's BlackBerry 101 Lecture Series

Happy Monday class! And welcome to Lecture 3 in our weekly BlackBerry 101 series. In today's lecture we're going to dive into the topic of choosing the right BlackBerry to suit your needs. If you are in the market for your first smartphone or are finally making the switch to BlackBerry from another platform, you should (hopefully!) find this lecture helpful. If you're a long-time CrackBerry on your second, third, forth, fifth, six, seventh, eighth (you get the picture) BlackBerry most of this will be old news to you, but take a read anyway… you never know, you may just find a useful tip or two. Let the class begin >>

First Things First – Choose BlackBerry!
Before you can Choose the Right BlackBerry you first have to Choose BlackBerry. If you missed our first lecture entitled Why BlackBerry? I suggest you give that a read before proceeding any further (read it now!).

Decision made? You want a BlackBerry? Congrats! The good news is that by choosing BlackBerry you really can't make a bad decision when it comes to device selection (I'd take any current BlackBerry model over any other smartphone!). Every current device model made by RIM possesses the same basic features and qualities (easy-to-use operating system, stability, durability, long battery life, BrickBreaker, etc.) that has given BlackBerry the reputation it enjoys. That said, there are features that distinguish one BlackBerry from another (height, weight, personality, abilities, hair color) so a little homework up front will ensure you choose the BlackBerry that suits your tastes and needs.

My BlackBerry Collection
And if you're like me and just can't decide which BlackBerry to Choose,
Get one of Each! Those who can't do teach, right? :-)

How to Choose the Right BlackBerry for YOU!
The decision tree for choosing the BlackBerry for you is not very complicated, but there are some critical decisions to be made before arriving at your final choice. Here's the basic process:

  • Choose Your Carrier
  • Pick the Right Time to Buy
  • Answer these questions to choose the device for you:
    • Can it Have a Camera?
    • Full Keyboard or SureType?
    • Which Form Factor?
    • Which Bells & Whistles Do You Want (GPS, WiFi, etc.)?
    • Any Other Details/Factors to Consider?

Pre-Decision – Do You Have a Choice?
Despite RIM's growing presence in the consumer market, the majority of BlackBerry devices in use worldwide are corporate owned/issued. This means for many BlackBerry users there are no decisions to be made – you take the BlackBerry you are given. While some companies are quite active in upgrading their BlackBerrys, others unfortunately, are not. If you work for the latter and are still sporting 'Old Blue (the nickname I gave my BlackBerry 7290), it's probably time to start a small "BlackBerry Union" and hold bi-weekly meetings in the parking lot to discuss ways to get the company to upgrade.

Step 1: Pick Your Carrier

The first step in choosing the right BlackBerry for you it to first choose the right CARRIER for you. Despite the millions they invest in advertising, there is no single 'best' carrier (at some point the grass will always be greener) but in the long-run I'd consider it advantageous to pick a carrier and stick with them (that's how you can eventually start talking your way into 'loyalty' perks) rather than bounce around between carriers each time a new device hits the market and always be a new customer.

Unless you buy your device outright (which is expensive), you're going to be stuck with the carrier you choose for a while. You don't want to have to end your contract early (nothing is worse than having to pay cancellation fees and/or buyout your contract) so you'll want to give this some thought. Here are the key factors to consider in choosing your BlackBerry carrier:

1. Coverage – Choose the carrier that provides you with the best cellular coverage. You spend most of your time at the office, at home, and in the car ride in between, so make sure the carrier you choose will give you full bars/signal strength during your typical daily routine. There's no point buying the latest BlackBerry only to find you get no signal and dropped calls! If you're a first time cellular user (the odds of that are probably pretty slim these days) or just moved to a new area and are getting your wireless on (better odds) invite friends/co-workers/family over to your home/office and check their bars! Better yet, walk in to a store and see if they will lend you a test device for an hour or two so you can check your signal (tell them they did this for a friend of yours – they might go for it that way!).

