The tiny BlackBerry might be the ultimate pager

The tiny BlackBerry might be the ultimate pager

By Michael Cheek

GCN Staff

No matter how convenient wireless e-mail seems, it usually works only through a special address. A user has to figure out how to make the office e-mail system forward messages to that address.

It's different for users of Microsoft Exchange Server e-mail. The BlackBerry wireless pager from Research in Motion Ltd. integrates directly with Exchange.'The necessary software can reside on the e-mail server or on the user's client PC.

The BlackBerry two-way pager's keys aren't lit for use in the dark and are annoyingly stiff for prolonged use.

If you don't use Exchange, Research in Motion sells an Internet version with its own e-mail address.

The BlackBerry is one of the few wireless offerings that can integrate with existing e-mail accounts. As someone who checks seven mailboxes every day, I appreciate having one fewer address to remember.

The GCN Lab uses Exchange, so I installed the BlackBerry software on my client system.

The BlackBerry documentation was sparse and could be better organized, but the installation was relatively straightforward.

I tested a BlackBerry 957 handheld, which at 4.6 by 3.1 inches and almost three-quarters of an inch thick was slightly smaller than a typical handheld computer. It weighed 5 ounces.

The 957 model is about twice the size of a BlackBerry 950, which in turn is about the size of a pager.

Whenever I started Microsoft Windows on the PC, the BlackBerry software would load along with the Redirector agent, which forwarded incoming e-mails to the 957 and sent replies back to Exchange Server and then through to the Internet.

Redirector worked fine and usually fast, but the application always remained active on the Windows task bar.

I would rather have it minimized in the system tray, away from the other active applications.

Ready, set, go

Box Score

BlackBerry 957

Exchange Edition

Two-way e-mail and paging device

Research in Motion Ltd., Waterloo, Ontario; tel. 877-255-2377

Price: $499 plus $40 to $74 for monthly service

+Works with existing Exchange e-mail address

+Solid, no-frills two-way paging

'Documentation sparse

Real-life requirements:

Win9x or NT 4.0, Exchange Server 4.0 and Outlook 97 or higher versions, 32M of RAM, 20M of free storage

Redirector must be up and running for forwarding to work, and the user must be logged on to the network. But Outlook does not need to be running on the user's PC.

If Outlook is running, some strange e-mails will occasionally pop up, then disappear. If Redirector is not running, the e-mails do not disappear.

Handily, the messages state their purpose, which has to do with the BlackBerry device, but they produce ghost alerts that the user has mail when in fact the messages have disappeared.

Although Redirector can handle the basic e-mail functions of sending, receiving and replying, it cannot handle other e-mail functions wirelessly.

For example, Redirector can't delete mail or mark it as read. For those functions, the BlackBerry 957 must be physically connected to the PC's serial port in a recharging cradle.

Cradle time

The included software synchronizes the 957 whenever the BlackBerry is in its cradle during bootup or when requested by the user. I found it integrated well with PC-resident contacts, schedules and tasks, and it did not interfere with Outlook.

The monochrome LCD readout showed 16 or 20 lines of text, depending on the user's choice. I found the 20-line mode quite acceptable. There was a red light for alerts as well as brief beeps, neither of which was annoying. The BlackBerry could also vibrate a silent alert.

Beneath the 2- by 2-inch display was an abbreviated QWERTY keyboard with 26 letter keys, a space bar and six other keys'about the minimum for a two-way pagerlike device. An orange button selected use of numbers and other symbols.

The keys required very firm pressure. Because they were not protected in any way, I'm guessing that's why the company made the keys unresponsive, even uncomfortable for long-term use.

I much preferred the softer keys of the PageWriter 2000X from Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill.

Navigation selections were via a wheel along the right side of the display and a button. I turned the wheel to move around and pushed it to make a selection. The button acted like a back button on a Web browser, returning to the main menu.

The BlackBerry 957 had backlighting for use in dark rooms, although the keys were not lit.

I could depend on the BlackBerry 957 for up to two weeks without recharging the internal lithium-ion battery.

Inside the device was a 32-bit Intel 386 processor'remember the 386?'plus 5M of flash memory and 512K of RAM.'The no-frills applications included e-mail, address book, calendar, alarm, calculator, memo pad and tasks.

Other applications are available, but the reliable BlackBerry does not have as many third-party applications as Palm OS or Microsoft PocketPC handhelds.

Count on it

That's why the BlackBerry is, at heart, a well-integrated, functional, two-way pager.

Sure, it has features not found on a pager, such as e-mail and a calendar. But it lacks the little things that would make it a good personal digital assistant.

For example, I would have liked to have a snooze button for appointment alarms.

The best aspect of the BlackBerry 957 remains its integration with Exchange e-mail. That's what distinguishes this offering from other wireless devices.


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