A history of BlackBerry in nine iconic handsets (and one 'meh' tablet): Photos

A history of BlackBerry in nine iconic handsets (and one 'meh' tablet): Photos

Summary: BlackBerry 10 is just around the corner, but before it arrives take a look at the handsets that made RIM a titan in the enterprise space. Will its next batch of handsets be enough to get businesses and consumers back on side?


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  • RIM's new BlackBerry 10 handsets are just around the corner — a vital launch for the Canadian smartphone maker, which needs to lure businesses and consumers back to the brand.

    The new devices will need a combination of intuitive user interface and compelling hardware, which makes now a good time to look back at RIM's heritage and its more notable handsets, for good or for bad. That's because the history of RIM can be measured out in handsets: from the first pagers through to its latest smartphones.

    Blackberry 850

    The RIM 850 Wireless Handheld (pictured) was announced on 12 July, 1999. Note how it was not yet called a BlackBerry; it was, however, the one that garnered it some attention.

    The device itself (850 or 950, depending on network and locality, a recurrent theme for RIM) had a six- or eight-line display and was capable of sending messages, emails and had calendars, address books, task lists, a calculator and an alarm function. It was one of the first wireless devices capable of connecting people to their corporate email and contacts.

    It had 4MB of memory, was powered by one AA battery and weighed 133g, which is exactly the same as an iPhone 3G. It also had a QWERTY keyboard, of course.

    In the three months following its announcement RIM's stock went up 50 percent from just over $22 to around $33.50, as the wireless company focused its sights on business customers.

    To put that in perspective, on 12 July, 2012, its share price was around $7; today its around double that. Apple’s stock price was around $55 in July 1999, today it stands at just over the $500 mark.

  • Blackberry 5810

    Following a successor to the 850 that had a larger display came the first BlackBerry phone that was actually a phone — well, almost.

    Announced on 4 March, 2002, the 5810 was the first of a generation of devices marketed as phones with email capability, rather than as pagers. Despite its exterior — it shared almost the exact same chassis as the earlier 957 — it had all new internals. It was also available in the UK on the BT Cellnet network, now known as O2, as the 5820.

    The 5810 worked on a 2G network, used a Java-based platform and allowed for voice calls, except that it required a headset as it didn't have a built-in microphone or speaker. It also offered SMS, organiser and primitive browser functionality, in addition to email.

    While RIM was not yet ready to square up to the consumer market (which was still dominated by what is now termed 'dumbphones', but was at the time just 'phones', such as the Nokia 3210), RIM was readying itself for a run at Palm and its devices pitched for business.

    However, the clunky phone functionality and design of the device itself couldn't match up to Palm's sleek, anodised aluminium finish found on models like the Palm V.

Topics: BlackBerry, Mobility, Smartphones

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • Are you for real?

    The PlayBook outperformed all iPads up to the iPad 3. Obviously you know next to nothing about the PlayBook.

    Ease of use on the PlayBook has long been heralded as better than all comers, and a lot of that ease of use is baked into BB10 and helping fuel their stock surge and preorders selling out at some carriers...
    • @sagec

      Exacta-mundo sir!!! A "meh" tablet?? The Playbook is arguably the most productive tablet on the market. Forget how it was first released...I'm talking about after their 2.1 update. It's been a magnificent tablet since...and for an extremely cheap price at that. And when BB10 is available for it, it will almost be like having a new device altogether. Do your homework, you're supposed to be teh "professional" smh
      Kess So Harlem
    • Aside from opinion

      Do you have anything to back this up?

      As far as I remember, the Playbook released to a pretty tepid response, and lacked key features (like email). Between the rather anemic ecosystem and the limited launch functionality, I'm not sure how you can say that the Playbook outperformed the iPad. And I'm not sure who it was that heralded it as being better than all other tablets.

      I think people tend to forget that hardware is really only a small part of what makes a tablet work. Without seriously polished user interface and functionality, a tablet is simply a nice toy.