2. Network Technology – If coverage isn't an issue (consider yourself lucky!) and you have your pick of carriers, your next consideration is the technology the carrier uses to connect your device to its network. Is it GSM or CDMA? Assuming the quality of coverage is equal (which rarely seems to be the case), from my observation it seems most BlackBerry users would opt for a GSM BlackBerry. GSM carriers tend to have a broader selection of BlackBerrys to choose from, and typically get the latest and greatest BlackBerrys first. But the good news today (vs. a couple of years back especially) is that all of the major carriers (GSM or CDMA) now offer some sweet BlackBerry devices, so even if you're stuck with a CDMA carrier it's not all bad news (unless you have your heart set on a Blackberry Curve).

GSM stands for The Global System for Mobile Communications and is the leading technology for cellular communication worldwide. In North America, AT&T (formerly Cingular), T-Mobile and Rogers (Canada) run GSM networks. GSM phones use SIM cards to store information about your cellular account (i.e. your phone number), which makes it easy to upgrade and/or switch between phones. Just pop your SIM card out of one BlackBerry and into another and you can begin talking right away (login to your BlackBerry BIS account and update the device's PIN # and your data/email will begin working immediately too). GSM BlackBerrys come locked (they only recognize SIM cards from the carrier the phone was purchased from), but many BlackBerry users (especially those who travel a lot) seek to 'unlock' their phones, allowing the phone to use the SIM card of any GSM network worldwide. In addition to this ability to be 'unlocked' (which is not something the GSM carriers want you to do), GSM networks also tend to get the newest BlackBerrys first. Data services for GSM BlackBerrys are typically provided via a technology called EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution). With a max data rate of ~ 236Kbps, EDGE is somewhat slow when compared to the higher EV-DO data service technology becoming available to BlackBerrys on CDMA networks.

GSM Carriers in North America each offer the full range of BlackBerry devices – including the Curve, 8800, Pearl and 8700 and older 7xxx series of phones. If you're on a GSM carrier, you are lucky enough to have the full gamut of device form factors to choose from.

CDMA stands for Code Division Multiple Access, and is the cellular technology used by Sprint, Verizon, Alltel, and Bell/Telus (Canada) in North America. Unlike GSM phones, CDMA phones do not use a SIM card. The devices are hard-coded with a unique ID number, which the network recognizes to allow connections. Because CDMA is less adopted in Europe and Asia than in North America, getting coverage when traveling abroad with a CDMA BlackBerry can be challenging. RIM has addressed this with the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, which when in North America runs on CDMA networks, but also accepts a GSM card for roaming when overseas. As mentioned, some CDMA BlackBerrys (the new BlackBerry Pearl 8130 coming to Sprint) take advantage of EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) technology for data services, which offers transfer rates of up to a speedy 3.1Mbps.

With a CDMA carrier, your selection of BlackBerry models to choose from will be limited when compared to those available by GSM carriers. Unfortunately, the BlackBerry Curve series will not be on your shopping list, nor will the original BlackBerry Pearl (though if you remain patient, as mentioned, a CDMA Pearl is on the way and will soon be here!). The best CDMA BlackBerry on the market right now is the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, and the odds are relatively good this will be the phone you end up with if you are looking to buy a CDMA BlackBerry right now (at least it's a great phone!).

3. Plans – If coverage isn't an issue (again, consider yourself lucky!) and you have multiple carrier choices available to decide from, look next to the PLANS. Every carrier has BlackBerry voice/data plans, and no matter what carrier and plan you choose your monthly bills will always be wayyyy more expensive than you think they should be. You need to put some research into figuring out what suits your needs best. Are you a data hog? Better get unlimited data (good luck if you're in Canada!). Can you get by with only email access? T-Mobile is offering a new $10/mo. email only data package. Talk to the same people all the time? Maybe you need My Fave Friends. Figure out how many minutes, how much data, and how many text messages you think you'll need each month, add 15 – 30%, and try and find the carrier that can provide it for the least cost.

