The text entry system on RIM's new BlackBerry 7100 phone will make a big change in the way users send emails and texts, according to Vodafone, which launched the device in the UK, while T-Mobile has launched a version in the US (we have a review of the US version).

The SureType input system is intended to give users a Qwerty keyboard layout on much fewer keys, allowing a narrower device than the traditional BlackBerrys, explained senior Vodafone product manager Paul Stonadge. Each key stands for two letters and the technique selects the most likely words from a 35,000 word dictionary.

The technique, seen as a novelty by US users, is very much like the T9 input system much used and loved by SMS users in Europe. "This is for longer email entry," said Stonadge. The system can learn new words, he explains: "One fantastic thing it does, is strip in words from your address book, such as company names and strange surnames like mine."

Stonadge uses SureType for emails and text messages, and says it is faster and easier than other systems, thanks to the Qwerty layout. However, he does not expect the technique to challenge the T9, on Vodafone's other handsets, as SureType relies on BlackBerry hardware. If the new keypad is successful, it is conceivable that RIM might license it to other vendors, but this is not particularly likely as the company continues to make 20 percent of its revenue from hardware.

Vodafone's exclusive on the 7100 in the UK will only last till the end of October, after which T-Mobile will be free to bring its 7100t version here, and O2 can also, presumably negotiate its own version of the machine. The 7100v, with its styling and Vodafone icons and navigation, remains Vodafone's own BlackBerry, said Stonadge: "We want to make sure the whole customer experience, is a Vodafone customer experience."

The 7100 does not replace the 7230, he said, as some users may prefer the larger screen and very long battery life of the older device (appreciated in our review of the 7230).

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