January 1, 2004

I admit it. My head had been turned by the curves and the very obvious come-on. I wanted to be the envy of the room as I stood with the sleek model in the palm of my hand. But I knew that a price was to be paid later.

In other words, the Blackberry PR people said I could try a machine for a fortnight and I made some vague promise to write about the experience.

Where the GPS Am I?

My first impressions of the Blackberry were not all that favourable. Applying my usual technique to mastering the controls of pushing buttons with increasing vigour (well, it is supposed to be intuitive), got me nowhere with her. I was driven to the brief Getting Started guide and was still nowhere much. Registering and collecting e-mail seemed a long way off. All sorts of techniques were employed and guidance was even sought from the manual. Then the penny dropped. Standing on the wall at the edge of the drive, stretching and pointing the business end at the Cherhill White Horse, the Blackberry buzzed into life and purred-I think it was something to do with ley lines but the official explanation relates to GPS signal availability. It was nice at last to have confirmation that I live in the middle of nowhere.

A Mobile Solution

Once it had a signal, the Blackberry retained it and she started to work in earnest. But experimenting with a “mobile solution” when your sitting safely in your office is a game not a test. And, whatever the attractions of the Blackberry, she cannot compare for efficiency with a desk-top computer and broadband connection – so her appeal was beginning to pale.

Since I constantly claim that I never really go anywhere (you can’t count Calne as really going anywhere), I was faced with the possibility that I would never really discover whether there was more to the Blackberry than flash looks. But the power of those ley lines had fully entered the machine and I suddenly found that I was required by strange forces (in order of importance: wife, mother-in-law and a High Court judge) to be in Bristol, Sunderland and Malaga in the course of my fortnight’s trial. And I got to test the Blackberry for real.

Bad Things

I can hardly blame the Blackberry for the fact that I had not loaded all my contacts onto it. But I did, as I spent a fair amount of time guessing e-mail addresses. The machine was at fault to the extent that uploading addresses is a more time-consuming business than the literature suggests but for long-term use (as opposed to a fortnight’s trial) it is not a significant investment of effort and would be time well spent.

I had a problem initially with the gap between the sending of an e-mail in reply and my receipt of it. You could not have a conversation as you can on a good day with my usual connection. The gap between sending and receipt was about 20 minutes, which can seem like a long time when you are waiting.

I also had a problem with my allocated space being full and no messages coming through as a result. the advice received to delete messages meant that I had practically emptied my archive with no improvement. This was maddening. But the Helpline was genuinely helpful (although maybe mentioning the prospective review helped) and resolved the problem, which arose from the standard setting that meant my machine was not synchronised with the mail box. I was so pleased that it was not my fault that I forgave her immediately. Once this was sorted, everything was back to normal until my trip to Spain when the problem reoccurred. As it happened late in a short trip, I was not then inconvenienced (slightly relieved actually) but clearly that could have been a real problem.

I discovered that, when I used my Blackberry as a mobile phone (which one can), she tended to produce a lot of echo. I also found that she would suddenly go loud for no apparent reason, unless one counts accidentally increasing the volume when all that was wanted was a louder ring tone.

My Blackberry had a game. I cannot think why this is retained unless it is so that you can pull it out at the airport and look like you are using it. I don’t recommend the game: I have had more fun and more intellectual interest cutting my toe-nails.

And that is the end of the bad things – although since you push me I admit I did find underlining tricky.

Good Things

There are lots of good things. They are detailed at the Blackberry Web site (; I daren’t set them all out for fear that people will think that I sold my soul for a dinner at the Café Royal. It says that you can get “mobile access to your business and personal e-mail, phone, SMS browser and organiser information. You can send and receive messages from the palm of your hand. New email messages are automatically “pushed” to your handheld”. And it’s all true – although you’d have to be pretty desperate to use your Blackberry to consult the Web.

For me, when faced with an unexpected and disruptive trip away, the Blackberry made it possible to deal with a range of business that would otherwise have had to be neglected. My Blackberry was light and so small that I could pull her out and check mail with ease -even at the baggage carousel. She succeeded in downloading a complete copy of the magazine for checking and it was intelligible. Other documents were perfectly readable and capable of being edited. Even I found her keyboard useable, and I claim direct descent through three generations of the North West’s most ham-fisted and have a firm belief that text messaging was invented to make me look stupid. Icons are clear and the scrolling technique and the various shortcuts are easily mastered. Once away from my home ground there was little problem with the signal – it was much more reliable in that respect than my mobile phone.

I was genuinely sorry when I had to return the Blackberry – and so neat is the engineering that I could have sworn she looked regretful too.

Did I buy one?

Despite all this praise, I have not gone out and bought a Blackberry. Of course that’s partly because I really do rarely need a mobile solution but it is also partly cost. The figures in the panel show the costs. They can add up but I find it hard to believe that they are beyond the range of the modern mobile lawyer even if they are beyond mine.

For most firms, the Enterprise version is likely to be better than the Prosumer version. The key differences between the packages are that the Enterprise version requires the installation of a BlackBerry Exchange Server (BES), which is installed on the customer’s premises and synchronises instantly with individuals’ mail boxes (e.g. on Outlook or Lotus Notes). It also allows full access to the Internet and to office calendars and global address books (which can be amended or added to on the move), all data sent and received is fully encrypted, and the solution is managed by the enterprise’s IT department. The individual ‘Prosumer’ solution has no over-the-air reconciliation with the user’s desktop inbox or any of the other added value applications of the Enterprise.

Impressed as I was, I am not blind to the fact that there are alternative mobile solutions. Blackberry has done such a good marketing job that it can seem like the mobile solution equivalent of a Hoover – a specific masquerading as a generic. You may find that your particular needs require more heavyweight document editing or creation than is really appropriate for the Blackberry – in which case a combination of a Symbian smartphone and a laptop might work. I was impressed by a recent demo of the Openhand system (a mobile encryption application which is device neutral) but I suspect that there is much more out there of which I am unaware.

If you are a mobile lawyer who is a Blackberry user, or a fan of another mobile solution, we’d like to know about your experiences. E-mail with your views.


There are basically two different packages – ‘Enterprise‘ and ‘Prosumer’. The 7230 is available as an Enterprise solution from Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile. It is only available as a Prosumer option from T-Mobile.

The Prosumer offering is priced at £199.99 for the device, then £13.50 monthly subscription for unlimited e-mail access. Alternatively, if customers intend to use the BlackBerry for voice as well as data, there is a monthly e-mail subscription of £10, plus one of T-Mobile’s monthly voice tariffs. These are described as launch prices, and are subject to change in 2004.

With the Enterprise solution the monthly access charge may differ depending on number of users, length of contract and additional services, such as voice. To give you an indication, it is generally in the region of £35 per month (e-mail only, no voice), plus the cost of the BES (which again varies depending on number of users etc).