It looks like a BlackBerry, feels like a BlackBerry and says it’s a BlackBerry. But the new BlackBerry 8700c has a few new features you can’t see that will change the way lawyers use their handheld devices.
This newest device offers a lot more power inside the same handheld design to which many lawyers have grown addicted. The design is thinner and lighter, and the screen is bigger and brighter. And the 8700c we tried out has not only a new Intel processor that lets it run applications and download documents faster, but also a connection to Cingular’s Edge, a new high-speed network. With better processors and high-speed networks coming online, handheld users will get their handheld digital fixes faster.
A number of telecommunications companies are offering high-speed networks like Edge. But does more bandwidth actually make the BlackBerry more useful?
For basic instant messaging and e-mail, the change is negligible. But we found we could open large attachments in a matter of seconds, so that portable-document-format files, large Word files and even images e-mailed to the device open quickly and are easily viewed on the color (320x240 pixels) liquid crystal display. The device has a usable, though cramped, full qwerty keypad and a couple of new navigation buttons, so moving around in large documents is not a problem.
However, the size of the display does mean that the newfound power is best used if you need to quickly review documents on the road or get a jump start on work when there’s no full computer around. Due to size restrictions, viewing images is probably not practical, and PDFs are stripped down to plain text to make them readable. However, it’s possible to view complex presentations, including PowerPoint documents, if needed, though they blur if you zoom in too close.
Linking the device to a corporate e-mail account took a matter of minutes by logging in and entering account information through a Cingular Web page.
For legal applications, the BlackBerry we used came loaded with Onset Technology’s Metamessage, which can link to legal applications like document management, time and billing, personal records and contact-resource-management systems. It also can search for Findlaw case summaries, and it has query functions that can search for information such as driving directions or entertainment listings.
Searching for Findlaw case summaries takes a little longer, usually close to a minute. However, it should be noted that Edge is not the fastest data network available. Other vendors–as well as Cingular–are rolling out new 3G, or third-generation, networks that will offer greater download speeds. These networks are coming online in select metropolitan areas.
Jerry Stucki, information technology director at Morgan Miller Blair in Walnut Creek, Calif., has one BlackBerry on the Edge network but is waiting for T-Mobile, his main provider, to offer high-speed service before upgrading his firm’s devices. He says high-speed access improves the transfer of documents, especially for time and billing, document management and other applications built for handhelds. “You can really see a big difference in speed with the high-speed network,” he says.
However, he believes that the screen size will make the BlackBerry most useful for simple, text-based applications. “If you really want to read something, you can send it to a fax machine at a hotel, or sometimes it’s easier if you’re at a client’s site to e-mail it and print off their computer,” he says. “I don’t really see it being useful for functional editing or anything like that.”
The first carrier to offer the 8700c, Cingular sells the device for $299.99 with a two-year contract and mail-in rebate. Monthly rates are $44.99 for unlimited domestic data service and $64.99 for unlimited domestic and international data usage.
It uses an Intel processor, 64 megabyte flash memory and 16MB static random access memory. Bluetooth connectivity is included for communication with other devices.