With the arrival of the 8700g, T-Mobile injects some life into its aging lineup of BlackBerry devices, which hasn’t seen a serious new handset (besides a small update to the compact 7100t) in more than a year. Besides the GPRS-only 7290, T-Mobile users have had to make do with the 7105t, a consumer-oriented BlackBerry with a slimmer form factor but a tricky, pseudo-QWERTY keypad. The new 8700g (also available on Cingular as the 8700c) takes the features of the 7290 and adds EDGE support to the mix, along with a speakerphone and mapping/driving directions (courtesy of Google Local). Overall, we were impressed with the 8700g’s performance, particularly when it comes to e-mail handling (no surprise there), and the added EDGE support certainly revved up its browsing. However, both the 7105t and 7290 are tempting bargains now that their price tags have plunged to $100 (with two-year service agreements).
The black-and-silver 8700g looks pretty much like your garden-variety BlackBerry, complete with a bright, 2.5-inch QVGA display and the standard full QWERTY keypad. Measuring 4.3 by 2.7 by 0.8 inches and weighing a reasonable 4.7 ounces, the 8700g is a bit bulky for a jeans pocket – then again, you weren’t really expecting to cram a BlackBerry in your pocket, were you?
The 8700g’s 65,000-color, 320 x 240-pixel display looks sharp and rich to your eyes, although the display is (as expected) tough to see in direct spotlight. The handset’s icon-driven main menu looked colorful and vibrant, as did the full-color images people saw on the web browser.
You will have little trouble typing on the roomy RIM keyboard, although some wish numeric keys and common symbols (such as the period and the comma) merited their own keys; instead, they’re relegated to second-banana status on the letter keys. People have also noticed that the entire thumb board was rattling around a bit inside the plastic 8700g shell; it had no effect on typing and didn’t seem in danger of coming completely loose, but some wish the keypad felt more solid. Back on the plus side, the 8700g is the first BlackBerry with dedicated “call”, “end”, and “mute” keys (the mute control sits on the top edge of the device), and people liked the side and front “convenience” keys, which you can assign to launch any of the 8700g’s various apps.
The quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900) 8700g has an Intel XScale processor under the hood, along with a decent 64MB of flash memory and 16MB SDRAM; in different tests, most people found the handset to be relatively zippy (although none of the apps on the 8700g are terribly demanding). The phone also supports T-Mobile’s 2.5G EDGE network, making for speedy (if not bone-rattling) surfing on the RIM web browser.
Messaging is the name of RIM’s game, and the 8700g comes ready to play. Like the latest BlackBerrys that has been seen, the 8700g will check up to 10 e-mail accounts, including Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, and IBM Domino accounts and standard web and POP/IMAP e-mail services, such as Yahoo (whose subscribers get the added benefit of real-time message delivery), Gmail, and AOL. While push e-mails Exchange/Lotus/Domino setup requires the help of your handy IT department (or the use of the included desktop mail redirector), personal e-mail setup was a snap; people just entered their Gmail account info, and within minutes the 8700g was collecting their messages. The fly in the ointment, however, is that the 8700g (on T-Mobile’s network, at least) doesn’t support Hotmail or MSN accounts; T-Mobile reps told customers that talks are underway and that Hotmail/MSN service will arrive in the near future.
While the device’s e-mail management stacks up nicely compared to the rest of the RIM family, come wish (as ever) that the BlackBerry e-mail app did a better job of rendering HTML-formatted messages; even the most basic formatting (such as boldface or paragraph breaks) is often stripped away, while embedded URLs are removed and displayed next to the linked text, making for quite a mess. That said, the RIM’s messaging client will open PDFs and Microsoft Office documents, and does an especially nice job rendering Excel files.
Syncing the 8700g to our PC was a piece of cake; after installing the BlackBerry desktop software, people soon made a wireless connection with the handset’s built-in Bluetooth (a USB cable is also included), and within minutes they’d synched up hundreds of contacts, events, notes and to-dos.
The 8700g comes loaded with an impressive set of tools. First up is Google Local, which lets you access the all-too-addictive Google Maps (you can zoom and pan around the satellite images using the keypad), search for addresses, and pull down driving directions. Meanwhile, Pocket Express lets you check the latest news, sports, weather, and financial news (while most of Pocket Express’s content is free, some of the channels require a paid subscription). A shortcut on the device lets you download Oz’s instant messenger client, which supports AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. Also on tap are the standard PIM tools (such as an address book, a calendar, and a to-do list), plus a calculator, an alarm, a memo pad, and Brick Breaker.
Call quality on the 8700g was great as far as a Blackberry is concerned. Customers in New York have stated that they had no trouble chatting with their buddies. New York is a difficult place to talk because of the buildings, etc. Most customers got about 4 hours of talk time from the 8700g and five days of standby time.
With its bright screen, full-QWERTY keypad, EDGE and Bluetooth support, and characteristically superb e-mail handling, the 8700g is a strong choice for anyone looking to take the BlackBerry plunge. That said T-Mobile customers who want a BlackBerry device that fits in a pocket might be better off with the slightly smaller (if tougher to use) 7105t, which features a pseudo-QWERTY thumb board.