T-Mobile’s BlackBerry 8900 – why the lack of 3G may not matter as much as you think

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Have you been pondering whether to purchase a BlackBerry 8900 or T-Mobile? Every review I’ve read says the lack of faster 3G data (the 8900 is EDGE only) is a deal killer. Nobody wants the pokey stuff now the blazing 3G speeds are available for about the same monthly fee. I agree in concept. Given a choice – faster cellular data is always better. Always. However before you write off T-Mobile’s 8900, let me give you my pitch about why I just bought an 8900 and why you should take a serious second look at this device.

Am I crazy for saying that you should consider an EDGE only BlackBerry phone for your main email device?

Maybe I am. But here are some things for you to consider that seem to be glossed over in the reviews.

Reasons to consider the BlackBerry 8900


The BlackBerry 8900 has the better camera (featuring the same one as the BlackBerry Storm). This higher resolution lens also includes auto focus which helps capture close-up images.

– 3.2 megapixels (BlackBerry 8900) vs 2 megapixels (Blackberry Bold)

Here’s an indoor picture I took today with the BlackBerry 8900:

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And here’s an indoor picture I took with my BlackBerry 9000 (Bold) the day that I saw the Peek email devices in Target at $49.

BlackBerry Bold Sample.jpg

Notice the Bold’s photo is – less focussed, and slightly more washed out. Virtually all the indoor photos I take with my Bold are that way. Both images are from inside the same store. One is vibrant while another is lower quality.

What the BlackBerry 8900 camera offers is:

– Higher image quality (3.2 mp)

– Auto focus – so you can actually read the words in close-up photos (Note: There is a lag of about a second while the camera auto-focusses. During this time there is a clear square that appears on the screen. When the image is in focus the square turns green).

ADVANTAGE: BlackBerry 8900 – I rely on my phone to also act as my camera in many situations. For this reason image quality is high on my list of “must haves”. Camera technology is improving drastically and I think the days of hazy/grainy camera photos are finally past us with the introduction of the 8900.


The BlackBerry 8900 is decidedly smaller than the BlackBerry Bold. This could be a good thing if you have small hands. A bad thing if you have big hands. For my taste – I rate the size of the 8900 as a little too small – though I may grow to like it.

Here’s a comparison shot between the 8900, Bold and iPhone.

blackberry 8900 size comparison.jpg

Size is a personal preference. I’ve grown accustomed to the keys and screen size of my BlackBerry Bold. While the BlackBerry 8900 is smaller and more convenient in the pocket – the key space is decidedly more cramped than those on the Bold.

Which is the better keyboard?

It’s all a matter of personal preference. I think of the BlackBerry Bold as designed for those sending a lot of daily emails and therefore need the bigger screen and keyboard.

The BlackBerry 8900 is decidedly smaller, easier to fit in a pocket and will appeal to those who are turned off by the thought of “hip holstering” a big hulking BlackBerry.

Although titanium is the only color available now, I expect that there will be others shortly. This will make the 8900 much more of a fashion accessory.

ADVANTAGE: No clear winner in my opinion – those of you with big hands may gravitate to the Bold. Those with smaller hands or wanting to stash their BlackBerry in a purse will like the BlackBerry 8900. If you’ve typed on an older BlackBerry Curve – the experience on the 8900 is about the same.


Here’s the REAL reason that I re-subscribed to T-Mobile. It’s all about UMA!


No, not THAT UMA —

I’m talking about Unlicensed Mobile Access. T-Mobile is the only USA Carrier to offer this service which uses Wi-Fi to allow subscribers to seamlessly roam between a Wi-Fi connection and cellular.

When you are within range of a Wi-Fi signal, your BlackBerry 8900 will switch to “UMA” (noted by the capital letters UMA replacing EDGE in the upper right corner of your phone display)

blackberry 8900 uma.jpg

When you have a UMA equipped phone such as the BlackBerry 8900 you can use the Wi-Fi to make and receive telephone calls as well as carry data (BlackBerry emails, sms, mms).

T-Mobile offers a $9.99 per month add-on providing for unlimited voice calling on ANY Wi-Fi signal.

