Vodafone has become the first UK mobile phone operator to offer Research In Motion's latest mobile device, the BlackBerry 7100.
It will be branded as the BlackBerry 7100v and go on sale on 1 October. Vodafone says it is aimed at mobile workers who want combined mobile and data functionality in one unit.
The 7100v is smaller than earlier BlackBerry devices, and shaped more like a phone. RIM has squeezed in a QWERTY keyboard by putting two letters on each key, and has provided a predictive text application called SureType.
ZDNet UK is currently evaluating the 7100v. Early testing has shown that it is possible to type reasonably accurately and quickly -- faster than on a standard mobile, but slower than on a handheld with a full QWERTY keyboard.
The 7100v supports Web browsing, SMS and instant messaging, and access to Web-based or corporate email systems. It will let a user view and forward attachments in a number of common formats including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat.
The device is quad-band, working on 850, 900, 1800 and 1900MHz GSM and GPRS networks. It supports Bluetooth and USB, contains 32MB of flash memory and has a built-in speakerphone, though ZDNet UK has not yet tested the quality of this feature.
RIM launched the BlackBerry 7100 in the US earlier this year, where it is being sold by T-Mobile. Vodafone says it has "exclusivity" on the 7100v throughout October in the UK. There is no word yet whether other operators are also planning to launch the 7100.
Ian Hoddle, the vice-president of the Vodafone business unit at RIM, said last week that the BlackBerry 7100 "reaches new customers who want a single voice and data product in a traditional mobile phone design".
Paul Stonadge, senior Vodafone product manager, added that the 7100v would allow business people to work more flexibly. He suggested this could either result in higher productivity, or a better work/life balance.
One feature not included is a built-in camera. Stonadge said this omission actually helps position the 7100v as a business tool, as many firms are taking a tough line on camera phones and banning them from their premises.
The purchase price of the 7100v will vary depending which tariff a customer takes. A customer just using it for email would pay £82.50 up front and then £15.75 (ex. VAT) per month. At the top-end BlackBerry Anytime 1000, which includes 1,000 minutes of voice calls per month, the device would be free but the total monthly cost would £72.34 plus VAT.
Vodafone sets a "fair use" limit of 6MB of email per month.
Click here to read a review of the 7100v, including pictures.