Like a camel, the BlackBerry 7230 is a beast that looks as if it were designed by committee. It combines features of a phone, e-mail client, Web browser, and organizer into a compact, portable, and fairly usable package. Like other smart phones (such as the Treo 600), the result ain’t all that pretty, but if you want constant connectivity — or the appearance of it — you’ll probably overlook the design compromises.

Earlier versions of the BlackBerry appeared mostly on the hips of corporate bigwigs because of the handheld’s steep monthly fees and the fact that it worked only with corporate e-mail systems (Exchange and Domino). The BlackBerry 7230 gives entrepreneurs, consultants, and small-business owners the ability to harangue their contacts 24/7, thanks to a reasonably priced service plan from T-Mobile. This BlackBerry can also access standard POP3 e-mail accounts and, through the bundled IntelliSync software, it synchronizes with most major desktop organizers.

The BlackBerry 7230 handles e-mail and phone calls with equal aplomb. Click on a contact, then select whether you want to send an e-mail, place a call, or send an SMS message. The scroll wheel and QWERTY keyboard are passably usable with a little practice, though you’re still not going to be typing long missives on these miniscule keys. When reading mail, you can view text from attached Word, Excel, and PDF files, and you can click on URLs. A built-in browser renders any website readably well, though formatting is funky on such a small screen.

One nice design touch: a lightweight power adapter with interchangeable international plugs that charges through the same USB cable that connects the 7230 with your computer. The biggest compromise is the 7230’s screen: a transflective color TFT display that is illuminated by ambient light. This power-conserving feature pays off with a terrific 6.25-hour talk time, but the tradeoff is a dim, low-contrast display. The optional backlight is so faint that it makes little difference except in total darkness.

The 7230 fits in a shirt pocket and delivers a full range of communications features, despite its dim screen. Too bad it looks so much like a Franklin electronic dictionary. -Dylan Tweney

Research in Motion BlackBerry 7230
$400, plus $30 per month to add unlimited voice and data to any calling plan from T-Mobile
Weight: 4.8 ounces
Size: 4.4 x 2.9 x 0.8 inches
Specs: Tri-band GSM (900/1800/1900MHz) with GPRS data network support; 16MB of flash memory plus 2MB of SRAM; 240 x 160-pixel screen;

*** 1/2

Link: RIM BlackBerry 7230

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