Six months ago, I had nothing but words of praise for the BlackBerry
8800 from Research in Motion, the Canadian firm which has given so
much power to so many users. Now, the firm is offering, via AT&T, the
8820, which offers Wi-Fi capability along with the firm's "EDGE"
wireless data and GPS/GSM cellular services.
The good news is you can use AT&T (and other) Wi-Fi "hot spots" to
surf the Internet, send and receive e-mail and, I imagine, connect a
computer similarly using the phone as a wireless modem. This can be
helpful in many situations: Wi-Fi can be faster and better than
wireless data in some circumstances, and it can certainly be less
expensive to use free Wi-Fi than pay for data transfers.
The bad news is that nothing about the phone suggests that its Wi-Fi
feature can be used for Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP
calls, such as with the Skype service, or as rival T-Mobile does with
its combination phones. Perhaps such an offering is in the words for
AT&T, or perhaps a "hack" will be developed by some enterprising user.
Either way, one would like to hope that the possibility would be
considered. Merging VoIP with Wi-Fi calling makes sense on many levels
and could push this phone (and others) into more and more places.
That question aside, there's no bad thing to say about the BlackBerry
8820. It retains everything that I loved about the 8800, and I remain
particularly enamored of its case, which shuts off the phone's display
when you slide it in. It's a nice, battery-saving touch.
As mentioned before, the 8800 series of BlackBerry devices lack a
built-in camera, mostly to allow the device to be used in secure
locations. If you can get by without that feature, and like the other
elements of the BlackBerry platform, this device deserves serious
consideration. It's in area AT&T stores now, I believe.
SPRINT'S DATA SAVER ... There is more than one way to skin the
wireless data cat, however, and one of the more elegant is the Sierra
Wireless Aircard 595U, offered in these parts by Sprint Nextel. Slip
this into an available USB port, fire up the software and you're
online, faster than dialup and faster than some Wi-Fi connections.
After discounts, Sprint Nextel will sell you the device for $79.95
with one of two data plans: $39.95 for up to 40 Mbytes of data
transferred each month, and $59.95 for unlimited data transfers. (I'd
go with the latter if I were buying.) Download speeds range between
600 Kilobits-per-second and 1.4 Megabits-per-second; upload speeds are
300 to 500 Kbps, Sprint says.
In my usage, which included jaunts around town and to Boston and
Orlando, I had excellent download connections and very good speeds. I
especially appreciated having the device while at
Baltimore-Washington/Thurgood Marshall International Airport, where I
could happily surf the Internet without paying outrageous Wi-Fi fees.
This is, of course, the lure of any wireless data add-on for a
computer (AT&T has one as well). Sign up for a plan and you can log on
to your home or office networks without hassle, as well as the
Internet in general.
The Sprint deal strikes me as being reasonable in terms of price, and
very good in terms of service. Setting up the Sierra Wireless device
was easy, even on an Apple MacBook Pro install the software, fire
up the device and, presto, you're online.
Although I did not test this, there seems to be no apparent
restriction on using the Sprint wireless data service with VoIP
calling, which can come in handy.
If you're a road warrior, this deserves serious consideration. Details
online at www.sprint.com.