ADVISE Fr. Z: Blackberry users

I am bumping this back into public view.

I am considering upgrading my phone to Blackberry and getting a plan.

I thinking of the Curve and I have voiceplan on ATT/Cingular.

If you are a Blackberry user, I could use your impressions.

I will also have some international use, so if any of have international travel experience with your Blackberry, chime in.

ALSO: Since I first posted this, the Blackberry 8820 with wi-fi has come out.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. The new Blackberry 8830 is very good. It is small, has a built-in high-speed modem, and works adequately during my trips to Vancouver. FWIW.

  2. Rich: Do you use this for tethering?

  3. Father: You need to make sure you buy a Blackberry model that is compatible
    with international use. Not all the models are.
    has a thread on models that may be used internationally as well as some
    info on international carrier issues. Plus, it’s a good place to troll around
    and pick up nuggets of information and get questions answered.

    My employer pays for my Blackberry. They did not bother to check on international
    compatibility before they sent my team overseas for a project. It was
    a disaster.

    Be warned: once you start down the path of Blackberry use, it can dominate
    your life! :-)

  4. Tim from St. Agnes says:

    Fr. they call it a “Crackberry” for good reason!

    I use a PalmTreo and the Blackberry is superior. You do need a GSM based one to get international coverage.

    Also, web access via the browser is a nice feature, I have this blog bookmarked but it does not display well in the browser.


  5. From what I understand, the Blackberry Curve is compatible in the countries I am likely to go to and certainly in Italy (where I think it connects with Vodaphone).

  6. I just switched from a T-Mobile BlackBerry 8700 to the AT&T iPhone. The iPhone is great and I love it, but I do not love AT&T for the international data plan.

    With T-Mobile you pay $20 a month for unlimited emails while traveling abroad (which I do often). The great thing with T-Mobile is that you can turn this feature off when you do not need it. Such as when I’m in the US for a few months.

    AT&T offers a similar service. I think it’s $24 a month. BUT, you must sign a one year contract for the international data. This is on top of your current AT&T commitment (if you have one).

    I did love my BlackBerry, though it does not even come close to the iPhone. It was a great device and served me well for almost two years and many trips to Italy.

    Do consider switching to T-Mobile, before you sign anything. At least take the time to compare the data roaming prices.

    Oh and one more thing. T-Mobile unlocked my BlackBerry just a few weeks after I purchased it from Amazon. So, when I was in Europe, I was able to switch out the SIM and use it on the local networks for a fraction of the price I would have paid with T-Mobile (voice only). If only Apple would allow iPhone unlocks. Then I’d switch back to T-Mobile in a second.

    If you have more questions, I’d love to help!


  7. Ed says:

    Fr Z.:
    I manage telecom for a major entertainment company in the USA and have bb’s deployed on all 4 major US carriers.
    The Curve is AT&T’s 8300. It is great internationally – actually great overall.
    However, you may want to wait just a little while longer. AT&T is coming out with the 8820 this month which will additionally have WiFi. We’re just not sure which form factor this will be yet. The Wifi could be a real boon if you are set up with coverage at the Sabine Farm and in Rome because you will get very good speed vs. the At&T Edge network.
    The 8830 is Verizon’s World Phone and we have not had great experiences with switching between CDMA and GSM in multiple countries. It is a different form factor than the 8300 (Curve). But it’s great in the US.
    ATT has the 8800, and TMobile has it too – and they are both international GSM phones – but is heavier. The keys on 8800’s are close together and tougher to type on than the better designed 8300 (Curve) which has slightly smaller keys but better spacing. Believe me – when you use it alot – it makes a huge difference.
    I am curious why Blackberry – though they’re great. They are used less often for personal use as they work best with corporate users whose email is served by MS Exchange, Lotus Notes, etc.
    Are you considering an iPhone? It also should work for you, especially in WiFi mode. I’ll be happy to help in any way possible.

  8. Ed:

    Really helpful! Thanks! I think I should wait then for something with Wi-Fi. At The Sabine Farm I am wireless. In Rome, and other places I travel, I use my wireless travel router and even connect my Vonage wi-fi phone with my US number.

    I Europe I do a lot of texting. I would like to be able to keep close track of this blog, but also my e-mail. The Curve had a very good keyboard. It occurred to me that I could pay for a lot of SMS’s for what the BB monthly charge is.

    I am just exploring options and am open to alternatives.

    iPhone doesn’t work in Italy now, I think.

  9. Papabile says:


    you want a Blackberry with GPRS / GSM / and EDGE. That should cover you internationally. Throughput is good. I have an 8800 that works fairly well. Also, I would suggest Verizon for international use.