4. Other Factors – Maybe your company is going to pay for your phone, but whatever phone you choose it has to run on AT&T. Maybe you're a long-time Sprint customer, and don't want to switch to another carrier even though you're stuck on CDMA and don't understand the way their plans work. Maybe you've heard good things about T-Mobile customer service and want to give them a go. Maybe your friends are all on AT&T, and you need to be too!

There are many factors that may influence the decision of which carrier you choose. Just remember, push comes to shove, the most important factor is COVERAGE COVERAGE COVERAGE!

Step 2: Pick Your Time to Buy

Here's a little story: You've been waiting for your current cell phone contract to expire, it's finally up, and you're itching to get the new BlackBerry Curve you've seen a couple of your co-workers with. You head on down to the local AT&T outlet (you need to be on AT&T where you live), and you pick one up today. You come home, use it for a couple of weeks, LOVE IT, and BANG…AT&T releases the BlackBerry 8310. If you ONLY would have logged onto a couple of gadget blogs and forums (err… you would have known there was a new Curve on its way. By waiting just a couple of weeks, for the same price you could have been showing those co-workers up with a flashy, RED, GPS-enabled 8310 Curve.

Lesson Learned: When Choosing the Right BlackBerry for You, you have to compare not only what's on the market today, but what's going to be available on the market in the weeks and months ahead. Only then can you make an informed decision.

Equally important to consider is where you are in your current contract. If you're caught in a contract and looking to switch carriers, it might be worth waiting it out a few months to avoid the cancellation fee/having to buy the contract out. Is Christmas around the corner? Substantial holiday season savings might be just weeks away if you can hold out just a little bit longer.

You don't want to go into paralysis by analysis when making your BlackBerry purchase decision, but at the same time you don't want to be hasty. Your berry intuition will get berry good with time. You'll know when it's the right time to buy.

Step 3: Choose Your BlackBerry Device

We've finally reached decision making time. In an attempt to keep this article as 'timeless' as possible (I don't want to be updating it every single time a new device hits the market), I'm going to take a generalized approach at honing in on the right series of device that is suited to you (but will throw in some specific suggestions as well). From there, you should be able to determine the model that fits your needs based on your carrier and specific desires. We are working on a detailed BlackBerry Buyer's Guide for that will be updated regularly and provide a side-by-side comparison of every BlackBerry device available, so stay tuned for that!

Decision Making Time
When buying your BlackBerry, today or in the future, always try and stick to the latest-generation of devices available. At this point in time, if in the market for a new BlackBerry, I would be considering models primarily from the BlackBerry 8800, 8300 and 8100 series. Depending on your specific circumstance, there is also the chance the 8700 series would still be a good fit for you, though this device is in the later stages of its product life cycle. I would personally try and stay away from the 7xxx series of phones. Don't get me wrong, they are still good devices and I would be happy with any, but it's almost 2008 and you gotta keep up with the SmartPhone Joneses.

To walk through this process of choosing the right BlackBerry for you, I'm going to assume you are purchasing your BlackBerry from a generic GSM carrier, meaning you have the full selection of BlackBerrys to choose from.

Decision 1: Can it Have a Camera?
If you intend to use your BlackBerry for business, there is a good chance that having a camera onboard your phone will be considered a big No No, hence why I put this question first. If this situation applies to you, you can slash your choices down to the camera-less BlackBerry 8800 Series and older BlackBerry 8700 Series, which are geared towards being 'corporate executive' (rather than 'consumer') smartphones. Between these two, the 8800 series is likely to be the favored choice – it's newer, sleeker, more feature rich, has the trackball, media player, GPS, and expandable memory. At the same time, if you're looking for a work horse and care less about high-end features, the BlackBerry 8700 series is sturdy, reliable, and gets the job done (and I still have a unwavering fondness for the trackwheel).

