Although I’d worked with BlackBerries off and on since they were scarcely more than two-way pagers, I’d only come to own one of them in late 2003. And that was more or less by accident. One of my customers had gotten himself a Treo 650, so he gave me his BlackBerry 7290 device (it was an old AT&T Wireless branded device, back before they branded to Cingular, which they have since changed back to the “new” at&t (lower case). I swapped the SIM card from my (Cingular) Nokia phone to the BlackBerry and immediately had voice capability. However, because the device was the “old” AT&T, they wouldn’t let me get it setup on a data plan, so I couldn’t do any e-mail on it. Still it was very useful to me as a phone and PIM device, as I set it up to synchronize to Outlook. From that point on, I knew I would never go back to a traditional cell phone.

Roughly two years ago, I got myself a BlackBerry 8700c. At the time, it was the cat’s PJs. It was somewhat bulky, but the screen was great, and it was a very reliable device. And since this was a new BlackBerry, I got setup on a data plan so I could do e-mail and web on it. I’d come to rely on this device very heavily to keep my calendar, contacts and e-mail up to date. Granted, I wasn’t using over-the-air synching (BES), I was just using BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), so I still had to connect to USB to synch it to Outlook. Still, it was virtually trouble-free in that regard, so I didn’t mind.

Fast forward to today, and I am now the proud owner of a BlackBerry 8310 (Curve) from AT&T. It was a pretty good deal, I have to say. I am getting 5000 United Mileage Plus miles, plus it came with a $75 rebate. So in the end, I think I’m paying $140 for it.

The 8310 is a real stunner of a smart phone. Not only does it have all the usual things you’d expect to have in a BlackBerry, but a few things you may not, such as on-board GPS and a 2MP camera w/ flash and zoom. All that in a very slim and light form factor. I think RIM hit a grand slam with this device.

The transition from my 8700c to the 8310 was remarkable straightforward. The BlackBerry Desktop Manager comes with a “Switch Device” wizard to simplify the process. You start the wizard up, plug in your old BB handheld, it backs up virtually all the data and settings, then you plug in the new BB, and it copies that information to the new handheld. It even copied my phone log and e-mail I’d already downloaded to the device, as well as all the PIM data. Once I completed that, I’d done a test synch with Outlook, which went very fast since it already had all the PIM data loaded up on it. The last thing left to do was go up on my BlackBerry Internet Service account and update the device PIN so that it would be sending e-mail to the new handheld. This had to be the quickest and most pain-free Smart Phone exchange I’ve ever been involved with. So hat’s off to Research In Motion!

One other big change on the 8310 is that a mini trackball (first introduced with the Pearl) now replaces the old Click-Wheel. I’m still adjusting to it, but I’m learning fast, and expect to be as quick with it as I was with the Click-Wheel on the older models. The really cool part is Google Maps now has this flashing blue circle representing your approximate location… it moves when you move. I haven’t tried TeleNAV, the actual AT&T GPS application, which has more powerful features than Google Maps does when it comes the onboard GPS. The 8310 also can handle music and video files as well, and has a MicroSD expansion slot for added storage capacity. This is perhaps my only complaint on the 8310 — the MicroSD slot can’t be accessed externally. Like the SIM card, you have to take the hatch and battery out to get to it.

I’ve been reading a lot of rumors about a BlackBerry 9000 device, which is reportedly going to have a significantly larger screen (perhaps a touch screen). But I wanted camera phone and GPS capabilities sooner, rather than later.