BlackBerry pushes a sweet solution
Wireless system sends and receives e-mail in real time, from anywhere
- By Lisa L. McNair, Michelle Speir
- Nov 05, 2000
If you're a professional on the go, you probably have a wish list of improvements
for remote e-mail access. Items on the list likely include real-time receipt
of messages, no need for a separate account and improved overall convenience.
If so, your wishes have come true with the BlackBerry wireless e-mail
solution from Research In Motion Ltd. Convenience is the name of the game
with the BlackBerry.
RIM developed the product in part by asking corporate users what they
wanted from a remote e-mail system. One overwhelming response was access
to corporate e-mail accounts. Users are tired of dealing with a second mailbox;
instead, they want a mobile device they can use to send and receive e-mail
from their corporate addresses.
Another issue was instant notification. People want to receive e-mail
in real time rather than periodically having to connect to retrieve information.
Finally, corporate travelers require secure message transmission.
RIM's answer is a handheld device that integrates with Microsoft Corp.
Exchange and enables users to instantly receive e-mail sent to an Exchange
account. The BlackBerry also synchronizes with Exchange's calendar and
This fall, the company plans to release a version compatible with Lotus
Development Corp.'s Lotus Notes.
The BlackBerry allows for instant e-mail notification with its "push"
architecture. Unlike with traditional "pull" models, BlackBerry users need
not periodically connect to a source to see if new e-mail messages have
arrived. Instead, an e-mail message sent to the corporate account is immediately
"pushed" to the handheld device. In other words, messages arrive as soon
as they are sent, with no user action required.
The forwarding takes place at the desktop level, which could create a security
loophole because the desktop machine must be left on. To close this loophole,
RIM offers optional add-on software called BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
This add-on forwards messages at the server level rather than the desktop
level and also offers centralized management and control, including support
for the Simple Network Management Protocol, batch and security policies.
To take advantage of the "push" architecture, the BlackBerry is designed
for long battery life so that users can leave the handheld on at all times.
We left our devices on — and used them fairly often — for more than a week
and did not run out of power. Additionally, the BlackBerry has a convenient
timer feature that allows users to set the hand-held to turn on and off
at certain times to save battery power. There are separate settings for
weekday and weekend on/off times.
To address security concerns, messages sent between the BlackBerry and
the corporate e-mail account are encrypted using the Triple Data Encryption
Standard, a government-approved encryption algorithm that requires the
use of three keys. Triple DES has been tested extensively and is considered
In addition, users can password-protect the device. Ten unsuccessful
attempts at entering a password could erase all data from the handheld.
This is a great security feature as long as users are diligent about backing
up information to their desktops. Further, if a handheld is stolen, it can
be automatically disabled by a command from the network.
Two models of the BlackBerry handheld device are available: the RIM
950, approximately the size of a pager, and the RIM 957, which is palm-sized.
Both contain 32-bit Intel Corp. 386 microprocessors. The RIM 950 is available
with either 2M or 4M of flash memory, and the RIM 957 comes with 5M. Flash
memory saves battery life and retains all information if the battery dies
or is removed.
The RIM 957's screen is larger and crisper than the RIM 950's. However,
the screen on the RIM 950 is also easily readable and, surprisingly, roomy
enough to be perfectly functional. Both are easily visible under bright
fluorescent lighting, and you can adjust the font size and contrast for
optimum readability. Both models also have backlighting to make viewing
easier in dim conditions.
The handheld comes with a cradle that connects it to the desktop PC's
serial port for battery charging and data synchronization. The desktop software
is easy to install and configure. You can choose items to synchronize (calendar,
tasks, calculator, etc.), as well as the actions to take place when the
handheld is placed in the cradle (automatic backup, for example). The software
automatically launches when the desktop PC is booted.
Overall navigation on the handhelds is excellent. The devices feature
a trackwheel that is clickable so that it can be used for both scrolling
and selecting. In addition, the interface is intuitive, with logical organization
and plenty of menu options. We were zipping through the system in no time.
Both devices feature a thumb-sized QWERTY keyboard — the standard layout
found on computers and typewriters — that we had no trouble using. In fact,
we preferred this keyboard to pecking out letters with a stylus. After a
small amount of practice, we were able to type out messages in a jiffy.
The BlackBerry offers several notification options. Both handhelds come
with clip-on holsters and can be set to tone, vibrate or both depending
on whether the device is in or out of the holster. You can set a daily alarm
and reminder alarms that sound before appointments.
Beyond convenience, the BlackBerry system boasts intelligent design.
RIM has an answer for practically any e-mailing situation. For example,
if someone sends a long message to the BlackBerry user's corporate account,
only about the first 2K of the message goes to the handheld. This saves
memory and battery life. Users can then choose whether to receive the rest
of the message. However, most e-mail messages are less than 2K and will
not be truncated.
If an incoming e-mail message contains an attachment, only the file
name and the size of the attachment are sent to the handheld. But BlackBerry
users can still forward the attachment to someone else (the complete e-mail
with attachment is assembled remotely on the desktop) or to a fax gateway
at the home office or at their current location.
Additionally, the BlackBerry features a robust filtering system that
helps users save time and memory by receiving only relevant e-mail messages.
The BlackBerry allows for surprisingly convenient e-mail management
as well. Any changes made on the handheld, such as deletions, are automatically
updated on the desktop during the next synchronization. Desktop folders
are available on the handheld as well, enabling users to move messages from
one folder to another on the handheld with the same automatic updating during
This system is also reliable. It runs on the BellSouth Intelligent Wireless
Network, a digital network based on Ericsson's Mobitex technology. Mobitex
is a packet data network like the Internet, so the connection between the
handheld and the company mail server is never broken, dropped or lost.
The network serves 93 percent of the urban U.S. population and covers
266 metropolitan areas as well as major transportation corridors and airports.
The network features nationwide roaming at no extra cost. A flat-rate monthly
airtime bill of $40 pays for unlimited e-mail use anywhere in the United
Users can also sign up for a third-party Web content service, such
as GoAmerica's Go.Web and WolfeTech Corp.'s PocketGenie, for limited Internet
browsing. The Web content service provides access to information such as
stock quotes, news, driving directions and weather reports.
The final topping on the BlackBerry dish is the excellent documentation.
The user's guide passes our tests with flying colors: Explanations are clear
as well as thorough; all icons and key combinations are clearly laid out
in table format; and it contains a robust table of contents and index. A
small quick-start pamphlet is also included.
If we had to sum up the BlackBerry solution in one word, it would probably
be "Wow!" It's by far the most convenient wireless e-mail solution we've
seen, and it's packed with features. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, smart
architecture makes the system functional and efficient.