If a camera is must have (or if you are indifferent), the BlackBerry Pearl and BlackBerry Curve will be on your BlackBerry-buying radar as well. The BlackBerry Pearl was the first BlackBerry to include the trackball and a camera, which is of a lower resolution than the newer BlackBerry Curve. The next generation of BlackBerry Pearl to be released will put these two phones on an even playing field in terms of picture taking capabilities.

If you don't want a camera, your decision gets made here!

Decision 2: Full QWERTY Keyboard or SureType?
While the BlackBerry 8800, 8700, and 8300 Series offer full QWERTY keyboards, the ultra-slim Pearl utilizes BlackBerry's SureType technology (which assigns multiple letters to each key) for data input. If you receive more emails than you send, and place value on having a small-sized phone, the BlackBerry Pearl may just be for you. While I personally have never been a fan of SureType (before I was a BlackBerry Addict I was a master of T9 word completion on my old Samsung flip phone – once discovering BlackBerry's full QWERTY I vowed never to go back!) I have seen people become very adept at using SureType, to the point where they can equal the speed and accuracy of me on a full QWERTY BlackBerry.

While full QWERTY keyboards are larger (by necessity) than the Pearl's SureType keypad, the QWERTY method of data entry is very easy to learn and become proficient with, is fast, and offers high accuracy. It's the inspiration behind the "BlackBerry Prayer" as well. When you want to write a long email, you grab the device with a two handed grip, put your head down, and pump out the message with both thumbs a blazin'. From my experience on all of the 7200, 8700, 8300 and 8800 series of BlackBerrys, I would rate their keyboards in the order just listed. Typing on 'Old Blue (my 7290) was a real joy – the phone itself is a tank compared to the BlackBerry Curve I use today, but it's spacious keyboard and small buttons with big spaces in between made for blistering typing speeds. With the 8700, the keyboard tightened up a bit, and I found myself making a few more errors while typing than with the 7290, but with time my speed and accuracy became every bit as good.  With the introduction of the BlackBerry 8800 RIM started to go in a new direction – the BlackBerry 8800 series keyboard features big, sculpted buttons packed tightly together. I had a hard time getting used to this keyboard - the lack of spacing between keys makes it easy to mistype, and to this day I'm still less comfortable typing on this model than with any other BlackBerry. With the BlackBerry Curve, RIM has gone back to a keyboard design that features small keys with larger spaces in between (thank you RIM!). The Curve's keyboard is amazingly small, yet offers all of typing ease I enjoyed on the 7200 and 8700 series. All other factors aside, if you are making the decision between the BlackBerry Curve and 8800, I would go in the direction of the Curve simply because of the keyboard. Regardless of your choice between the Curve and 8800, with the addition of Spell Check to the latest versions of the BlackBerry OS you can be rest assured your messages will leave the phone spelled correctly.

If you have decided the BlackBerry Pearl is for you, the decision ends here!

Decision 3: Which Form Factor to Choose?
Assuming you have excluded the BlackBerry Pearl from the decision making process (by now you should know if that's the phone you want), your decision will either be based on the overall form factor of the phone or else the bells and whistles you are afte (GPS/WiFi/Camera). Ignoring the bells and whistles and just focusing on the ergonomics and looks of the phone, there are three form factors to consider – the older 8700 series, the newer 8800 series, and the latest BlackBerry Curve series.

The 8700, while not that old, is quickly becoming 'old school. It's a sturdy, dense device, and features BlackBerry's iconic trackwheel for navigation. It's actually a joy to use – if you never try the BlackBerry 8800 or Curve you really won't feel that you are wanting for anything. Plus, the 8700 to date is my favorite BlackBerry in terms of ease-of-access. The OEM holster for the BlackBerry 8700 allows for super-quick removal of the device when worn on the front pocket or belt. One of the best features of the BlackBerry 8700 is that people recognize it as a BlackBerry – it has the BlackBerry 'look'.