I use my BlackBerry 8900 as my main office phone which replaces my old VOIP (voice over IP – which is a way to make phone calls over my Internet connection). Instead of paying $60 per month for the old VOIP – I pay $9.99 that T-Mobile charges and get the same unlimited voice calling — except I can use this unlimited voice calling anywhere there’s Wi-Fi.

T-Mobile also provides for free access through your local Starbucks Wi-Fi (be sure to sign in manually to the attwireless SSID).

While using UMA, the entire process is transparent. I can begin a call in my office (which under my $9.99/mo add-on is without limitation or extra cost) and leave the office to get into my car. The phone hands off from Wi-Fi to Cellular while maintaining my call.

This also has some implications for those of you who travel overseas. The UMA service has no way to know where you’re located – so long as you’re able to make a Wi-Fi connection – the voice and data that you send from anywhere worldwide over UMA is at no extra charge. (Note: T-Mobile doesn’t sell the device to Non-USA addresses – and the use overseas may technically be “frowned upon” – I’m not advising you that T-Mobile will be happy if you do this – only that it’s possible and there’s not much they can do about it).

There are some things you should know about UMA:

– It works on most – but not all – wireless routers. Some older routers may have trouble carrying your Wi-Fi voice traffic. To resolve this issue T-Mobile sells specially modified Linksys routers for about $40 (or less).

– She was born April 29, 1970 in Boston Massachusetts

– UMA works great within Wi-Fi range. If you’re in a weak T-Mobile coverage area – you may not be as happy when you leave Wi-Fi and have to find a native T-Mobile cellular signal (and remember most of T-Mobile’s data is a slower EDGE connection).

– If you are in a stronger (2+ bars coverage) T-Mobile cellular area then your calls will transfer between Wi-Fi (UMA) and T-Mobile cellular. When I’m in a weaker T-Mobile coverage area I find the calls don’t transfer seamlessly and if I leave Wi-Fi the call drops and I have a period of time (15 seconds) where the BlackBerry searches for the T-Mobile cellular signal.

ADVANTAGE: Whether UMA is an advantage for you depends upon your circumstances. Small business owners will like this feature because it allows them to reduce the expense of additional phone lines. World travelers will like this because it can significantly reduce the expense of data and voice roaming by routing international calls over Wi-Fi.

CONCLUSION: I’ll have more thoughts on the BlackBerry 8900 as I put it through some additional testing. There’s already news about an 8900 possibly being available soon for AT&T. If you make many of your calls from locations that have access to Wi-Fi – this T-Mobile 8900 is available now and may be more suitable to your use, even with the slower EDGE cellular speeds, than you would think.

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About the Author

Wayne Schulz
Wayne is a diehard Android user and consultant specializing in Sage 100 ERP Accounting Software. He lives in Glastonbury CT with his two children. When not helping them with their homework or pushing the latest school fundraiser off on his co-workers, he is active hiking and investigating all manner of technology.

8 Comments on "T-Mobile’s BlackBerry 8900 – why the lack of 3G may not matter as much as you think"

  1. T-Mobile’s BlackBerry 8900 – why the lack of EDGE may not matter as much as you think

  2. "T-Mobile offers a $9.99 per month add-on providing for unlimited voice calling on ANY Wi-Fi signal. " The add on is an option. If you don't mind it taking the airtime it will work the same as cellular so no add on necessary, you still have the signal improvement. Same goes for the data, if you don't bother w/ data but have a uma connection you can still browse the web and even download podcasts wirelessly. Of course data plan is needed for blackberry email/calendar use but I find google synch and free google gmail and calendar works fine for me!

  3. @Lainer Yes I review at Geardiary.com in my spare time – mostly BlackBerry, iPhone and quirky news http://is.gd/ke9M

  4. am i the only person that realizes you do NOT have to pay the 9.99 as long as you can connect to ANY wireless access point and get on the internet you're good to go

  5. @geardiary Thanks for your post on Gear Diary comparingBlackBerry Bold to Curve 8900 http://tinyurl.com/c7rrf4 Looking to upgrade old Curve

  6. How? I called t-mobile and was told I need to pay the 9.99 in order to use wi-fi without a data plan.

  7. You can use the WiFi without the $9.95 charge, web surfing, e-mail and such. You can't make phone calls over WiFi without the $9.95 charge. It works really well and the call quality is supurb, better than cell.

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