The new 8700g looks like a decent addition to the BlackBerry family and goes some way to redressing the balance that was starting to tilt to the latest Windows Mobile smartphones and PDAs…

So you get a full QWERTY keyboard (like the 7290) with some of the up-to-date styling and the improved screen of the 7100t (320×240 against a poorish 240×160 on the 7290, and much brighter).Then there’s a faster processor, more memory, and a bunch of goodies like shortcut buttons for switching into Silent mode.

One improvement that we really appreciated is the repositioning of the microphone and speaker, which means the 8700g is actually usable as a phone – something that previous BlackBerries struggled with.

On the downside, more phone-ness means less computerishness: the new keyboard is rather cramped by comparison with its predecessors.

You do get dedicated green and red Call and End buttons, and there’s a speakerphone function too.We also liked the quick-access mute button on the top edge.

It’s still primarily an email device, albeit with improved web browsing (that screen really is excellent for the internet).

Email-wise, the 8700g improves on previous BlackBerries to speed up common functions such as email composition. RIMhas finally added the kind of address-autocomplete feature familiar to Windows users, and there’s an easy clickwheel search facility for browsing the address book.

The built-in file viewers need some work – the Word viewer loses a lot of the document’s formatting, for instance, which doesn’t happen on Windows Mobile (or for that matter with Picsel’s viewer).

On the other hand, the 8700g definitely outscores most of the Windows smartphone/PDAs we’ve seen when it comes to battery life.

More differences from most Windows Mobiles: no camera, and no memory card slot. RIM would argue that email doesn’t need such fripperies.

So there is an autocomplete feature that tries to fill in the address you’re typing, and the characteristic BlackBerry thumbwheel can be used to search the address book directly from an email. The keyboard has been redesigned,too, with rectangular rather than rounded keytops and a much improved feel to them.

Despite the shortage of space, it’s possible to type quite quickly…. Unless you need to use the pound sign or the Euro symbol. Ok, a small keyboard needs various shift-key combinations to cover everything. But the $ sign is there; for a European audience it’s really irritating to have to look for the right symbol key combination (it’s symbol-V for £, symbol-X for €).
Such a letdown …

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