Sleek BlackBerry 8800 lacks some features

We liked the BlackBerry 8800 a lot, but you may not be as enthusiastic

The BlackBerry 8800 smart phone is a departure from previous BlackBerries. It is both more mainstream and more refined. But it also suffers from some missing features that diminish the attractiveness of this otherwise elegant device.

After its successful foray into the consumer market with the BlackBerry Pearl, Research In Motion (RIM) set out to give the 8800 a bit more swagger than previous business-oriented BlackBerries. As is typically the case with RIM, everything it did on the 8800, it did very well. But many users will miss some of the features that RIM chose not to support, most notably 3G and Wi-Fi.

Bottom line: We liked the BlackBerry 8800 a lot. Depending on your needs, however, you may not be as enthusiastic.

New look and feel

The first thing you're likely to notice about the BlackBerry 8800 is that it looks and feels less like older BlackBerry models and more like the current crop of best-selling smart phones, such as the Motorola Q and Samsung BlackJack. It's still a hair bigger than those competitors (although smaller than Palm Treos), but gone are the rounded edges, larger size and thickness of the older BlackBerries.

Longtime BlackBerry users will also immediately notice the omission of the thumbwheel on the right side of the device, a feature that has long been used and was much beloved by somel. Instead of the thumbwheel, there is now a tiny trackball-like navigation device on the front, just below the display.

We found the new trackball quite easy to use. The initial instinct is to push down hard on the button, then push it to steer to the on-screen item you want. But the trackball actually responds better to a lighter touch, and we became quite accustomed to it after only a few minutes.

Another significant refinement is the full QWERTY keyboard on the 8800. Given the fact that RIM had less space to work with in this more svelte device, it did an excellent job making this keyboard usable. Unavoidably, the keys are closer together than on older BlackBerrys. However, the top of the keys are beveled so that it's easy to feel each key. As a result, we found typing with the 8800's keyboard to be at least as easy as typing with the old keyboard and more satisfying than typing with the rounded oval keys on our Motorola Q.

While the 2.5-in., 320- by 240-pixel, 65,000-color display has roughly the same specifications as some previous BlackBerries, the clarity and brightness of the display on the review unit were truly impressive. Add the familiar and elegant BlackBerry user interface, the new keyboard and trackball, and the overall usability of the BlackBerry 8800 is quite high and arguably improved over previous models.

Of course, for everything new, there are plenty of old things in the BlackBerry 8800, and that's a good thing. All the expected e-mail capabilities are part of this device, including support for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes as well as POP3 accounts. You can set up e-mail either through a wizard on the device or via a Web site.

As a phone, the 8800 is full-featured, with support for voice commands, call forwarding and a speakerphone. Sound during calls was adequately loud and voice quality was well above average. In addition, the 8800 has all the expected personal information management and desktop synchronization capabilities, although it still only has the ability to view attachments and not to edit them.

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David Haskin

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