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ISSUE 574: Zisman- Oct 24 2000

The high-tech office


Home-grown Blackberry provides worthy Web views

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 stylus.

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,
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 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

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



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan