BlackBerry 7100t GSM worldphone
In our constant quest to find adequate GSM handsets for the international business traveler, we looked at the BlackBerry 7100. The BlackBerry 7100t meets our criteria for an international business GSM terminal: It has all four bands and no camera.
We chose the 7100t from T-Mobile because T-Mobile is an international company which recognizes that its customers travel abroad, and will send you the unlock code and walk you through how to use it. Cingular, on the other hand, has traditionally refused to give out unlock codes. While you can still get a non-T-Mobile 7100 device unlocked by third-party providers, we have seen prices as high as $100 for the service.
We chose the 7100t over other available BlackBerry GSM terminals because of its size and shape. Compared to our favorite-but-obsolete tri-band Nokia 6310i, the BlackBerry is roughly a quarter of an inch wider, but half an inch shorter, which makes it still comfortable for us to stick in a trouser pocket.
The phone works very well. The radio seems stable and reasonably sensitive, and the frequency reselection seems very quick, which is good since you can’t select particular frequencies to scan. It worked with our Nokia HS-3W Bluetooth handset, although other Bluetooth functions, like beaming data, are not implemented. As with most modern handsets, the battery life is less than you need if you are chatty, so we recommend carrying a second battery. There is an 1800 MaH battery available.
The calendar and address book functions are excellent, which is important if you want to carry a phone/PDA rather than a phone and a PDA. BlackBerry designed the 7100 for the corporate user who had Microsoft Outlook installed, and therefore provides no software, such as Palm provides, for manipulating data on the handset. As with any handheld device, without software on your laptop you have to do a lot of excruciating typee typee typee to get information into the device.
The 7100 is a complex device, and requires a clear manual. The actual manual, available online, appears to have been written by the engineers who developed the device, and assumes you are as intimately familiar with it as are they. Thus, the manual doesn’t include an annotated picture of the device, with little notes telling what is where. We had to call the support desk – one of many, many such calls – to find out where the on-off switch was (it is the button on the top, by the bye).
As a typical example of the manual’s approach, you can have missed calls, or even all calls, appear in the message list. How do you select which calls will be shown? The manual says, “To set whether call logs appear in the messages list, in the phone options, click Call Logging.” There seem to be several ways to reach the phone option, so what you actually need to do is go to Applications/Call log/Options/Call Logging, or Send then click the trackball and select Options, Call Logging. Fortunately, the BlackBerry Users Group has a lot of good and easily accessible information, hints, and tips, and is well worth looking-at.
The telephone features are a bit, er, unsophisticated. If you are used to having different rings for different users, or other niceties, you are out of luck. If you need to generate touchtones from the address book during a call, as you will need to do if you make international calls using a calling card service, plan on writing the number down first. On the other hand, their BBClassicPhone ringtone is really loud, which is good.
The software available for the PC side of the house is also, er, unsophisticated. If, for example, you use Oxygen Phone Manager II, which will allow you to access virtually every feature of your Nokia (Phonebook, Calendar, To-do list, Call Register, Notes, Profiles, Logos, Melodies, SMS, FM stations, Gallery, Java applications and games, MMS, WAP and GPRS), you will be sorely disappointed with the third-party software available for the BlackBerry.
There is no third-party application similar to OPM2 for the BlackBerry, and, as best as we could see, no combination of third-party applications that will allow all this kind of access.
Another potential issue is the USB connection to the device, which is used both to charge the 7100 and for data transfer. On our first 7100 the jack came loose and pulled out of the terminal after a few weeks of usage. It hasn’t happened on our replacement, so this might have been a fluke, rather than a design flaw.
In theory the BlackBerry is designed as a data device, yet the BlackBerry oddly uses GPRS exclusively, as opposed to faster EDGE, which means that using it to access the Internet is as torturously slow as with any other GPRS device. Note that if you want data with this device you must – at least on T- Mobile – use a special BlackBerry data plan. It is not designed to work with a standard data plan, according to T-Mobile.
In practice, the BlackBerry was really designed to allow e-mail to be pushed to the device. Since e-mail comes in relatively sporadically, GPRS is not a major disadvantage for that use. We activated the e-mail service for a day, and turned it off when it was clear that it worked. For the individual user, who doesn’t want to have to look for mail in several places, you will have the mail pulled to the BlackBerry e-mail server (and deleted from yours) and pushed to the device. You can set it up so that when you delete a message from the device it is deleted from the server. An oddity is that the BlackBerry demands use of Outlook, you cannot access the mail using Outlook. You must step backward to clunky webmail.
Most handset providers allow you to generate characters using the same letters that are attached to numbers in a conventional telephone. This makes sense since we have spent our lives associating those numbers and letters with whatever finger we use to push telephone buttons. BlackBerry has chosen to put a mini-keyboard on their terminals, so expect a LONG period of confusion while typing, compared to a standard handset.
A nice feature is that if you use the 7100 in icon mode (little pictures are shown instead of lists), you can hide those features you don’t want. In our case, we hid the un-needed e-mail, call log, IM-via-GPRS, browser, and turn-wireless-off icons, leaving us with only those we actually needed If you already have a PDA with which you are happy and a dual-or tri-band mobile device you want to replace with a camera-free quad-band device, you might be better served with replacing the handset with one of the available camera-free quad-band handsets.
If you are looking for a camera-free quad-band GSM terminal that contains a PDA, the 7100t is well worth considering, though it has a SAR of 0.91 (we would prefer it be under 0.5). But, if you have become accustomed to accessing your old handset for text messaging and other features via your laptop, we recommend you keep the old handset around to use to with your laptop. At least until someone comes up with a piece of software that allows you to access the full BlackBerry feature set.