    I should add that I have used mine in the middle of Baghdad, where there is no supposed coverage.

  10. DoB says:

    I’m a blackberry widow:-(
    Although, in your case I expect that is irrelevant. :-)
    If you do get one please do not correct people if they get the fruit wrong (blueberry) with that infuriating “I’m a blackberry owner” condescending smile. Its quite beside the point and everyones knows what is mean’t anyway. You just come accross as as gizmo sado. Please Fr Z. this advice must warrant the Te Deum details. Have a heart!

  11. jane says:

    Father, why not get an iPhone?? They have gone down $200 and are really neato. Plus it goes with your ATT.

    jane in memphis

  12. Rafael Cresci says:


    May I suggest some other brand? While blackberry has a proprietary interface, there are lots of other phones that have the keyboards and run Windows Mobile (those with touchscreen) or Windows Smartphone (no touchscreen). these are in a more advanced stage. I am typing this in a Motola Q (CDMA, EVDO) because it has a pocket Internet Explorer as well as Opera, Skype and has lots of compatible software to do almost everything including viewing and editing MS Office docs, thing that the BB and the Palmos doesnt have fully. Mine is really a desktop extension besides being a phone or a simple pda.
    So I would suggest you getting a phone with windows, that is GSM AND EDGE and tri/quadriband. try going into tigerdirect or newegg and researching a little on this option for an unlocked phone.

  13. Rafael Cresci says:


    May I suggest some other brand? While blackberry has a proprietary interface, there are lots of other phones that have the keyboards and run Windows Mobile (those with touchscreen) or Windows Smartphone (no touchscreen). these are in a more advanced stage. I am typing this in a Motola Q (CDMA, EVDO) because it has a pocket Internet Explorer as well as Opera, Skype and has lots of compatible software to do almost everything including viewing and editing MS Office docs, thing that the BB and the Palmos doesnt have fully. Mine is really a desktop extension besides being a phone or a simple pda.
    So I would suggest you getting a phone with windows, that is GSM AND EDGE and tri/quadriband. try going into tigerdirect or newegg and researching a little on this option for an unlocked phone.

  14. (double posting due to server timeout)
    I forgot t mentin that the windows phones already also have some models with both wifi and edge/evdo so yu need not to wait any launch.

    This comment is being written from my Motorola Q during a borng parish council session :)

  15. I am intrigued by iPhone, but I don’t think it works in Europe, in Italy anyway.

    But… I do use Skype quite a bit.

  16. The iPhone does work in Italy. You just have to pay AT&T $1 per minute for voice calls. I just returned from Rome and I used my iPhone all over Italy and in the Netherlands as well. I sent SMS and email as well and after two weeks, my extra charge was just $14. I used Wi-Fi mostly, rather than EDGE. So, yes the iPhone does work. But, until they provide the unlock code, it only works on AT&T. No swapping out the SIM for VodaPhone.

    The iPhone is great and worth the $600 initial price. The new $400 price makes it even better.


  17. Timothy James says:

    You might want to find out for sure whether or not the iPhone works there, Jimmy Akin can’t stop talking about his at his blog!

  18. Mike Roesch says:

    I debated getting a Treo some time back, but opted instead to get a separate PDA (namely, a Palm TX) from my phone due to how I assumed I would be using it. For me, the increased screen size is much more beneficial than having a full keyboard. Whereas the screen size makes surfing the web (using wi-fi) much easier, the only benefit I could see to having a full keyboard would be text messaging, which I never do. For short e-mails, I don’t find using the stylus with the on-screen keyboard any more difficult than using my thumbs on a Blackberry. If I want to type something lengthy (in my circumstance, usually class notes), I have a fold-out wireless keyboard. There are also a lot of other applications for a Palm, whereas I’m not sure how that plays out for Blackberries.

    Of course, the iPhone combines the two very well, with a high-quality, large screen and the integrated phone with a full keyboard when you need it.

  19. Fr.Fern says:

    Father Z try the Nokia “Ovi”, Nokia keep me always in touch and it is great for bloggers

  20. Federico says:

    Let me go briefly geeky on you…I worked 4 years in Italy for Telecom Italia, 3 years in Greece for TIM Hellas, and 3 years in the US for Verizon Wireless.

    There are, as you probably realize, 2 standards in the world, CDMA and GSM (which is a form of TDMA, but most of pre-existing TDMA networks have gone the way of the dinosaurs).

    GSM is most common in Europe (where it is, either de jure or de facto — depending on the country — a standard), the Middle East, and most of Africa. CDMA has a very large footprint in the US (Sprint, Verizon Wireless) and many parts of Asia. Each of these standards have their own data coverage protocols which are incompatible amongst themselves: CDMA 2.5G is called 1xRTT, and 3G is EvDo. GSM 2.5G is GPRS/Edge, and 3G is UMTS. To make matters more complex, GSM is available on 800, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz bands, most CDMA is at 1900. So you generally need to make sure your phone covers the right frequency bands. Most decent phones, these days, are tri or quad-band capable.

    I’ve used all these in most European countries and much of the US.

    In the US, Verizon Wireless’ CDMA coverage is, in my opinion, superior to anybody else’s. Their 3G data coverage is phenomenal and it’s practically available across the country. UMTS coverage in the US is spotty at best. I’ve been lucky to consistently get GPRS connection, occasionally, an EDGE one, and I can’t recall a locale where I successfully used UMTS.

    In Europe, on the other hand, GSM rules. UMTS coverage across Europe is phenomenal. CDMA is non-existent.

    So, here’s the dilemma.

    You’ll need GSM capability in Europe.

    This means either going with a GSM carrier in the US (e.g. AT&T) or signing up for “global coverage” with Verizon. The former gives you the most flexibility in terms of phones, the latter one gives you better coverage and data service in the US but inferior service in Europe. This latter option means that you get a global phone from Verizon Wireless (they have 3 available, a Motorola, a Samsung, and a BlackBerry). They will give you a Vodafone SIM (registered with Vodafone in the Netherlands) for GSM use and these phones work across all network types.

    Or, you can do what I do (which Verizon Wireless will tell you won’t work, but it does). Sign up for global coverage with Verizon Wireless with the phone you like the best. Pop the SIM card out of the Verizon Wireless phone and put it into whatever GSM phone you like (blackberry, windows CE, whatever) — just make sure your GSM phone is unlocked! Use your CDMA capable phone (whatever it is) in the US, Canada, and other CDMA primary countries, and use the GSM phone in GSM countries.

    This way you get the better network capability in the US (particularly the superior data service) whilst retaining phone flexibility in the rest of the world.

    Oh, the iPhone is currently a GSM phone. If you get it with an AT&T subscription there’s no reason why you could not roam in Italy (or any other GSM network) with it, provided it’s a country where AT&T has a roaming agreement and provided the band is covered (and I’d be shocked if Apple didn’t make it at least tri-band capable). Italy should work.

    If you want to get fancy, you can get an iPhone and have a hacker break the SIM locking (it’s been done recently — it does void your warranty though) and put your Verizon Wireless GSM SIM card in it. This is a bit dodgy and I would not recommend it unless you want to fully embrace your geekier side.

    I hope this helps more than confuses. Write me if you want more info or let me know if you want to chat and I’ll Skype you.

  21. CBM says:

    24 September is the release date for the Blackberry Curve with T-Mobile. the new device will have camera and wi-fi. It seems to be the best available at the moment. T-mobile is less money than the other carriers and the customer care is the very best- bar none.
    go with the curve with t-mobile if you can.

  22. maynardus says:

    Pater Z:

    Many of your other knowledgeable readers have addressed the international compatibiilty issues so I will confine myself to other areas. First off, there is a reason they call it a “crackberry”, it does seem addictive and yet it is sure to become a huge productivity tool for you. You should to get a model that is rugged and easy to use, I strongly recommend the full “QWERTY” keyboard as opposed to the “suretype” one which will quickly become frustrating.

    I tried one least year (I think it was a 7100g) for a week and found that the software was useless with less-common words (ecclesiastical terms), names, and foreign languages. I stubbornly returned to my clunky but reliable 7520, even though it required me to take one of my company’s loaner devices on a couple of international trips. I finally had to replace the old one and I tried the “Curve” for a couple of weeks. Although the “cool factor” was quite high I found it difficult to use. I think the main problem was the smaller size of the keys and the device itself which seemed more difficult to grip while typing. I next tried an 8830 which was better but seemed to have very poor reception. A co-worker with the same device reported a similar experience so I tried the 8700g which was much better and which I decided to keep.

    Anyway I have had the 8700g for 6 weeks now and traveled to California and all around New England (I’m in Vermont right now) with great results. FWIW, Bishop Rifan has an 8700-series (I think it is also an 8700g) and he sems very satisfied with it.

    Maybe you can find a retailer that will let you try out one of these devices for a week or so. I found that very beneficial but of course it was through my company which pays for thousands of these gadgets. Sorry this is so long but I hope you find it helpful.

