With the global success of its “crack” PDAs well established, Blackberry has spent more recent times expanding its 7100 series family of devices that put the same basic idea into a phone-like form. There are now a number of these, including the Pearl 8100, reviewed earlier this month, and the 7130g we poked and prodded at here.
Why would the company want to start tackling phones when it’s best known for its fashionable handhelds? Presumably, the answer is to do with size. The 7130g is about the same size as any other phone on the market but has more or less all the most Blackberry features found on the established PDAs - aside from the full-size QWERTY - that have made them such a hit.
In updating the older 7100 design, the rounder, more sophisticated ergonomics now speak more of a European sensibility than the functional, North American outlook of Blackberry’s origins. Still present is the scrollwheel and “back” button, which can be used to navigate the application icons one-handed, while entering text means tangling with the SureType keyboard which puts two QWERTY characters on each keypad.
Some will get on with this, while others won’t. It can sometimes seem to be an uneasy cross between a proper QWERTY and an ordinary phone keypad, with none of the plusses of either. The predictive text input can also prove to be a bit frustrating until you get the hang of it.
Its interior has moved on to match the 8700, and now features Intel’s XScale 312MHz processor, with 64MB flash memory and 16MB SRAM, decent for a device in its class. None of this affected the battery life which was impressive for a smartphone – we had yet to charge it after a week’s review - as was its general scrolling responsiveness and large, bright colour screen. There’s no slot for adding anything like a micro SD-card, as there is behind the battery compartment of the Pearl.
Beyond that it’s an EDGE-enhanced GPRS device, with Bluetooth audio (no data), quad-bands for comprehensive roaming, conference calling, and up to 10 personal email accounts. An incredibly useful touch is the multi-voltage charger, which allows the user to slot on any one of three power interfaces to the charger without risk of damaging the Blackberry. The built-in modem also negates the need for a data card if used to connect laptops to the Internet in “tethered” mode.
The version we looked at was for corporate users. That means there is an activation application for setting up messaging and push email via Blackberry Enterprise Server. This supports Exchange, IBM Notes, and Novell Groupwise, and a variety of management features that have made the blackberry so beloved of the corporate IT departments when put next to rival smartphone platforms. The again, it also means there is no built-in camera, or music player, which is to be expected for paranoiac security reasons even if it is a shame.
Desktop-side applications include data synch for the onboard apps, backup and restore, folder management and message filtering to manage the volume and type of email. The phone itself has an OK web browser.
For all its qualities, we’re not sure about this Blackberry. If you like the Blackberry design, it might disappoint as it’s really just a juiced-up phone. If you prefer smartphones, then there might be betters ones to be had. We’d guess Blackberry users will love it but others might wonder what all the fuss is about.
It has a en excellent screen, good battery life, works quickly, and comes with the clever email integration that have made the Blackberry a household name. On the downside, there’s no memory expansion, no Wi-Fi, and no instant messaging application as standard. On balance, the keyboard is fine for a device in this class. Is it better than other smartphones? Hard to say.
Launched in the UK on O2, the 7130g is now available on Orange (business customers only) and T-Mobile, the network kind and trusting enough to hand us one to test the device’s earnest capabilities. One excellent feature of going with T-Mobile is “web-n-walk”, which bundles unlimited web browsing in the UK and email with the appropriate tariff. That has to be the best way to use the Internet on-the-move.
If you want phone, email and contact functionality and a large screen for viewing messages, maps, websites and documents, then the 7130 is ideal. It isn't as fully featured as some devices but has lower initial costs.