Jeff Kagan: Blackberry Vs. Palm

Jeff Kagan: Blackberry Vs. Palm – Decisions, Tradeoffs

Jeff Kagan

COMMENTARY. Should you buy a Blackberry or a wireless Palm? How about one of those new two-way Motorola pagers? Decisions, decisions.

I decided to test-drive a few. If you are in the market for one of these devices, this is by no means the definitive buyer’s guide, but it is one man’s journey into sorting through the land of wireless e-mail and PDAs. It may shed some light on a few pros and cons worth considering, which I discovered only after being up to my neck in PDAs over the last few weeks.

It started with the desire to consolidate some of the devices I carry, and add more features and functionality. I wanted to combine a few devices and reduce the amount of stuff I had to schlep around with me.

I’ve been using a wireless Palm VII for the last year or two and have been generally happy with it. It does have all the features I’ve come to love in a Palm, but it’s bigger and uses the older design from the earlier Palm Pilots, with a flip up antenna. So the screen is a bland, hard-to-read, green monochrome. If you want one of the flashy new Palms with sharper color screens, then you’ll have to buy a snap-on modem, which makes it even bigger to carry around. It’s a tradeoff. Why Palm doesn’t make the flashy new Palm’s with a flip up antenna is a mystery to me.

Palms wireless service,, seems to offer more wireless applications than any other PDA’s including Blackberry and is easier to navigate with the point-and-click action of the stylus.

If wireless Internet applications are a Palm strength, remote e-mail access is a weakness, if you are a heavy e-mail user. You have to turn on the unit and click on the command to send and receive e-mail. Since it’s not always on, it can get tedious waiting for the first 10 messages to download, and clicking for the next 10 and waiting for them to download, and so on for the next 10, and the next.

Replying or writing e-mail is also done with the stylus pen and uses their Graffiti handwriting software. This is where personal preference comes in compared with the Blackberry’s little Qwerky keyboard.

Palm doesn’t offer paging, so if you use a pager you’ll still have to use a separate pager.

I tested Blackberrys from Skytel, Earthlink and Cingular. The wireless Palm VII using the service uses the same network and works the same no matter where you buy it. The Blackberry however, may use different wireless networks and have different features and functionality depending on where you buy it.

Since I use Earthlink for my e-mail, it sounded logical they could handle my wireless e-mail well. It worked great and it used my existing e-mail address so I didn’t have to confuse everyone with another new e-mail address. The only problem, Earthlink doesn’t offer paging service yet. So I still had to carry my old pager along with the Earthlink Blackberry.

After noodling it around a bit I figured out a way to make the Earthlink Blackberry act like a pager also. I use Skytel paging service and set it up to forward a copy of all my pages to my main e-mail address. A copy is then forwarded to the Earthlink Blackberry. The only problem is the few urgent pages I get each day sound the same as the hundred generally less urgent e-mails I get a day. So I am constantly checking the Blackberry each time it beeps just in case it’s urgent.

Next I tried the Skytel Blackberry. Thanks to the miracle of e-mail forwarding I was able to have my Earthlink mail sent to the Blackberry. I was also able keep a copy of everything I sent from the Blackberry since a copy was sent to my Earthlink account. Skytel was set up to make all my Blackberry messages look like they came from my Earthlink account, so once again, I didn’t have to confuse people with another new e-mail address. The Skytel Blackberry is a pager too, so pages and e-mails all come to the same device. Unfortunately even Skytel can’t differentiate the notification tone so you know if it’s a page or e-mail coming in. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.

Cingular’s Blackberry, like Skytel offers both e-mail and paging on one device. They also offer a unique kind of instant messaging between Cingular Blackberry’s as well as letting you use your companies own e-mail servers. This can be very useful for enterprise customers who want to interact seamlessly with their fellow workers.

If Cingular’s strength is on the enterprise customer side its weakness is among individual users who want to access their regular e-mail service without using a new e-mail address. You can forward a copy of your regular e-mail to the Blackberry and you can reply from and send from the Blackberry, however when you do, it comes from the Cingular wireless e-mail address, which adds a new e-mail address to the mix. That might not be a problem for you, but I wanted to use my main e-mail address.

Another option is ordering directly from Blackberry ( ). They also offer a paging feature for customers who need it, even though not very many people know about this option.

No matter who you buy from, Blackberry’s “always connected” service sends e-mail to your device continually, so you don’t have to log on and download all your mail each session. This saves time. In my opinion the Qwerky keyboard is also easier to use for longer e-mail messages. For these reasons the Blackberry handles the more robust e-mail needs of a power user with ease. However, the lack of a touch screen like on the Palm makes using their Internet applications more difficult to navigate than the Palm. More tradeoffs.

Why doesn’t Palm add a Qwerky keyboard? Why doesn’t Blackberry add a touch screen? One of life’s little mysteries.

Motorola is another choice. While not capturing the headlines, they have a pretty nice selection of two-way wireless messaging devices. Their simple pagers have grown up. They are surprisingly full of features and functionality.

I tried three.

The Talkabout T900 sends and receives e-mail and pages, but is really just a pager with some e-mail capability. Sounds good, but doesn’t have all the integrated features of the Palm and Blackberry like the calendar. And the address book is limited to 250 entries. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got more than ten times that.

Timeport P935 is probably the most comparable to the features of a Palm or Blackberry. It does paging and e-mail messaging as well as tasks, calendars, Internet applications and more. It has a very attractive user interface. The screen is sharp and the graphics are Windows-like compared to the boring text of the Palm or Blackberry, but the response is not as quick. It takes longer to get from place to place, which can get a little frustrating.

The Accompli 009 is all that the Timeport P935 plus it has a color screen and – get this – a phone. No, you don’t put the pager to your ear and talk. You have to use an earpiece and wire. While this can come in handy, it’s a bit difficult to use as a phone. When the phone rings how do you answer it quickly unless the earpiece is already plugged in? It’s a great idea, but in my opinion it’s not quite ready for prime time. But as they work out these kinks, like being able to hold it up to your ear like a regular phone, I think it will be a killer competitor. It’s similar to the Kyocera Smartphone available from Sprint PSC and Verizon Wireless which combines a phone and a wireless Palm, but the phone isn’t as easy to use yet.

There are many different ways to get wireless e-mail, but you will be happier with some more than others depending on your personal preferences. Palms, Blackberrys and Motorolas are not created equal. Each has pros and cons depending on your needs and the way your work. You’ll have to decide which of the tradeoffs you can live with.

If you are considering one of these, why not go directly to the service providers you already use. They may already offer these devices to remotely access you messages, which could make for the most seamless experience.

Either way, these devices are habit-forming. Once you get used to taking your mail with you you’ll wonder how you lived without it. I don’t carry my laptop with me everywhere anymore thank you very much. So what will it be? Palm? Blackberry? Motorola? Decisions, decisions.

Jeff Kagan is an Atlanta-based telecom industry analyst, commentator, and self-described provocateur. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and corporate meetings and author of ‘Winning Communications Strategies’ (Aegis Publishing). He can be reached at or on the web at

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