While Research In Motion has been a little slow to add wireless LAN capabilities to its smart-phone portfolio, the companys first stab at it—the BlackBerry 8820—really nails the details as a Wi-Fi device. With its superior e-mail capabilities, a good mix of applications and good (but not great) connectivity options, the 8820 is definitely worth a look for companies planning to upgrade their mobile device fleets.
I found the BlackBerry 8820 to be a beautiful device—sleek, elegant and well-designed for easy one-handed operation. Measuring 4.49 by 2.6 by 0.55 inches and a light 4.73 ounces, the 8820 is slightly wider and shorter than Apples iPhone and significantly lighter than Palms Treo 755p (which weighs in at 5.64 ounces).
The devices 320-by-240-pixel TFT (thin-film transistor) screen is vibrant, and I could change the brightness of the screen by pressing the top power button briefly and toggling between a bright, dimmed or disabled screen. Holding the power button down for a few seconds turns the device off completely, while holding the mute button down will put the device in standby mode.
The 8820 has a 1,400 mAhr lithium cell battery that is rated for about 5 hours of talk time, or 22 days of standby time. Of course, extended Wi-Fi usage—and the associated use of the screen—will drain the battery at a much faster rate. I also found the screen to be a bit slow to blink off when I talked on the phone, leading to some unnecessary power draw.
With the 8800 family, BlackBerrys familiar side scroll wheel is gone—replaced with a nifty track ball located right under the screen that eases both horizontal and vertical movement within the device interface. The track ball also can be pressed down as the action key. The backlit, 35-key QWERTY keyboard, meanwhile, has gotten pretty cramped compared to previous BlackBerry models, as the keys form more of a flat sheet, rather than individual buttons coming up through the bezel (as with the BlackBerry Curve or the Treo 755p.)
Available for purchase through AT&T, the BlackBerry 8820 has a list price of $500. With rebates and a two-year contract, the 8820 can be had for about $300.
Although the BlackBerry 8820 is RIMs first smart phone to include a wireless LAN radio, it is not the companys first Wi-Fi-enabled device. (The BlackBerry 7270 was Wi-Fi only.) This experience has helped RIM go beyond the norm with the 8820 to provide a Wi-Fi device superior to most other mobile devices on the market.
First of all, the 8820 has a dual-band radio, enabled for 802.11b/g in the 2.4GHz spectrum plus 802.11a, allowing me to use the 8820 in the less-interference-laden 5GHz band.
Also, the 8820 offers exceptional WLAN security support. On top of VPN support for many concentrators, the device supports both the Enterprise (802.1x) and Personal (pre-shared key) variations of both WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 wireless encryption, allowing enterprises to easily integrate the 8820 into their existing WLANs without sacrificing security. For enterprise 802.1x-deployments, the 8820 supports all the variants of the Wi-Fi Alliances Extended EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) certification program, including EAP-TLS, PEAP/MS-CHAPv2, EAP-TTLS/MS-CHAPv2 and EAP-SIM, and has support for LEAP and EAP-FAST (Extensible Authentication Protocol-Flexible Authentication via Secure Tunneling). And because enterprise-grade wireless security generally relies on digital certificates, the 8820 offers a handy screen on which to view and manage the trusted root certificates included on the device.
The 8820 also offers excellent on-device controls for WLAN management, allowing me to easily create and prioritize wireless profiles. Radio power controls are also quite good, as I could individually turn off the cell, WLAN or Bluetooth radios—or disable them all at once. And although I found myself wishing that the 8820 would provide a WLAN signal strength indicator on the main screen, I was mollified by the devices superior Wi-Fi diagnostic tool in the connection manager, which provided at-a-glance insight into the status of the current network connection (such as SSID (service set identifier), BSSID, data rate and signal strength), plus a site survey tool that showed signal strengths of all detected nearby networks.
However, the 8820s Wi-Fi connection is currently only for use in applications such as Web surfing or e-mail, as the device is not yet VOIP (voice over IP)-enabled. RIM recently announced the BlackBerry Curve 8320 for T-Mobile networks, which has been advertised to work with T-Mobiles HotSpot@Home UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) service (link to /article2/0,1759,2160567,00.asp).
Read more here about the HotSpot@Home UMA service from T-Mobile.
This indicates a move by the company toward VOIP, but not with the 8820 yet. Given the restrictions on BlackBerrys development platform, it would be difficult for a third-party vendor like DiVitas Networks to come in to create a VOIP and mobility client enabling enterprises to deploy the 8820 in a FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) scenario, as DiVitas has done for the Symbian and Microsoft Mobile platforms—at least, it would be difficult without a direct agreement and involvement from RIM.
Compared to the Wi-Fi radio, the 8820s WWAN connection is a letdown, as it only supports AT&Ts ponderous EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) network rather than the faster HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) network. The quad-band cell phone supports 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz networks, and I found the devices call quality was quite good, whether through the earpiece or through the integrated speakerphone.
The 8820 supports Bluetooth 2.0 for hands-free audio operations or data tethering. The device also included a wired hands-free headset.
As expected from a RIM device, e-mail is a huge strength with the 8820. The device supports as many as 10 e-mail accounts, which can work via the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the BlackBerry Mail Connector (for companies without Outlook Web Access) and other typical mail delivery specifications.
I absolutely loved the 8820s GPS capabilities (and probably will until the bill comes). Powered by TeleNavs GPS Navigator application, $10 a month for unlimited routes, or $6 a month for 10 routes, the 8820s directions proved on the mark in my tests— both to specific addresses and to a directory full of local businesses.
The 8820 also supports AT&Ts Push to Talk service (an additional $10 a month), which I found more annoying than helpful. I found myself constantly triggering the service via the overly sensitive PTT button on the middle left side of the device, which I pressed almost every time I picked the 8820 up. Thankfully, the 8820 provided a message asking whether I wanted to start the service and giving me an opportunity to avoid unnecessary charges.
Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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