A BlackBerry by Any Other Shape

The BlackBerry 7130e is a welcome addition to Research In Motion’s (RIM) 7100 series. Like other models, the 7130e sports the form factor of a standard mobile phone instead of the relatively clunky BlackBerry shape that you might be used to. Best of all, the device is EV-DO capable, allowing it to reach data speeds that far out pace earlier models.

RIM BlackBerry 7130e
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Verizon Wireless sells the 7130e for $299.99 with a two-year contract and $349.99 with a one-year contract. It operates on dual-band (800/1900 MHz) CDMA2000 1X networks.

At 4.6 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches, the 7130e is a bit thicker than other devices in the 7100 line (such as the 7100g) and slightly heavier than that model as well. Still, the size difference is hardly noticeable and easily forgiven when you consider the data speed capabilities and other added features.

A backlit keypad/keyboard hybrid powered by SureType technology lets the device predict what you’re typing as you enter keystrokes. If you’ve not used SureType, you’ll want to give it a test spin, as it differs significantly than the “full” keyboard on the larger BlackBerry models. Many BlackBerry owners are happy to make the small sacrifice in typing efficiency for the convenient form factor that the 7100 series provides.

The keys themselves are raised slightly higher than some of the other 7100 devices—I found it a little easier to type on as a result. With a little practice, you could certainly teach yourself to dial without looking at the device.

The phone features dedicated send and end buttons as well as what RIM calls a “convenience” key. In previous models, this key was hard coded to open the BlackBerry Browser when pressed. This is still the default with the 7130e, although you can now control which application starts when you press the key (you could even point it to BrickBreaker, an addicting game that ships with it).

The Bluetooth capable device is ready to pair with a wireless headset and comes with a built-in speakerphone. The removal, rechargeable battery provides over three hours of talk time and eight days of standby time. We experienced clear, crisp sound during our testing.

The default Verizon theme leaves a little to be desired. The icons aren’t consistent with the standard BlackBerry icons that you’re used to, although it doesn’t take too long to grow accustomed to them. The large Verizon logo on the home screen consumes far too much screen real estate —a precious resource on a handheld.

We found that changing the theme from the default “Verizon” theme to the “BB Insight-Icon” theme made things a little easier to maneuver. For customers switching from another device in the 7100 series, the “BB Insight-List” theme might make you feel more at home.

Screen brightness has been a consistent complaint about the 7100 series, but the LCD screen on this model is brighter than any 7100 device we’ve seen. Although, when you’re outside on a sunny day the screen is still a little difficult to see.

The 7130e comes with the latest incarnation of the BlackBerry OS, version 4.1. You’ll find a few hidden features that improve on previous versions of the platform: RIM likes to sneak in new features with little fanfare.

For example, the device settings section is pared down to the most frequently accessed options, with the others now hidden under an Advanced Settings section. There are other minor new features that the seasoned BlackBerry user might notice as well.

Also included is a new program called the BlackBerry Messenger which is an instant messaging app that you can use with other BlackBerry users, regardless of the carrier they’re on. It’s a nifty application, but fairly limited since you can only communicator with other BlackBerry-folk.

There are a couple of great improvements. For example, the device will now play MP3 files instead of only MIDI or ADP files in other devices in the 7100 series. This makes it far more convenient to create custom ringtones.

The 7130e also lets you assign specific ringtones to specific users in your address book. Imagine recording an MP3 of you speaking someone’s name on your PC, downloading it to your device, and then assigning that ringtone to that user. This was a feature that was clearly absent from earlier versions of the BlackBerry OS that supported polyphonic ringtones.

If you have used a BlackBerry before at “conventional” connection speeds, you’ll immediately notice a big difference when operating at EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized network) speeds. The activity arrows in the top right of your screen will be quite a bit peppier — and you’ll quickly recognize the benefit.

We often read news and blogs using Mobile Bloglines on the BlackBerry browser when we have a spare moment or two. It’s just barely usable on a GPRS network, but it’s far more responsive and enjoyable on the 7130e. While the speed is certainly an order of magnitude better than previous data networks, it is still a mobile network so don’t expect it to match the cable modem speeds you get on your desktop computer.

Verizon’s EV-DO service transfers content — video, e-mail, pictures, etc. — at rates of 400 to 700 kilobits per second in more than 1,180 major metropolitan markets across the nation.

Tethering Laptops
One of the handiest uses for the newer BlackBerrys, including the 7130e, is the ability to tether your laptop to the device and use the data connection as a network adapter on your PC. You can imagine the convenience that this provides; a reasonably fast connection with the range of your mobile phone.

Previous BlackBerrys that supported this feature required you to follow significant setup steps, often poorly documented. There were connection strings to enter that differed per carrier, modem drivers that you may or may not have had to install and, quite often, technical support wasn’t always familiar enough with the feature to help much.

That’s all changed with the 7130e.

It comes with a PC application called VZAccess that handles all the gory details for you. All you have to do is enter your wireless number, click connect, and after a few seconds you’ll be sharing your EV-DO connection on your PC. The only downside is that you still have to be quite literally tethered via the USB cable. Perhaps a future software release will allow you to tether wirelessly via the device’s built-in Bluetooth adapter.

The BlackBerry 7130e is a nice device with the form factor of a normal mobile phone. If you’re a data heavy user and are comfortable with the keyboard used in the 7100 line, you should definitely consider the 7130e. It is a logical choice for upgraders and those who are new to RIM’s product lineup too. For anyone accustomed to the more traditional BlackBerry form factor (for example, the BlackBerry 7290), be sure you’re ready to make the jump to the significantly different keyboard layout before taking the plunge, however. If not, the BlackBerry 8700’s more up your alley.

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Adapted from smartphonetoday.com.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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