My new blackberry 7290

For non-geeks: a blackberry is a handheld email client. When people send me mail, I have a “recipe” that looks at the email for me before figuring out what to do with it. If it’s important, it is sent directly to my blackberry, which is clipped to my belt most waking hours. My old Blackberry was about the size of a somewhat chubby pager, and had a very small screen that displayed messages much like pagers used to display phone numbers — the biggest difference being that the old Blackberry had a little scroll wheel to scroll through the messages. The thing about even the old blackberry which was nice was that it was a two-way email device. I could send email from it (it had a tiny keyboard), and it would be transmitted through the air using the same networks as cell phones. The new one, my friends, not only is a cell phone (in addition to an email client), it has lots of other cool stuff. Read on for more 😉

Phone Features

The “gotta have” feature for me on the newer blackberry devices is the cell phone. I hated my old cell phone, and I never used it. My cell is lucky to see 30 minutes a month usage. It was a flip phone, with a screen on the outside when it was closed, and there is, literally, not a single pixel left on it that works. I never liked the navigation of the phone. I could never find anything. The signal was good, though.

I got the blackberry through Cingular wireless, which apparently was the only company who even had this particular model at the time. Me and my group at work all had Verizon cell phones, and were happy with Verizon, but the difference in available features between Verizon’s and Cingular’s blackberries made Verizon an absolute non-competitor.

The point is, I have taken this device into the office, around the area where my building is, home, and to the gym, and have not been without signal. Even where the old blackberry had no signal I had signal. EVEN INSIDE THE BUILDING I had signal, which was unheard of.

The phone interface on this thing rules. If you’re on a call, the display shows a volume wheel, and the scroll wheel transforms itself into a volume knob, which is comfortable to use with either hand without removing the phone from your ear. Also displayed is my phone number!!! Thank you, very much. For those of us who don’t like giving out our cell numbers, and generally don’t talk on our phones 24/7, this is a godsend, because I know I, for one, can never remember my cell number. So if I’m on the phone with someone who needs the number, I can double-check myself. I like that.



I found the phone volume to be more than adequate, the clarity was superb, and the overall experience of using this thing as a phone was great. I especially like that I really didn’t need to “figure it out”. Everything was perfectly intuitive, with the very minor exception of the hang-up feature. To hang up, you have to hold the escape key (located just under the scroll wheel on the side of the unit) for about 2 seconds.

As if all of this wonderfulness weren’t enough, the folks at RIM decided to make getting to the phone feature easy, no matter what you happen to be doing at the time. Along the top edge of the device, there’s a phone button that will launch the phone feature of the device on the spot. If you hit it by accident, hitting the escape/back key will bring you right back to what you were doing last. Very nice. Also, while you’re on a call, that phone button becomes a “mute” button. I don’t have much reason to have a mute button, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Email Features



There are a number of features that make using the 7290 for email much nicer (um, besides the abundant signal). The most immediately noticable one is the screen, which is probably three times bigger than the old blackberry, and probably 3x the resolution as well, which opens up some doors to do things like offer (wait for it) adjustable fonts!! Yes, folks, there are somewhere around a dozen different font faces, each available in sizes from unreadably small to enormous, and you can even make them bold, italic, or both.

The simply marvelous thing about adjustable fonts becomes really obvious when you have what I’ll call “predictable subjects” in your email. For example, the subject line of all emails which come from our problem system at work start with “[PR#”. The old blackberry didn’t have room to print the time, sender, and subject beyond those few letters, which made it impossible to make sense of your email. If you want to see what it’s like, next time you have your email open, scrunch all of the columns in your email list pane down to about 4 characters each, and try to figure out what’s going on with your email with just the information that is visible. It’s maddening.

The 7290, as I’ve configured mine, displays somewhere around 25 characters of the subject. I’ve chosen to NOT display the time in the list, since the time displayed is the time it got to your blackberry — not the time the email was sent, or received by the server which sent it to your pager. It’s not a useful timestamp, so I use the space for more useful stuff. I can see the entire sender name in a lot of cases, and enough of the subject line to see if the last message from one of the guys is in response to a problem I was about to respond to myself.

I have found one limitation in the email feature. You can send email to an email address. You can also send one directly to a pager using that pager’s PIN. However, you CANNOT address an email to a PIN, and then later decide to add non-PIN addresses to the CC list of that message. Oh well — a minor glitch, and one that isn’t altogether unexpected I suppose (either you’re going through the blackberry exchange server or you’re not — you can’t have both).

Integration!

I avoided using my old blackberry, quite honestly. It was a rigid, ugly, hard to read, featureless thing. It was as integrated as you would probably expect, I suppose. If you had contacts in the address book, you could email them. That’s it. Game over.

Alas, the addressbook on the new devices is the foundation of your entire 7290 experience. Once you load the addressbook, you can do just about everything else with no trouble at all. Entering a PIN, 3 phone numbers and an email address for a contact, and then scrolling to their name in the contact list and clicking the wheel pops up options to email the contact using their email address or PIN, call them, or SMS message them. If you choose to call them, a list of their available phone numbers shows up! Scroll to the right one, click, and you’re all set!

At first, I was shocked that there were not multiple spots in the contact form for work and personal email accounts, because I would like to have a choice of email addresses to send to when I click to email a contact. Then I discovered that if you go to edit a contact, scroll to the email field, and click the wheel, there’s an option to add another email address! Yes! As expected, going back and choosing to email that contact brings up the expected “which address?” box, just like with the phone numbers. The only drawback to this (and again, this is really minor) is that there is no “both” choice in that box. *sigh*. I guess I can create a group containing only a single real person as a workaround, but I shouldn’t have to!

Bluetooth!

The bluetooth features of this unit aren’t as grand as a true geek might like. There are no file transfer capabilities, no ability to even add another unit’s PIN to your address book, and no other services offered as either a client or server other than to facilitate the use of a wireless hands-free device so you can talk while you drive, which I don’t do and so have little use for. I feel like there just has to be more to this that I’m just not seeing, so if anyone knows of anything else I can do with bluetooth on my 7290, drop me a line!

On the plus side, my unit came configured with reasonable security settings. It was configured NOT to be discoverable by default, for example.

Conclusion

There’s more to the 7290 than I’m covering here. It comes with a “breakout” clone, two web browsers, and the ability to have different backgrounds on the home screen. These are relatively small niceties that come with a high-res screen. There’s no camera, no expandability in terms of SD or CF memory, and not a heckuva lot of addons that I’ve seen. It’s a phone, email client, and contact organizer. If you don’t wanna spend $600 on the latest Palm, but want something that does 90% of what 90% of people actually *use* a Palm for on a regular basis, I highly recommend this unit.