Earlier this month, we took a look at one of the newest phones in Blackberry’s line up – the Pearl. This was one for the consumers – a Blackberry that came in a sleek, candy bar form factor, had a two-letters-per-key SureType keyboard and featured easy setup for web-based email, such as Google Mail.
The compadre to the 8100 Pearl is the new 8800. It has the same design stylings as the Pearl – the glossy piano black, the metal accents – but resembles the Blackberries of old far closer. It’s the latest device for businesses, and its got a few tricks up its sleeve. But can it dethrone the 8700 as king of the pocket email devices?
Let’s compare the new 8800 to the previous generation 8700. What’s different? Well, the form factor has altered. The screen is still the same resolution – 320 x 240, the same as most Windows Smartphones – but the physical dimensions are a little smaller, making for a slightly crisper image. The smaller screen is one of the things that goes into making the 8800 significantly thinner than the previous gen, with a notable difference in thickness between the two (the 8800 is 14mm thick, the 8700 is 19.5mm). However, partly to ensure that all the electronics gubbins get squeezed in, the 8800 is slightly longer (114mm v 110mm), making it look more extruded compared to the chunky-monkey 8700.
Blackberry business devices have traditionally lacked cameras, since photo taking in a corporate environment is often a big no-no, for privacy and legal reasons. The 8800 is no different here, which is one of the major functional differences between it and the 8100, which was one of the first ‘berries to have a camera. However, there is some big-time added functionality – GPS. Yes, you can now mount your phone on your dashboard and get driving directions from it, thanks to the included Blackberry Maps application.
Like the 8100 Pearl, the 8800 is also being pushed as a consumer and small business device, so the phone includes functionality for checking web-based email – either directly via IMAP/POP, or through a web-based forwarder to push mail to your provided @blackberry.com address. Traditional Blackberry users will find emails easier to answer on the 8800 than on the Pearl, thanks to the fact that this version reverts back to the full-size keyboard that has defined the device across its lifetime.
Finally, the 8800 borrows the eponymous ‘Pearl’ from the 8100, replacing the old-school scroll wheel on the side of the device with a roller wheel in the middle.
So with the differences in appearance and functionality laid out, let’s get down to actually evaluating the unit. It’s worth talking about that new form factor a little, because it really does feel quite different from the 8700. For one, it’s less chunky, and certainly feels better quality. Blackberrys have traditionally felt quite plasticky and light, and this is certainly a departure. It’s smooth, glossy, and actually a little bit heavier. It’s also longer in the hand, but this enables it to feel better whilst using the roller ball – the 8700 had to be shorter because the click wheel was higher up the device. The fact that it’s so thin makes it feel quite modern, and the phone almost feels like an ‘executive’ version of the 8700. The centre-mounted roller ball makes it ideal for both left and right handed use, and the silver Menu and Back buttons from the Pearl put in a re-appearance, making for a striking flash of metal across the middle of the device. Certainly, the 8800 looks like it means business.
The thinner, longer form factor does mean that the keyboard feels a little different. There are no spaces between the keys on the 8800, unlike the 8700, which can make it feel a little cramped to type on. Research in Motion has attempted to get around this by adding depth contours to the keys, so that a raised section of each key butts against a lowered section of the one next to it. This does help, but the usability will depend on the size of your hands. I have very chunky fingers and found the keyboard eminently usable, but others have complained on web forums. The key action is slightly softer, which I find preferable – whereas the 8700 is really a tap-tap kind of action, this is more of a softer push, with less force required to press the keys, which could make this a more ergonomic device for those already suffering from Blackberry thumb.
As with the Pearl, having the headset and charging ports on the side of the device is slightly annoying, but the top side of the device is taken up with dedicated buttons for power and mute. Where you would normally expect to see a click wheel, buttons for volume up and down reside.
The roller wheel is the major introduction from the Pearl, and it works no worse here. Public opinion seems to be split over whether or not this is a good introduction, with BB purists lamenting the demise of the scroll wheel. Having not been a hardcore user before the 8800, I find the roller wheel an intuitive and quick way to navigate around the menus, with 4-way directional control making it a cinch to quickly move around emails and web pages, too. Clicking the scroll wheel in often brings up a small context-sensitive menu, a limited version of what might be available by hitting the menu button on the same page. This can make the 8800 quicker to use than the 8700.
