ISSUE 574: Zisman- Oct 24 2000
The high-tech office
We've been looking at ways to get
Internet-based information with gadgets that fit in your pocket. We
discovered that pocket-sized gizmos all have screens that are not well
suited for displaying Web pages designed for viewing on a much larger
computer screen. The resulting compromise is known as Web clipping;
rather than freely browsing the Web, most services aimed at small
devices limit where users can go and even reformat what they can
see so it can be read on a small screen.
In the past weeks, we looked at devices and services
aimed at users of handheld Palms and Visors. They
seemed promising, but weren't currently available in Canada. Pity.
We also looked at services for owners of digital cell
phones. I felt that the smaller screen size and having to input
information using the phone keypad was much more limiting than using a
larger handheld computer such as a Palm.
Perhaps the best of the small services is
becoming widely available in Canada and, wonder of wonders, features a
made-in-Canada device. RIM (Research in Motion), based
in Waterloo, Ontario, has built a line of Blackberry devices.
Service is offered locally by Rogers/AT&T.
Earlier Blackberry models were small units with a
mini-keyboard, allowing users to receive and send e-mail wirelessly.
The new 957 model is somewhat larger, about the same deck-of-cards size
as a Palm or Visor, with the same 160-pixel screen as those models.
Like them, it's small enough to fit in a shirt pocket and, like earlier
Blackberries, it includes the tiny keyboard rather than a Palm-type
Although the keyboard uses a standard QWERTY layout,
touch-typing is a challenge. It reduced me to an awkward, two thumbs
typist. A dial on the side is used for scrolling down the screen.
Clicking the dial brings up program menus or selects an item.
A pretty powerful e-mail program is built in. As with
e-mail on other small devices, expect long messages to be cut off
part-way through, but users can choose to receive the rest of the
message. Users can respond or forward messages, with or without quoting
the sent text, and can maintain an address book.
As with any self-respecting personal information
device, there are calendars, alarms, calculators, memo pads and
tasklist programs. Like other devices, there's a cradle for
synchronizing data with your main computer. Like newer Palms, the
cradle is also used to keep the batteries charged. Unlike Palm/
Visor or Windows CE devices, however, there's not a wealth of other
programs to add to your device.
Nicely done, however, is the Rogers Go.Web
microbrowser service, bundled with the Blackberry 957 by Rogers/
AT&T. It offers a reasonable range of Web information in all the
usual categories: financial, news, shopping, portals, entertainment,
sports, weather and traffic. Its services include
a good dose of Canadian
content from Canada.com,
CBC, CTVSportsnet, Bank of Montreal
and others. But it's not limited to Canadian content; I was quickly
able to track down hotel reviews for New Orleans from Arthur
Frommer's City to Go site, for example.
The microbrowser service is not perfect -- the hotel
reviews were hidden under the "Restaurants and Movies" category. And
some listed services are still "under construction," such as the
ability to wirelessly access Canada.com Web mail. And information too
often comes in tiny chunks, requiring a time-consuming resend to get
additional items in a long list.
As well, I'd love to see the next generation of the
hardware add PageUp/PageDown keys. Rolling the scroll wheel can be a
tedious way to navigate a long page.
Rogers/AT&T Blackberry custom-
ers can download the Go.Web software from www.rogers.com/wireless.
Rogers/AT&T sells the Blackberry 957 for $549 with
a 12-month agreement or $449 with a 24-month agreement. The latter can
be set up as a $28 per month purchase plan. Airtime pricing plans for
e-mail and browsing range from $25 to $50 per month. u