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BlackBerry: Trackball, yes; Thumbwheel, no

Gary Krakow stakes a look at Research in Motion's brand new BlackBerry — the 8800 — the first BlackBerry without a thumbwheel navigating system.
The all-new Blackberry 8800
The all-new Blackberry 8800RIM

It was only a matter of time. When the Research in Motion people came to show me a  Pearl a few months ago — they also had a prototype of another phone in its very early stages.

That prototype would borrow some of the innovations in the Pearl and add them to  larger phone format. You know which ones I'm talking about —the  with full  keyboards. The new handset was thinner and lighter than previous “large”  bristling with new features.

They did a lot of work to make their new model but apparently didn't spend much time coming up with a name. They called it the BlackBerry 8800.

For all you “CrackBerry” addicts I must warn you at the outset that the 8800 is different from any other . It’s the first one without a thumbwheel. The experts at RIM, seeing the success of the Pearl and its little trackball, decided that their new model didn’t need an ancient-style navigation device. Don’t worry; you’ll get used to the new system within an hour.

The 8800 is a quad-band world phone. It runs on the 850/900/1800 and 1900 MHz GSM/GPRS and EDGE networks. In the United States, the 8800 will be first be sold by Cingular Wireless. The big, bright color screen has a built-in light sensor which adjusts the brightness of the screen, keyboard and trackball depending on your surroundings.

The svelte handset measures 4.49 by 2.6 by 0.55 inches and weighs less than 5 ounces.  There’s a new, 1400mAh, high-capacity lithium battery inside which is said to provide up to 22 days of standby and a whopping five hours of talk time. In my short time with the 8800 I found that the battery lasts 2-3 days of heavy use before needing a recharge.

The other big new feature in the 8800 is the addition of a built-in GPS location finding system.  You can use your BlackBerry with add-on, location-based software and services to figure out where you are (a good thing for me) or to track others (co-workers, loved ones, etc.). There’s also a Push-to-Talk feature on the 8800 a la Nextel’s ubiquitous wireless intercom system. 

The 8800 has one of the best portable Internet browsers in the business, a terrific media player, a microSD slot for extra storage, a full QWERTY keyboard and, of course, the now legendary BlackBerry wireless e-mail system with the ability to handle up to 10 different accounts on the same handset. All in all, quite a neat little package.

I’ve been playing with a pre-production handset for more than a week and had no problems, which bodes well for post-productions handsets that will ship to stores.   I love the 8800’s size and shape. It has great hand feel and does everything it’s supposed to very, very well. I didn’t miss the infamous thumbwheel at all. Neither will you. 

Cingular has set their price for the 8800 at $299.99 with a two-year service commitment after rebates.  If you’re a BlackBerry fan — you have to see the new 8800.