      I'd love to see RIM produce a hot tablet, but the Playbook just isn't it.
  • BlackBerry envy

    I remember wanting the BlackBerry Bold 9000 even though the iPhone was out. I liked the Playbook when it came out. I hope it gets a new lease of life with BB10. I have a soft spot for BlackBerry even though I'm a massive Android fan right now. I hope RIM's future is a bit brighter if the new batch of devices shine.
    Chris 'Ichi'
  • BB PlayBook

    Granted the original Playbook was a bit low on features, but the current 64GB Playbook 2.0 is feature and performance rich. It has native e-mail (among many other things), a very snappy interface, a real HD dsiplay, and I love it. It a productivity tool that I use every day.

    I use it for e-mail (hotmail, yahoo, and corporate), texting, web browsing, video, audio, reference, ebooks, creating spreadsheets, two cameras, photo editing... and on and on and on. I have many apps that I use often for music, medical, and other purposes.
  • Playbook

    The Playbook was an excellent tablet, with no apps to speak of. RIM did not understand the market at all. The hardware and the OS were excellent, but you could not do that much with it.
    • Really?

      I can do every task on my PlayBook you can do on an iPad or Android Tablet. My playbook goes everywhere with me. My iPad 3 sits on the coffee table used mostly by guests. My android (ICS) sits in a dock collecting dust.
    • PlayBook has changed

      Since its release, the PlayBook has changed quite a bit with the OS updates, and while not every major app is available for it, there are quite a few great apps and games now. I use my PB all the time, but even at release, it did a fantastic job at what a tablet really was made for: web browsing. Really a great browser with Flash support that really is important if you want to view most online video content. I actually have a quite a few apps and games on my PlayBook. I take it with me everywhere (great portability being 7"), and I also can get online anywhere even without wifi, just due to seamless bridge connectivity to my BB phone (without needing to pay for tethering). So I think the PB is very underrated and gets a lot more slack than it deserves. It will also be getting BB10 too. Well worth the price for me (I bought at launch), but I've also bought a few others at the lower prices that made it a great gift too.
      Preston Scheuneman
    • Developer support

      RIM has worked tirelessly to fix the lack of Apps issue. They were at the game developer's conference last year pushing the Playbook. They've thrown a lot of money at developer to get them to port games to the Playbook.
      Charles Doty
  • PlayBook bashing has to stop!

    We use PlayBooks between two prototype workshops about 30 miles apart. Concept 3D CAD drawings are speedily e-mailed to the remote workshop and the techies begin building the physical prototypes. Detail conflicts are highlighted via VideoChat and a customized grid and scaling system.
    A pair of them were bought for the price of one I-Pad, and we are saving time, money and frustration because the shop floor guys get prompt response via the Playbook facilities.Since we don't play games, we don't miss the I-Pad apps.
  • Love seeing the old models

    While its great seeing my old 5810, 7210, 8800 (museum pieces!) the images are missing all the new models with the trackpad, for example the curve, bold & torch (my current model). I don't think the Playbook is "meh" we use ours all the time! Looking forward to the new tens.
  • PlayBook VS iPad

    PlayBook - stereo speakers, iPad - mono speaker.

    Yes, in 2013 the iPad has the same speakers as some 1960s transistor radio from Japan.
    Susan Antony
  • PlayBook with BB10

    The PlayBook will be great with BB 10 on it. I think people should go and get one now while they are available so they can use the new BB10 ecosystem while they are still on contract with their phones.
    Of course, after going Black, they may not want to go back (to their other OS).
    Susan Antony
  • Not meh for me

    I got the Playbook about a month after launch and have never regretted it. For the first few months I will admit it gathered a fair amount of dust as I tried to figure out exactly where a tablet would fit into my life. It has worked its way into my day to day quite nicely now where I find I'm rarely without it.

    I haven't found anything yet I wanted it to do that it couldn't. So, it's very far from meh in my opinion. What gathers dust now is my computers, which only get powered up to record and edit video.
  • can't put mine down

    I got the Playbook at launch, I also have a BB so the no native email, calendar was no problem for me but can see how it was a problem for many. I hope someone got waterboarded for releasing it that way (Jim Balsille probably) but since 2.0 there is no reason for folks to at least check it out, its a sweet tablet, can't put the little ba$tard down
  • Late to the party!

    Well I was going to say something in defense of the Playbook; which I use more and like WAY more than my iPad 3. But you guys have done a pretty good job of that. The only thing the iPad has on the Playbook is screen size, which, oddly enough, is a reason why I like the Playbook better. Not to mention the OS is 10X better.