  23. This is all very useful.

    Keep in mind that I do have a geekier side and gadgets present little mystery to me most of the time.

    In Italy I have Vodafone (as a matter of fact I have 3 numbers for extra cellphones when visitors come).

    I am presently using an unlocked Moto Razr as my primary phone. I do lots of SMS texting in Italy, where it is fairly cheap.

    In the USA I have ATT and voiceplan which was Cingular.

    When I go back to Italy, I swap my ATT and Vodafone SIMs between the phones I regularly use. In the USA I always keep my Italian SMS in an extra unlocked quadband cellphone in case someone calls my Italian number.

    Given how this blog is pretty much exploding, I need to keep track of it closely. So, I figured BB would be my best bet both for USA and Italy (and elsewhere).

    I am happy for the feedback so far. Keep it coming.

  24. No, Fr. Z., I do not use it for tethering. My apologies for the delayed response.

  25. JACK says:

    Fr. Z:

    I’ve got a BB 8830. I like it quite a bit. The keyboard, while small, is functional. And it seems like BB has improved its email web service as I’ve gotten pretty much every email account I have to work with the device. I’ve not looked at the “unofficial” sources, but officially I am told you can’t swap out the SIM on that model. (But I’ve never looked into it hard.) Which means that you are stuck roaming internationally and have to acquire an international data package.

    Definitely look into the details first, which it sounds like you would naturally do. Some of the early iPhone users lept without looking and that’s where a lot of these outrages bills you have probably seen reported on came from.

  26. cor ad cor loquitur says:

    Fr Z, I use a Blackberry 8800 from Vodafone. It works in Europe and, generally, in the Middle East and Africa. It picks up the EDGE network in the USA, except in areas where there is no GSM coverage. I sometimes use it to read WDTPRS.

    But there seems to be an incompatibility between your blogging software and the somewhat primitive browser on my Blackberry. WDTPRS regularly crashes the web browser that is standard with the Blackberry. I think someone else reported this in a comment on your earlier Blackberry post. And, if the WDTPRS page is long, the blackberry often fails to complete loading it. Hence if you wanted to review an entry with lots of comments, you might be frustrated. You can sometimes fix this by doing a “refresh” of the page, but that doesn’t always succeed.

    You might also want to check whether the Blackberry browser is compatible with whatever control screens you use to administer the blog. For example, I can use the blackberry to read a bulletin board service that I use, but I cannot log in — the login never works. This bulletin board doesn’t crash the blackberry but it sometimes fails to complete a page load.

    Have you considered a very small laptop equipped with a 3G card?

  27. Henry Peyrebrune says:

    Fr. Z,

    I just bought the new BB Curve 8320 from T-mobile. This is the new model with wi-fi.
    I considered the I-phone but, ATT’s international data is prohibitively expensive because you have to have
    it continuously. T-mobile’s international data can be added for each trip @$20/month pro-rated. I go to Europe
    about twice a year and want to get my email w/o having to pay 29 Euros for 1 day’s internet access at the
    Hilton. It’s my first BB, but I already love it. It looks cool, the phone sounds great, I can manage the
    smallish keyboard, I can use it as a modem for my laptop, and I will have more than paid for it with what I save
    on daily access fees by the end of my first week overseas.

    I will probably use another phone with a United-mobile SIM for voice calls in Europe – incoming calls are free, there are no roaming charges in Europe and outgoing calls to European countries and to the US
    are 29 Euro cents/minute.

  28. PraiseDivineMercy says:

    While I do not use a blackberry, I have to agree that T-mobile is more cost effective. Their total internet add-on is only $20 a month, does not require a contract and uses GPRS. The plan includes WiFi hotspots and using the phone as a modem. The voice and text rates are much less than AT&T.

  29. PraiseDivineMercy says:

    While I do not use a blackberry, I have to agree that T-mobile is more cost effective. Their total internet add-on is only $20 a month, does not require a contract and uses GPRS. The plan includes WiFi hotspots and using the phone as a modem. The voice and text rates are much less than AT&T.

  30. cor ad cor: I sometimes use it to read WDTPRS

    How does it look?

    I have also considered a laptop card, but I am thinking about something pretty small and that will work also in Europe.

  31. Fr Z asked how WDTPRS looked when read on a Blackberry.

    It’s “verticalised”, Father. First you get what appears on the left hand side of the screen, from your picture down through your voicemail notice … all your Catholic blog awards, the sites you read, etc.

    Then the posts. These are usually easy to read, once you’ve scrolled through all the “left side of the screen” matter — though that takes a long time with the scrolling wheel on my Blackberry.

