This keeps the screen and keyboard layout of the previous email-focused models, but takes more design cues from the BlackBerry phone, the 7200. Improvements in the 8700 include better positioning of the microphone and speaker, for voice calls, but the big advance is a much clearer, brighter screen. This makes a big difference, especially in poor lighting conditions.
Research in Motion also seems to have pulled off the trick of a better screen without losing too much battery life. The 8700 is slightly bulkier than earlier BlackBerry handhelds, however, in part because the device has a larger power pack.
Other improvements include a new Intel processor and more memory. Web browsing is also better on the 8700 than on earlier models. The speed difference is noticeable, although the BlackBerry is still limited by its use of GPRS mobile networks rather than faster 3G services. For day-to-day use in checking and sending emails, this is not really a drawback. And the 8700 is compatible with EDGE networks, which are not as fast as 3G but should be much quicker than GPRS.
Unfortunately, T-Mobile, the launch network for the 8700, does not yet support EDGE. Rival Orange switched on its EDGE network last week but will not be selling the 8700 until later this quarter.
For the BlackBerry's target market of mobile email users this should not matter much, as speed is not the main issue.
However, early versions of the 8700 seem to have a few flaws that need to be ironed out before the machine can be recommended without reservations.
The device tested by The Independent on Sunday had problems reading emails written in HTML code, and was also unable to open attachments. These could be serious drawbacks for anyone who needs to use the Blackberry for anything other than simple email. They have not occurred on the previous models, so check for a fix before buying an 8700.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5.
PROS: better performance, brighter screen, support for EDGE networks.
CONS: problems with attachments and HTML email.
PRICE: £179.99 (with contract from T-Mobile).
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