surfing, some appointment notifications and light cell phone use. Even though it’s not the ten days that RIM claims, it’s still better than any other color phone or PDA/phone combination I’ve tested thus far.

The 7230 is a good phone too. I heard the people at the other end and they heard me. Connections were static free and usually rock-solid (again, depending on my location), which is a great improvement over earlier BlackBerry designs. On the whole, I’m very impressed with the size, feel and operation of this new 7000 series handheld.

THE CARRIER

Even though this new BlackBerry design will work with any carrier anywhere (with the right radio board inside), the 7230 is designed to work on T-Mobile’s 1900MHz network in the U.S., and it can roam worldwide on 900MHZ and 1800MHZ systems.

T-Mobile is selling the 7230 for $399.99 — not a bad price for such a useful combo device. As for service plans, T-Mobile cell phone users can add 24/7 BlackBerry service for $29.99 a month in addition to their monthly cell phone charges, or $39.99 a month for the BlackBerry with cell phone use charged at 20 cents per minute. Both deals sound pretty fair.

Until someone comes up with something better, RIM’s BlackBerry 7230 now sits at the top of the roost for wireless PDA/phone/email devices. I can’t wait for the Nextel version with a Direct Connect button on the side and a speakerphone!

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