Mini-Review of the Blackberry 7510

The Blackberry 7510 is the iDEN version of RIMís recent line of devices that include built-in cellphones. RIM has made sure they donít miss any boats by producing iDEN, GSM, and CDMA versions of the same basic product. This review focuses solely upon the iDEN version, and like other reviews of PDA-like devices, it concerns itself primarily with the phone side of the device.

Last Updated: 24-Oct-2004

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

The first thing that one notices when using a Blackberry as a phone is the form factor. Most cellphones are tall and skinny, while the Blackberry is short and wide. This feels a bit odd at first, especially if youíve used cellphones for many years. Despite the odd feeling however, I quickly adapted to the phone despite the limited exposure I got. Clearly you could grow accustomed to the feel within less than a week.

Compared to the GSM version of the Blackberry, the 7510 is a bit thicker to accommodate the speaker for Direct Connect and speakerphone operation. The larger size also accommodates a higher-capacity battery, which is a good thing since iDEN phones donít seem to squeeze as much out their batteries as GSM phones (and this goes for RIM as well).

If that speaker was of low quality I wouldnít have been particularly happy with the space it used up, but itís actually among the best speakerphones Iíve tried in ages. The speaker is larger than the one on my i730, and as such it has slightly higher maximum volume and slightly richer sound quality. Overall I was extremely impressed with the speakerphone.

The screen is one of the only color displays I've ever seen that works without the need of a backlight. When used in an area with a normal level of lighting (where reading books would be possible) the color and clarity of the display is exceptional. The display works equally well in direct sunlight. The only downside is that the backlight itself isn't very bright, and so the display is actually rather difficult to see in dark areas.

I wasnít particularly impressed with the keypad (as viewed from the perspective of a phone user). While the keyboard is great for non-phone functions, the numeric keys needed to dial numbers are not physically distinguished in any way from the other keys (there isnít even a little bump on the 5 key). This is perhaps the worst phone to try and use while youíre driving. Using the keypad requires that you look at the phone when dialing. To its credit the 7510 assumes that pressing any of the standard phone-related keys while the unit is idling means that you want to make a call, and the unit goes instantly into phone-dialing mode.

The sound quality of the built-in earpiece is very good. Iíd been expecting to be disappointed, based on some of the comments Iíd read about the Blackberry, but I was instead very impressed. Overall the sound compares to my i730 in much same way as the speakerphones. Itís slightly louder overall, and slightly richer. The sweet-spot for the earpiece is a little small compared to the i830, but not quite as small as on the i730. Outgoing sound quality is also very good. Iíd been given plenty of opportunities to here how that microphone sounded when communicating with the owner of the 7510.

We took the Blackberry to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener to test the RF capabilities. While Telus has a Mike repeater inside of that mall, thus providing excellent signals in most places, the repeaters donít serve the department stores. Because there are no Mike sites close to the mall, the signal gets rather weak when repeaters arenít nearby. We found areas inside of Wal-Mart where the signal dropped to as low as -104 dBm, which gave us an opportunity to test the ability of the 7510 to hold onto a call compared to my i730. Both phones performed almost equally, which means that the 7510 is just as capable as the i530, i830, and i730, all of which Iíve compared for RF capabilities.

Overall the Blackberry 7510 provides phone functionality that is second-to-none (the awkward keyboard notwithstanding). If you have a need for the non-phone functionality of a Blackberry, but at the same time you want an iDEN phone too, the 7510 is the best of both worlds. It doesnít force you to compromise by giving you a poor-quality phone, as is the case with many of the PDA-phone devices Iíve tested to date. If I actually had a need for the other features provided by the 7510, I wouldnít hesitate buying one myself.

NOTE: Iím aware of the high failure rate of the i730 which has caused many people to believe that the i730 is actually a poor performer. However, there are i730 models out there that work exceptionally well, mine included. Iíve reviewed the i530 and i830 previously, and I compared their RF performance to that of my i730. All of the phones came out about equal, and so if my i730 is a bad performer, then so is the i830, i530 and the Blackberry 7510. Clearly that it isnít the case.