In comparison, the BlackBerry 8800 series is thinner, narrower, and lighter than the 8800, but also a little taller/longer. The 8800 was the first full QWERTY BlackBerry to utilize the trackball, which if making the switch from the trackwheel takes some adjustment but overall I have found to be far superior (you can use your BlackBerry with both your left and right hand and can scroll in any direction). Compared to the 8700, the 8800 feels a little less sturdy (I'd recommend throwing the 8800 into an open-face case to tighten it up) and a little less comfortable to type on than the 8700, but as mentioned in Decision 1 is much more feature rich than the 8700 and is likely to be your choice.

The BlackBerry Curve is an evolutionary step that really brings the best of both the 8800 and the 8700's form factors together, and in my opinion is the ultimate BlackBerry form factor (it's going to be interesting to see how RIM tries to improve upon it in the future – it's near perfection!). My only problem with the Curve form factor is its name – it really isn't all that Curvy. I find its overall appearance is that of a slimmed down 8700 (same proportions) with the trackball navigation applied.

If form factor a decisive factor for you, your decision will be made here.

Decision 4: Which Bells & Whistles do you Want?
Do you want your BlackBerry to have GPS? Are you looking for WiFi? Need to have a Camera AND GPS? How about a Camera and WiFi? Maybe WiFi and GPS? Eventually (and hopefully sooner than later), RIM will be able to cram EVERY smartphone bell and whistle imaginable into a tight form factor like the Curve. Since that's not currently the case, you are going to have to pick which Bells & Whistles are important to you and make your decision from there. Day by day the options are increasing. At first, GPS was only available on the BlackBerry 8800 Series. Now it's also available on the BlackBerry Curve 8310 (GPS & Camera). You can now get GPS and WiFi together on the BlackBerry 8820, or if you're a T-Mobile user, the BlackBerry Curve 8320 offers WiFi and a camera, but no GPS.

When it comes to the bells and whistles, there will always be tradeoffs involved, and it will always come back to the limitation of what's available from your carrier.

If there's a specific 'bell and whistle' you want your BlackBerry to have (or combination there of), the choice will be made for you at this step.

Decision 5: Any Other Details/Factors to Consider?
Your final decision should be color! Keep in mind, you won't always have a choice in this department (do you want your 8800 in black, or Black?!). The BlackBerry Pearl is available in an assortment of colors, and the color options on the BlackBerry Curve are now increasing too (T-Mobile is offering their 8320  in Platinum and Gold, and AT&T is rumored to be introducing their 8310 in Titanium and Red).

If your final decision isn't color, and at this point you're still stuck, just like choosing your carrier it may come down to the details. Look to the BlackBerry spec sheets to sort out these decisions.  Is battery life a major concern? You may want to opt for the BlackBerry 8800 over the 8300 if there are no other factors influencing your decision more heavily. Or maybe you want to use the same BlackBerry Paris Hilton is using… you better go with the Curve (haha…I know I just killed the credibility of this lecture by throwing that statement in!).

One factor that shouldn't sway you is the way RIM has marketed the device. The BlackBerry 8800 may be a 'corporate executive' phone, but if you're a personal consumer and think it's got the goods you want, then go for it! Likewise, the Curve may be geared toward 'consumer' use, but that shouldn't stop you from using it for 'business' use. Just last week I ran into Leonard Asper, my old boss and CEO of CanWest Global Corporation (Canada's largest media corporation), and sure enough he was carrying a BlackBerry Curve.

If you're still not decided, pay attention to the details, seek advice in the CrackBerry forums, and then go with your berry intuition!


The process for choosing the Right BlackBerry for You is relatively simple, but there are some critical steps along the way. Pick your carrier first – that will limit your choices. Don't be hasty in making your decision – do some research and make sure you are working with all of the information available to you. And from there, finally pick the phone that offers the form and features that suit your needs and desires.

That's it. The above paragraph sums up what I took 3,800 words to say previous. But hey, it wouldn't be a Lecture if it was short! Until next week, Class Dismissed!!

Discuss this Lecture in the BlackBerry 101 Forum.