What’s worth more to you: a more reliable network for cell phone calls or the ability to make calls over Wi-Fi? That’s the decision you’ll have to make with T-Mobile’s BlackBerry 8820, which, like its AT&T counterpart, offers GPS support and built-in Wi-Fi. Both smart phones also lack a camera. However, only the T-Mobile model lets you make unlimited calls over Wi-Fi for $9.99 per month using the carrier’s HotSpot @Home Service, while the AT&T 8820 leverages its Wi-Fi connection for faster data only. However, at $349 with contract and online rebate, the T-Mobile 8820 is $50 more expensive than the AT&T 8820. So which one is better?
BlackBerry 8820 Design and Interface
While the midnight-blue 8820 is both wider and taller than the pocket-friendly Curve (4.5 x 2.6 inches, versus 4.2 x 2.4 inches), the 8820 is marginally thinner but at 4.7 ounces (0.8 ounces more than the Curve) is noticeably bulkier, too. On the other hand, the 8820 has the same beautiful 2.5-inch, 320 x 240 display that the BlackBerry Curve has. Its keys are also slightly larger than the Curve’s tiny nubs, and each has a ridge running through the middle, so they’re easy to type on. However, we prefer the keypad on the Curve because the keys have more space between them.
The microSD slot is in a slightly more convenient spot than on the Curve; while you still have to remove the battery cover to reach it, you don’t have to remove the battery. Unfortunately, the 2.5mm headphone jack remains unchanged (the Curve has a 3.5mm jack). Also, you don’t get the new-and-improved interface you’ll find on the latest BlackBerry Pearls (the 8120 and 8130).
E-mail and Instant Messaging
The BlackBerry 8820 comes preloaded with only BlackBerry Messenger, but you can easily download BlackBerry versions of AIM, Google Talk, and other clients. The e-mail application is as plain and dry as it’s been for quite some time now, but it’s very easy to set up. You can load up to 10 e-mail accounts on the 8820, including Gmail and Yahoo Mail. If your company uses IBM Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange, or Novell GroupWise, you can sync your phone with data stored in each of these places with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server subscription.
Wi-Fi Speed Boost
The 8820 is among two other BlackBerrys in T-Mobile’s lineup that support both 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi connectivity and T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service. Using an EDGE connection, we were able to load CNN.com in 16 seconds and ESPN.com in 7 seconds, which is on a par with T-Mobile’s Pearl 8120, which loaded the sites in 17 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. When we used an 802.11g connection, we were able to load ESPN.com in just 4 seconds, and the 8820 automatically loaded the full version (not optimized for mobile) of CNN.com in 19 seconds; NYTimes.com loaded in 10 seconds.
Like the Pearl 8120, the 8820 has Page View and Desktop View options for viewing Web pages, but the Page View is very hard to read and not nearly as good as the same option on the 8120; you won’t even know which part of the Web page you’ll want to focus on, because the text is so scrunched and scrambled. Also, the Desktop view spreads Web sites out too far, so you’ll need to pan around more than you normally would in the default mobile view.
BlackBerry 8820 Multimedia Features
Like all 8800 series BlackBerrys, the 8820 doesn’t have a camera, but it does offer a host of multimedia features. The media player is similar to that found on AT&T’s BlackBerry 8820. It supports MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ playback and MPEG-4 P2, H.263, and WMV video formats. Videos looked good, and you can play them in full-screen mode, which we appreciated. Streaming-music fans can try XM Radio on BlackBerry with 20 channels for $7.99 per month; this feature is preloaded on AT&T’s 8820 and costs $8.99 per month for 25 channels. We really liked the intuitive interface, and when we were outside with a full signal the XM Radio performance was great, but we suggest using your headphones because the speaker doesn’t get very loud.
The included 2.5mm headset is plastic and uncomfortable. Dierks Bentley’s “Free and Easy” sounded mediocre at best, so we suggest using your own earbuds with a 3.5mm adapter (you can find adapters for less than $5 on Amazon.com) or pairing the 8820 with your Bluetooth headphones. We paired it with stereo Bluetooth headphones in less than a minute. Spoon’s “Don’t Make Me A Target” played back clear and without interruption. But as with the 8120, the 8820 doesn’t play the audio soundtrack on videos through stereo Bluetooth, which we find annoying. Unlike the BlackBerry Curve and 8130, the 8820 can’t stream videos from m.youtube.com.
The 8820 has built-in GPS support, and it worked well with BlackBerry Maps. After launching BlackBerry Maps and turning on GPS Navigation, it placed us just across the street from where we were standing—about 75 feet away. We also asked the unit to give us turn-by-turn car directions from the park to our offices, and it was dead-on, paying attention to Manhattan’s one-way streets. You can also subscribe to and download TeleNav GPS Navigator for BlackBerry ($9.99 per month), and we found that software useful for navigation and local search. This feature is included on the AT&T 8820.
BlackBerry 8820 Mixed Call Quality
We generally experienced good call quality both on the streets of New York City and indoors. However, just like with the 8120, sometimes we would dial out a number and then hear nothing—even though the phone said it was connected. When this happened we would have to hang up and start all over again. On two occasions, we were talking with someone and our caller would say, “Hello, are you there?” We could hear them, but they couldn’t hear us. We’d have to hang up and dial again.
Using T-Mobile’s HotSpot @Home service, our call quality over Wi-Fi was as good as a landline, and the other party said we sounded better than we did using T-Mobile’s network. When we migrated from the @Home HotSpot to T-Mobile’s network, the transition was seamless, and we didn’t experience any interruption or notice a drop in call quality. The BlackBerry 8820 also supports international roaming using 900/1800-MHz frequency spectrum for GSM/GPRS networks in Europe and Asia.
The BlackBerry 8820 has a rated 5 hours of talk time or 22 days of standby time. On our tests, the device lasted through 2 days of heavy usage before we had to recharge it. We define heavy usage as at least 2 hours of talk time, very frequent Web surfing (on both Wi-Fi and EDGE), messaging on AIM and Google Chat, checking our e-mail at least twice an hour during the day, and streaming music to a Bluetooth headset.
BlackBerry 8820 Verdict
In general, we like the T-Mobile BlackBerry 8820 because of its HotSpot @Home support and comfortable keyboard, and we appreciated the accuracy of BlackBerry maps using the phone’s built-in GPS. However, the AT&T version comes with more included software, such as XM Radio Mobile and TeleNav GPS Navigator. If you don’t have strong T-Mobile reception in your area, take a close look at the AT&T version—or be prepared to rely more on the T-Mobile 8820’s Wi-Fi–calling feature.