BlackBerry pushes a sweet solution

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 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 task

functions.

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 handheld 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

unbreakable.

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

synchronization.

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

States.

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.

MORE INFO

To synchronize a BlackBerry with a corporate e-mail account, you will need:

* An Intel-compatible 486 or higher desktop PC with an available serial port and 8M of RAM.

* Windows 95, 98 or 2000.

* Microsoft Exchange client.

* Microsoft Outlook 97, Outlook 98 or 2000 (workgroup installation) with an e-mail account on Microsoft Exchange Server Version 4.0 or higher that can receive e-mail from the Internet.

BY Michelle SpeirTesting by Michelle Speir and Lisa L. McNair
Dec. 4, 2000

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