New Cellphones From BlackBerry, T-Mobile Play Against Type

The BlackBerry 7130c, left, and the T-Mobile Sidekick 3.
The BlackBerry 7130c, left, and the T-Mobile Sidekick 3. (Jeff Alexander)
By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, July 2, 2006

Few cellphones say more about their owners than the BlackBerry and the Sidekick -- and these handheld gadgets don't always convey a flattering message.

Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry may make you look like a star on K Street. But carrying the device also advertises that you take perverse pride in being handcuffed to your job by your "CrackBerry" -- and warns dinner companions that you'll ignore them in favor of replying to memos from the office.

What the BlackBerry is to lawyers and lobbyists, T-Mobile's Sidekick is to hipsters and celebrities. Wielding this text-messaging-adept camera phone can broadcast your street cred -- unless toting Paris Hilton's favorite gadget merely suggests that you spend your time in nightclubs burning through Daddy's cash.

(Full disclosure: I carry a Palm Treo 650, which means I'm a geek who keeps checking baseball scores in the middle of meetings.)

The latest versions of the BlackBerry and the Sidekick, however, undermine those stereotypes. The BlackBerry 7130c is designed and priced like a normal cellphone, not a corporate peripheral; you might not get laughed out of a club for flaunting this device. The Sidekick 3 has enough communications options to ensure that your boss's directives will never be far from your attention.

The 7130c -- sold by Cingular for $250 on a two-year contract, with a $50 rebate available -- stays trim by using a condensed, 20-button keyboard. The letters line up in traditional QWERTY order, but with two apiece on most keys; as you type, the BlackBerry's SureType software determines what words each series of key presses could spell, then enters the likely match.

With most vocabulary, that works ridiculously well: I SureTyped "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" with perfect accuracy. But to enter e-mail addresses or other text not in SureType's database, you need to hold down the asterisk key to switch the keyboard into a second, slower mode, in which you press a button once for its first letter and twice for its second letter.

The 7130c's most important software is its e-mail program. It supports the two major kinds of consumer accounts (POP and IMAP), easily connecting to an EarthLink or AOL account with minimal configuration. But as with earlier BlackBerry devices, this one comes set to deliver new messages nonstop -- not only when you want to check your e-mail. It's easy to get inundated.

The 7130c's Web browser can't handle any complicated sites but suffices for quick data look-ups. There is no instant-messaging software on Cingular's model, however. The carrier sells unlimited data use for $30 with any voice plan.

This BlackBerry also features an address book; a calendar; a to-do list; and a memo pad that can sync with Microsoft Outlook on a Windows computer, using RIM's bundled software. (Mac users can try a free PocketMacsync program at .)

But this phone is short on features beyond those. The 7130c includes a speakerphone, but no camera, memory-card slot or music playback. Its Bluetooth wireless seems good only for pricey Bluetooth headsets; it couldn't exchange any data with an iMac or work with a Toyota Prius's hands-free mode.

The 7130c shares its biggest flaw with every other BlackBerry -- a relentlessly awkward interface that spits on most rules of good design. Clicking on a link on a Web page should take you to a new page, but here it invokes a menu 17 items long. Opening a memo requires choosing between reading it and editing it; when you close a document, the default action is to discard your edits.

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