A nifty new smartphone combines the traditional keyboard layout known as QWERTY with the slim lines of the kind of cellphone that usually offers just a number pad and a multitapping system to pick out letters.
The new smartphone — a personal organizer combined with a wireless phone — is a BlackBerry 7100t that works exclusively with T-Mobile service. It offers a new system — a compromise of sorts — for typing one letter per key. The 7100t also offers a host of other organizer, Internet and phone features that are both sophisticated and easy to use.
Smartphones — which combine personal organizers with wireless phone and Internet service — traditionally offer one of two systems for entering words.
Those that resemble regular cellphones usually offer just a number pad for dialing numbers and a multitapping system for typing. For instance, the ”2” key can be used to write a, b or c. To spell out words, you must tap once to select the first letter, a quick two times for the second and three times for the third.
Then there are bulkier smartphones, which resemble wider personal organizers and which, increasingly, offer the entire alphabet in tiny buttons laid out like a traditional keyboard.
Here’s the BlackBerry 7100t compromise: Offer a 20–key system that places a maximum of two letters on each key, each of which is bigger than the Lilliputian 26–key smartphones. You type with a software system that usually figures out which letters you intended to type so multitapping isn’t always necessary. RIM invented this ”SureType” technology in order to make a slender phone with a recognizable keyboard layout and little call for the multitap.
For the most part, the 7100t is a success. The SureType system generally picks out the right words and in the atypical instances where you are writing an odd word such as a password or a proper name, you can disable the system. SureType also adds these words to its 35,000–word dictionary so it will recognize them the next time. When it guesses wrong, it also allows the user to easily select the correct word.
The typing system takes about a full hour of use for nimble handling. Although, occasionally frustrated with its word guesses, I disabled SureType.
What else does the 7100t offer? For one thing, you can send and receive messages on up to ten e–mail accounts, including AOL, Internet mail and, in many cases, your business e–mail, if your system uses BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes/Domino or Novell GroupWise. Ask your company’s e–mail administrator if you’re unsure. Largely because of this broad access in wireless BlackBerrys, devoted followers have nicknamed it the Crackberry. The 7100t also automatically downloads all your messages onto the device without prompting every 15 minutes.
The phone offers a sweeping variety of additional communications tools: caller ID, call waiting, instant messaging with preloaded AOL, Yahoo and ICQ software, short text messaging, a high–quality speakerphone, an address book that allows for extensive entries, a phone log, a folder system for saving wanted messages and synchronization with your main computer’s contact and message data. Unfortunately, however, the model does not offer a Bluetooth system for wireless synching.
The four–band GSM/GPRS phone makes international calls in 135 other countries. It has a full HTML Internet browser. The 7100t has an easy, one–handed scroll system and menu for navigating the phone’s features. It makes a great alarm clock and among its host of polyphonic ring tones is a ”classic phone” ring — like that emitted by the olden dial phone — which you can set so loudly you can hear it two rooms away.
The price for new customers of T-Mobile is a reasonable $200, if you retrieve the $100 rebate. But the carrier has taken an unfortunate approach in charging the full $300, without rebate, for its existing customers. A monthly service plan for the 7100t customers of $60 provides 1,000 Whenever Minutes, free domestic roaming and long distance, and unlimited e-mail, other messaging and Web browsing. See www.t-mobile.com for more information and a 3-D demo.