Having just reviewed a BlackBerry handheld PDA (the 8700c) at the end of 2006, I was a bit surprised to be offered another one for evaluation earlier this year. After all, I reasoned, what else could they possibly have come up with in that relatively short period of time?
If your agency business frequently takes you on the road, however, you will appreciate the addition of a global positioning system to the Swiss-army-knife-like arsenal of functions already featured in the well-known BlackBerry devices. The GPS is the key improvement in the newer BlackBerry 8800, and frankly, I couldn’t wait to test it out.
But before we get to that, I have to talk about some significant addition by subtraction–to wit, the removal of the signature BlackBerry track wheel.
In previous versions, I have decried the fact that the track wheel–which stood out like a sore thumb on the upper right edge of the unit–was too easy to move or press by simply picking the unit up. The result was that the BlackBerry might receive commands you didn’t intend to give it.
The new 8800 unit, however, replaces the nuisance track wheel with a track ball navigation system that acts more like a mouse, and thus is intuitively easier to use.
Oh, I know some veteran BlackBerry users will miss the reassuring sensation of the track wheel gear teeth scraping across their thumbs, but the new track ball is actually smack in the middle of the unit’s face, making it more accessible and putting it closer to the tiny keyboard on which one must, in any case, use one’s thumbs.
Unfortunately, some of the unit’s controls are still on the edge of the 8800, but those controls do tend to have a lower profile than on previous units, making it somewhat less likely that you will press the wrong button by simply laying hands on it.
GPS TEST DRIVE
The BlackBerry 8800′s built-in global positioning system is coupled with a mapping application, and users can use it to view their current location or track routes to a target destination–specifying shortest distance or shortest time, and even allowing you to avoid highways, if that’s what you want.
As a user, the first thing you have to accept is that no matter where you are, the GPS knows, basically, where you are. If you’re a Mapquest user, you’re trained to type in a starting point and end point, but because the GPS already knows your starting point, you need only supply the destination.
To begin, I simply asked it to guide me home from my local train station, an easy three- to four-minute trip by car.
The process began with me typing in my home address. The GPS guides you in two ways: via a graphic representation of the roads on your screen, and via a rather insistent female voice that tells you where to go. While the graphic was interesting, it wasn’t terribly useful when I was trying to keep my eyes on the road.
One problem that became immediately apparent is that the GPS has no clue how to guide you out of a parking lot, which makes sense, since most parking lots aren’t laid out on road maps, either. As I negotiated my way out of the lot (yes, I do know how to get out on my own), the voice kept suggesting turns, then other turns that simply weren’t there.
I started to think the unit might just overheat and die, but once I got onto a street, it recovered nicely.