In today’s busy society, everyone is on the run. We carry pagers, cell phones, and handheld PCs everywhere we go. However, if you want to have your e-mail and the Internet no matter where you are, you may need RIM’s BlackBerry 950 device.

The specs
The BlackBerry 950 is a relatively small device. It’s roughly the size of a large digital pager, 3.5 x 2.5 x 0.93 inches, and weighs less than five ounces including the battery.

The Blackberry 950 runs off of a 32-bit Intel 386 processor. While this may sound like it would run slow, given the features this device has, it doesn’t need much computing power. All the information you put into the BlackBerry is stored in a 2-MB flash memory chip. Other versions of the BlackBerry have larger memory chips.

Best of all, all BlackBerry devices have an integrated RIM wireless modem. That’s right; you can check your e-mail from anywhere, as long as you are in your service area.

Using the BlackBerry
When I first received the BlackBerry from RIM, I learned that I had to activate the product on the Internet. After entering a few details about myself and registering, a signal was sent to my device, letting me know that it was registered and ready to go.

Figure A
The BlackBerry 950 device by RIM

I encountered a problem almost immediately when I began using the BlackBerry. My office is apparently too far inside the TechRepublic building to receive a signal. If I wanted e-mail any time I was at work, I had to stroll outside and wait for a few minutes before my e-mail would begin to download. During a recent trip to the headquarters of business analyst Gartner, in Stamford, CT, I noticed that Gartner employees who used BlackBerrys had to do the same. One individual even sat next to a huge window but, unfortunately, could not receive a signal from his desk.

Another problem I encountered was that I needed to be able to check my office e-mail while I was on the road. Since the only e-mail account the BlackBerry would check was, I had to figure out a way to have my office e-mail sent to that account. My first attempt was to forward the e-mail as it was received on our Exchange server, but this caused a problem. Since my account was forwarding the e-mail, every message I received said it was from me. I had no way of knowing who the message was from or whether it was important. I eventually solved the problem by having Exchange redirect the messages instead of forwarding them.

Once I had configured the BlackBerry to work with me instead of against me, I could start taking advantage of its features. I kept the device with me wherever I went, just in case someone from the office needed me. Before long, the BlackBerry became an extension of me. Everyone at TechRepublic knew that if they needed to reach me, they could just send e-mail at my work address, and I would respond within a matter of minutes.

Neat-o features
One thing you can say about the BlackBerry: It has quite a few features. Not only can you send and receive e-mail, but you can also maintain your schedule using its calendar, keep track of tasks using its task software, figure out equations using its calculator, search the BlackBerry for messages with its built-in search feature, and much more.

And you’re not limited to using the software that comes with the BlackBerry—you can also add third-party software. As a trial, I downloaded and installed the PocketGenie software, which allowed me to surf the Internet in real time. While the connection speed to the Internet isn’t exactly something to write home about, I was still able to check the weather, get local entertainment information, and find out the traffic situation a few miles up the road.

The final feature I like about the BlackBerry is its unique keyboard. Although it’s a bit difficult at first learning to type with your thumbs, once you get the keystrokes down, it suddenly becomes second nature. I personally have written e-mails that span many pages on my device.

Communicate with your PC
Much like the Palm handheld devices, the BlackBerry can connect to your PC so you can update the unit, install software, and synchronize your e-mail. The BlackBerry comes with a small cradle that connects via a serial port on the back of your computer. The best part about the cradle is that it requires no power to operate, which is perfect for those individuals who are constantly on the go.

The software that comes with the device installs without a hitch, and once it’s up and running, it can detect which COM port the BlackBerry is communicating on. The software allows the BlackBerry to be updated with new software, includes backup and/or restore options, and will intellisync with your PC. The software is quite easy to use and requires little to no effort to learn.

Figure B
The BlackBerry Desktop Manager allows you to communicate between your PC and BlackBerry.

The Viewpoint
So after testing the device for roughly two months, what do I think about the BlackBerry 950? To say that I’m impressed would be an understatement. Everyone in the office is jealous that I have a BlackBerry. Everyone has heard of the device and apparently wants one. Everyone who has asked me about it has heard me say that they should consider buying the handheld.

Will I purchase the BlackBerry? Maybe yes, and maybe no. While I really do like the device, I don’t know if I want to shell out the money for it, plus pay a monthly service charge so I can connect and check my mail. It’s nice to be able to check e-mail anywhere at any time, but I still have a laptop and can check my e-mail when I have the opportunity. If RIM brings down the price and the connection fee can be lowered a bit, I’d be more than happy to purchase a BlackBerry.

What would I like to see in the BlackBerry’s future? This one is very simple: I want built-in Internet connectivity. I didn’t like the idea of having to pay a third-party software company a monthly fee just to read the news at If RIM were to put Internet connectivity into the BlackBerry, perhaps even the monthly charge would be worth it.
Do you have a BlackBerry device? If so, we want to know what you think about it! Feel free to leave a post below, or send us a note with your thoughts.

Ed Engelking is a Web editor for TechRepublic. In his spare time, he operates, a Web-site hosting company he cofounded in 1997.