Research In Motion's Blackberry 957 is a unique handheld that is ideal for keeping up with essential e-mail while traveling. Noticeably thinner and lighter than Palm or Pocket PC handhelds, this device nonetheless has a built-in wireless modem designed to seamlessly collect e-mail from Microsoft Outlook. Once connected to the wireless network, the BlackBerry is always on, automatically gathering messages as soon as they are available.
Communication can come from either a stand-alone desktop PC or from a Microsoft Exchange Server system that is part of a local area network (LAN). If a company uses Exchange, it can simply add software to the server and automatically route e-mail to all users who carry the BlackBerry.
For those who don't use Exchange, load the "redirector" software, included with the basic package, onto a desktop. The software monitors Outlook mail and sends messages to a BlackBerry server, which then forwards them to the device. Either way, users must purchase wireless service separately, which costs $40 a month for unlimited access from such providers as Motient or GoAmerica.
Once e-mail arrives, users can read the message and respond. On the downside, while the BlackBerry is notified of attachments, it cannot actually open and read them.
The BlackBerry 957 is unique because it uses a tiny keyboard instead of handwriting recognition for input. The keyboard requires you to use either a single finger or two thumbs. We used the two-thumb method to enter text about as fast as we could with Palm or Pocket PC devices. A thumbwheel allows the user to cycle through on-screen options. By pressing the thumbwheel, the user confirms an action.
In the fall the BlackBerry 957 will support Lotus Notes, in addition to Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Server. Some large Internet service providers such as GoAmerica offer versions that support their specific e-mail. If you don't use Outlook or Exchange Server, it is worth asking your Internet service provider (ISP) if they resell the device. Certain ISPs, like Earthlink, are reselling it to sync with Web-based e-mail accounts using the POP3 standard. The BlackBerry 957 is an elegant handheld ideal for staying in touch while traveling.