- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Next to a certain digital music player (Apple Computer’s IPod), the hottest tech gift this holiday season could be the BlackBerry 7100T, a combo cell phone and messaging system that’s rather attractive.

The first attraction is the size, roughly equivalent to the Treo 600 and similar Palm-based devices. That makes it “shirt-pocket friendly,” as well as easier to slip into a purse than some personal digital assistant/phone combos of days gone by. The second is that it looks very much like a phone and not an overgrown pager, as do some other BlackBerry devices.

The color screen on the device is great indoors, and OK in some outside conditions, such as overcast days. On bright, sunny days, you will need some shade or will want to adjust the screen settings. The display is sharp, a plus for any hand-held device.

E-mail and address book capacities seem to be limitless. I’ve pumped more than 2,000 names and 1,300 e-mails into the test unit without problems. Its software — easily compatible with Windows-based personal computers — is very accommodating. A third-party solution (see below) handles Mac users’ needs. If your corporate e-mail is behind a firewall, you should have your company get additional software to make it accessible.

Web browsing has been a little trickier, but TMobile, the carrier promoting the 7100T, is constantly upgrading the Web browser software.

You may not get a “full” Web experience here — some pages may never display properly on any hand-held — but you can often get what you want without much hassle.

As a phone, in terms of sound quality and coverage, the 7100T is hard to beat. It functions nicely as a phone, and TMobile’s coverage and signal strength, once problematic in the Washington area, are much improved.

Perhaps the nicest aspect of the deal is the firm’s $70 monthly service plan, which offers 1,000 voice minutes and unlimited e-mails and Web browsing. The e-mails can often replace phone calls, and the voice minutes can be used any time. If you are exceptionally verbal, $90 will give you 1,500 minutes a month and the same e-mail/Web deal.

Combining the BlackBerry 7100T ($199 at TMobile through the end of this year) with a rather good rate plan makes this the deal of the year.

Moving data to a new cell phone can be a hassle. Windows-friendly software comes with the BlackBerry 7100T. Mac users, however, will profit from a version of the popular PocketMac software for BlackBerry devices, a $30 program that works flawlessly, as I saw.

For those with other cell phones and big, honking address lists, a program called DataPilot, available for both PCs and Macs, will help immeasurably. I just got a Motorola V505 cell phone, and the Mac version took a bunch of names from my address book and shuttled them over to the phone with ease. In fact, it recognized that the phone needs to split an entry with multiple phone numbers into multiple entries, and did so.

The PC version offers more control over things such as ring tones, calendar items and photo files, as well as addresses. I’ve not tested the extra features, but address-shuttling worked just fine. The product supports dozens and dozens of cell phone types, and either version is around $80 for a “universal kit” that will handle your phone today — and probably your next one, too. I highly recommend this software.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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