The Competition

Research In Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry is smaller than Pocket PC devices, and most users prefer the BlackBerry's keyboard to the Pocket PC's input options. However, RIM had to compromise to create a device that clings to a belt and incorporates a keyboard. Before deciding on the device, users should be aware of some of the BlackBerry's limitations when compared with the Pocket PC.

To cut down on network traffic, the BlackBerry limits the amount of data it downloads at any one time. Most messages arrive in one piece, but users might need to retrieve large messages in multiple chunks. Some users forget to fetch more data and end up reading only part of a message. You can configure BlackBerry Enterprise Server to send complete messages, but doing so can slow down message delivery.

Until recently, the BlackBerry couldn’t process Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint attachments. With the release of BlackBerry Enterprise Server 3.5 Service Pack 1 (SP1), however, RIM now supports an Attachment Service that can process Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel's WordPerfect, and Adobe Acrobat PDF attachments. (RIM expects to support more formats in the future.) You can run this service on each BlackBerry Enterprise Server host system, or you can centralize processing for as many as four host systems on a larger computer that can handle the attachment-conversion load. The service is a great advance, but requesting the conversion of large attachments will impose quite a load on the conversion server and the wireless network. Depending on your price plan, you might spend a lot of money for users to see attachments, and documents with a mixture of graphics, tables, and other advanced features still might not be very readable. Alternately, users can install third-party software (e.g., Onset Technology's METAmessage for Wireless) to print attachments to a fax server or send messages with attachments to a conversion server, which returns the attachments in plain text. (These solutions also require additional server hardware.) In many cases, users find it simpler to wait until they get back to the office because the conversion either loses so much formatting information that they can't easily read the document or the document is so large that navigation on the handheld is challenging.

Compared to a Pocket PC, the BlackBerry has limited space to hold messages. (Even though I delete many messages immediately after sending or receiving them, I find that I can keep about 4 weeks' worth of messages on the device. If users need to, however, they can save important messages for longer periods.)

The BlackBerry doesn't support multitasking in the same way that a Pocket PC does. You work with one application at a time, switching to others as the need arises.

The device's backlit screen and keyboard are sufficient to work with messages in the dark. However, reading text on sunny days is a challenge. The backlit screens on today’s Pocket PCs are superior.

Synchronization between the BlackBerry and Exchange Server isn't quite as accurate as what a Pocket PC's ActiveSync provides. Some read messages retain unread status and deleted messages stay stubbornly in place until a user cleans up the mailbox through his or her regular email client. In addition, the BlackBerry synchronization software doesn't completely synchronize the contents of a user's Exchange-based Sent Items folder: The only messages in the handheld-based Sent Items folder are those that the user sends from the handheld. By comparison, when you synchronize a Sent Items folder through ActiveSync, the process downloads the entire contents of that folder to the Pocket PC device.

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