Obviously, the one thing that most users will get this device for is email. Whilst the Pearl is more of a multimedia and consumer friendly device, the 8800’s pedigree plants it firmly in the grasp of trigger-happy business folks, eager to get instantaneous updates on who-snogged-who at the office party and hilarious FWD: PETER KAY LOL jokes. Or stock updates and mission-critical business information – whatever.
Out of the box, setting up the 8800 for email has been made ridiculously easy by Research in Motion. Whilst the exact procedure will vary slightly depending on which network you get your phone through, the basic process is the same, with most choosing to simply rebrand the Blackberry web service. You can sign up for an account online, and this gives you an @blackberry.com email address. Log in with that on a computer, and you can set up as many as 10 email addresses that you’d like to check with your device. Common web providers have default settings pre-loaded, whilst you can enter server and login details for those not provided.
The web-based system makes it an absolute cinch to get your email diverted to the right place, and the device itself intelligently spoofs the email From field to be the same as the one the email was sent to. This means that email sent to your Gmail will automatically be replied to with your @Gmail address, and email sent to @veryimportant.biz will get automatically replied to with that address. This avoids the annoying situation where you accidentally reply to business email with a personal address, or vice versa, and is one of the things that makes it easy for power users to enjoy Blackberry.
Perhaps the simplest way to get email, if your service provider supports it, is to set a forwarder from your mail to your @blackberry email address. This avoids any kind of configuration whatsoever, and the device does the same spoofing trick in this configuration, too. This makes it ludicrously simple to set up your email to work with the device, and makes on-the-go email accessible to a whole new class of people who don’t/can’t have a Blackberry Enterprise Server installed (although, obviously, the device can still be used in more traditional big business configurations).
The 8800 still can’t edit Word or Excel documents, but the large screen does make it easy to view them, as well as PDFs. The system is backwards compatible with the vast array of third party Blackberry applications out there, which means you can always download and add in this functionality if you want it.
So with email truly nailed, what about the GPS, a new addition to the lineup? Well, things aren’t quite so good here. GPS certainly works – you can pull up the Maps application, get a lock and get some decent directions to where you are travelling. The maps are comprehensive, and easy to read – although there’s no ‘super 3D’ mode that you commonly see in TomTom products.
However, the 8800 takes a long time to get a satellite lock, far longer than most GPS units that we’ve tested. If you’re hoping to hop in the car and drive off, think again – make sure you know the first 5 minutes of your journey because you’ll be doing it alone! The 8800 also seems to be a bit underpowered, since scrolling across maps is not exactly a smooth experience, with plenty of tearing and delay in loading up the visual data. This is disappointing, especially since Google Maps for Blackberry seems to perform much better. CoPilot is still the gold standard for mobile phone GPS software/hardware combos.
The web browser is a fair way better, making a good job of rendering full-size web pages and obviously coping fine with those designed for smartphones. The roller wheel makes it easy to navigate between links across the page, and the screen is certainly a lot easier to read than on the Pearl, which is rather smaller.
The 8800 is the first full-size ‘berry to come with external expansion, and this is in the form of a MicroSD slot, meaning you can stick in a card with video and audio for playback in the included applications. Video playback is neat, and looks good on the large screen – although we can’t for the life of us work out how to full-screen it, leaving the play/pause bar as an annoying surround to the video. Depending on who your carrier is, you’ll be able to transfer across MP3s to use as a ringtone, meaning that you can be the umpteenth person to make their phone sound like it’s ringing in CTU Los Angeles.
The 8800 is a gorgeous device. RIM has taken the business-style Blackberry, given it a swanky makeover and some multimedia hoops, opened up email access to the masses then put it out through standard retail channels. This makes it a great purchase for small businesses, and die-hard Crackberry addicts will find that this gives them an even more enticing and appealing dose of their drug of choice. The GPS and Maps software isn’t quite there, but we can hope that a firmware and software update improves this in the future. For now, the 8800 is undoubtedly the email device of choice for anyone that wants push messaging – and the stunning good looks are just an added bonus.
Score in detail
|Weight (Gram)||134 g|
|Talk Time (Minute)||5 hour(s)m|
|Standby Time (Hour)||530 hour(s)hr|
|Internal Storage (Gigabyte)||80 MBGB|
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