The exterior of the new BlackBerry 8820 may look familiar. After all, the device has the same sleek black design as the BlackBerry 8800, which was launched earlier this year. The new phone has one important upgrade under the hood, however: Wi-Fi.
This is the first BlackBerry with Wi-Fi support, and the addition is a welcome one, as it means the phone can provide wireless voice and data access over both cellular and Wi-Fi wireless networks.
Like the 8800 and the more consumer-oriented BlackBerry Curve, the 8820 will be available from AT&T. Starting tomorrow, you can get the 8820 for $300 with a two-year service contract. In addition to Wi-Fi, the quad-band GSM phone includes support for the carrier's EDGE network--but not its true 3G HSDPA service.
The 8820 can connect to 802.11a/b/g networks; connecting to my 802.11g wireless network at home was a breeze. I simply launched the Wi-Fi Setup wizard, selected my network from the list of available choices (you can either scan for available networks or manually enter the name of the network to which you'd like to connect), typed in the WEP key, and was connected in seconds. You can choose to automatically connect to your favorite wireless networks when they're available, and also can store any login info that is needed to connect to public hotspots.
The device will default to a Wi-Fi connection when one is available; a small icon on the top of the screen tells you which network you're using. Surfing the Web and sending and receiving e-mail messages via Wi-Fi was speedy, especially where the EDGE network coverage was spotty--as it often is inside my house.
When the 8820 connected to my Wi-Fi network, I was able to send an e-mail message and surf the Web while on a phone call without a problem. You can't, however, make voice-over-Wi-Fi calls on the device just yet. RIM says that this feature will be offered at the discretion of the carrier; AT&T says that the Wi-Fi capabilities on the 8820 are "data only" at this time.
Other than the Wi-Fi support, the 8820 is almost identical to the 8800 (which will be replaced in AT&T 's lineup by the 8820). The phone includes built-in GPS functionality (no hardware add-ons required) and comes with access to the easy-to-use TeleNav GPS service from AT&T, which is available for an extra $10 per month.
E-Mail Is Easy
Also like the 8800--and all BlackBerry devices--the 8820 is a champ when it comes to e-mail. The phone supports up to ten e-mail accounts, including POP3, IMAP, and Web-based e-mail. Corporate e-mail access is available through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server; I tested the personal e-mail capability with the BlackBerry Internet Service and a POP3 account. I simply entered my e-mail user name and password; within minutes, mail from my personal account was arriving in my hand. The inbox is neatly organized and superbly easy to read.
The 320-by-240 display is gorgeous, and navigating the device via the small--but very usable--QWERTY keyboard and BlackBerry Pearl-like trackball is quite comfortable. At 4.5 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and 4.7 ounces, the 8820 can feel slightly boxy when held next to your ear. Call quality was quite good, though, and the included speakerphone worked well. We are currently in the process of testing the phone's talk-time battery life; we'll add that information (and a PC World rating) to this review as soon as it is available.
While the 8820 lacks the camera found on the Curve, it does include a media player for playing back audio and video files and a microSD card slot for storage. In addition, it includes AT&T 's Mobile Music service, which lets you access subscription services such as eMusic and XM Satellite Radio.
The business-oriented 8820 lacks a camera and some of the other consumer-friendly applications (such as access to popular instant messaging clients) found on other BlackBerry devices. The support for Wi-Fi is an excellent tradeoff, however, and the result is a sleek cell phone that delivers speedy data service even when your cellular coverage is spotty.