    The only thing that’s a problem is that it sometimes crashes the Blackberry browser, especially when you click to read the comments on an entry.

  32. PraiseDivineMercy says:

    Father, I briefly got a laptop card and do not recommend it. The cost for most carriers is $60-70 for speeds similar to dial-up. The advertised speed is much faster, but that happens only when the user has maximum signal.

  33. I concur with cor ad cor loquitur, handhelds do not display web pages well-even in the horizontal view. I have both a Blackberry (work) and a Palm Treo (personal). I only use them to read feeds and email, the web pages are too jumbled and sloppy looking to view with them.

  34. Cathy: I would be interested to know how you use the Blackberry and the Treo and what you think of them.

  35. Chris says:

    I have used a blackberry (several over the years) for work. While they really are great email devices, they are second rate when it comes to internet viewing. If you simply want reliable email, blackberries are great. For more, look elsewhere.

  36. Some here have mentioned iPhone.   Here is a public service announcement.  If you have an iPhone or are thinking of getting one, read this from

    Apple Releases iPhone 1.1.1 Update, Does Fry Unlocked Phones

     Written by Christopher Price   

    Thursday, 27 September 2007

    Apple today released iPhone Software Version 1.1.1. Most significantly it adds the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, and is a full software upgrade, weighing in at 153 MB.

    The update also enhances the ability to use the Home button to control music, patches security bugs in Safari and Bluetooth, adds TV Out (using the new iPod AV Cables). It also adds a battery status icon to the menu bar for the Apple Bluetooth Headset. In addition, some widgets have been improved (stocks and cities can be moved around in order). Apple has also offered an option to disable EDGE data services while roaming (to prevent international roaming charges).

    However, as Apple cautions in the update prompt, modified iPhones can be damaged by this update. confirmed this with one of our own iPhone units, the iPhone (which was SIM Unlocked using the anySIM/iUnlock process), now reports an Incorrect SIM is present after update (even with an AT&T SIM). We strongly encourage you to ignore other media reports to the contrary and not update your iPhone if it has been unlocked.

    Furthermore, iPhones that have been updated with 1.1.1 do not appear to be downgradeable to firmware 1.0.2. iTunes blocks that, giving error codes saying that the iPhone update failed.

    If that weren’t bad enough….

    AT&T Won’t Honor Unlock Policy for iPhone, Apple Catch-22’s

    Written by Christopher Price   

    Friday, 28 September 2007

    AT&T has a not-so-well-known policy, which after 90 days of active service, they will send you the SIM unlock code for your phone. Using AT&T’s logic, customers under contract are at that point, subject to an Early Termination Fee, and prepaid customers cannot use international roaming services. As such, AT&T Customer Care can then give you your SIM Unlock code, and instructions for how to enter it.

    This week Apple has come under increased fire for bricking iPhones that have been SIM unlocked using various software procedures. Apple waited until thousands, if not tens of thousands of iPhones were unlocked before answering if the process was considered by them to be a warranty-voiding condition. Most manufacturers do not consider unorthodox SIM unlocking procedures to be a warranty violation. This has raised legal concerns about Apple’s bricking of iPhones with the 1.1.1 firmware update.

    Combining the two has put AT&T in a difficult position. On one hand, they say you should be able to unlock your iPhone. But, they also say Apple won’t give them the unlock codes for iPhone. Apple has officially responded saying that AT&T does not want them to unlock phones, due to their agreement with AT&T. This puts both companies in a chronic looping Catch-22, with each company blaming the other for refusing to unlock iPhone.

    In fact, with it being so clear that one company is blatantly being deceptive about its reasoning, that class action attorneys are reported to be considering amending existing class action lawsuits, which were previously filed over iPhone being “un-unlockable” in the early weeks of iPhone’s release.

    Folks, this really irritates me. 

    If I buy a phone… it is MY phone.  I should be able to use it with any service I choose to hire.

  37. CBM says:

    I got the BB 8820 curve (T-Mobile) with Wi-Fi on the 24th. I was eligible for a full upgrade so I paid 299. upfront and will receive a 50. rebate. I also signed up for another two year contract for 39.00 month (free US roaming, 1000 anytime, 500 bonus and unlimited night and weekend) and for the BB a 19.99 plan for unlimited e-mail and browsing. when I travel out of the US I must get an international e-mail and browsing for an extra 19.99 per month (month by month). With my plan I also pay 1. per minute for international calls. I am very satisfied with the size, speed and ease of use.
    as I said before, TMobile has the very very best human assitance.

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