So far, people either love or hate the Blackberry. For people who want email on the go, it has been an addictive craze (sometimes referred to as "Crackberry"). Others tend to sneer at it as an overgrown pager. Blackberry is doing its bit to dispel that image, with the recently-leaked news that a Wi-Fi enabled version will shortly be available. This follows smartly on the heels of the arrival of the 7230 here, along with the 7730, a slightly souped-up version . All this goes a long way to dispel some of the objections to the Blackberry. The device is no longer a pokey little texter - it can do much more than that. However, despite the additional functions, it hasn't got overgrown; it is still small and simple to use. And - thanks to its limitations - it still has a truly amazing battery life. The main trade-off is a lack of expandability, but this is easily outweighed by the pleasure of using a device that just does its job. Lots of functions
Blackberry's makers, Research In Motion (RIM), added phone functions earlier in 2003 and the 7230 has a full colour screen. At 240x1160 pixels, the screen is smaller than that on a PDA and it is not bright, although it does have a backlight. It is also not a touch-screen, so you navigate by rolling a scroll-wheel on the side of the device, with your thumb. This turns out to be quite easy to do and a Back button takes you to previous screens. The details of the user interface are quite well worked out, for instance scrolling up in the calendar takes you onto the top line of the screen so it is easy to change to a different date. The phone implementation in this model includes a mike and a speaker, so you can put the phone to your head to talk, or else use a headset. It's more than usable; it dials from your contact book and works in tri-band for international traveller. You wouldn't buy this just for the phone along, but you could conceivably ditch your other phone if you used this. One good thing is putting a traditional number dial pad on the keyboard, so you can dial just as you would a normal phone. Another nice touch is using that scroll-wheel as a volume control. The machine connects to the PC, and charges, using USB. RIM recommends you plug it in for about 15 minutes a day to keep it topped up, but you can easily go for several days without charging. There is also a mains adapter, with cunningly designed international power connectors, but I never needed any more than the USB charge. The system has 16M of memory, enough to hold a lot of email (it just downloads the text unless you ask for more). Using it for real
It used to be that your company had to get the Blackberry religion and put in a corporate Blackberry Enterprise Server to give employees access to email. Now the device comes with a web client which lets you forward email to it from up to ten POP3 email accounts. T-Mobile, Vodafone and O2 all provide the devices in the UK, with suitable contracts. For one month I used a Blackberry 7230 from O2, and became more and more accustomed to it. The parts that I thought would be awkward turned out not to be. This was my first extended trial of a device with a tiny QWERTY keyboard, and I liked it. You use these "squirrel fashion" with two thumbs, and some people despise them, while others take to them. It is not to do with whether you are a touch-typist or not, as I found I enjoyed using it. I believe it is more to do with what you want to write and how you think about it, rather than your dexterity. The only way to find if it works for you is to try it. After a while, I was pitching stories and even wrote one or two on its keyboard (though the sub-editors would prefer it if I didn't do that too often, as the errors piled up even more than in my usual copy). I also became adept at browsing the Web with the scroll-wheel. After years of vilifying WAP, I found that it really is quite useful to see the web on a mobile device - if it is one that you can use reasonably well. I delivered one story to publish on the way to Copenhagen airport, and when we landed at Heathrow, I checked it was online and in good shape. I read about the downfall of Conservative leader Ian Duncan-Smith (remember him?) while sitting in a restaurant. If it had been any other news story that might have made a difference to my evening. Looking at the web on the move is still not a great experience. I didn't look at anything but text sites, and didn't try to do anything with transactions, like buying books from Amazon, But I found myself using it. The thing comes with contacts, calculator, calendar and note-taker, as well as a break-out style game which my daughters appreciated. It synchs easily to Outlook, although when you use it on the road, it is not synched but receives a copy of each email that comes to your POP3 account, so you can find you have a lot of email in your in-tray on your return that you have dealt with already.

OUR VERDICT

If you want to do email on the move, then you should consider the Blackberry. If its niche image has put you off in the past, think again, because it is now a sensible multi-purpose gadget, with a very usable phone and web browser. The screen may look small, and you haven't got a stylus to play with, but you gain massively on battery life.