BlackBerry 8220 + T-Mobile Wi-Fi + UMA = Surprisingly Good

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Quite honestly when I started reviewing this T-Mobile BlackBerry 8220 a month ago there were a few people who laughed at the phone. They’d heard the build quality was so-so and told me the first time I jostled the phone it’d disintegrate in my hand. I’d read a few online remarks downplaying the overall screen quality. Imagine my surprise when I completely fell in love with this affordable BlackBerry.

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blackberry 8220 side.jpg

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The BlackBerry 8220 is available in two colors on T-Mobile – black and red. For some reason the black color goes for less money on Amazon (where I recommend everyone purchase phone service to avoid the zoo-like atmosphere of their local store).

Both phones are available with a $100 rebate though Amazon has the Black model for $.01 and the red is $100 (after rebate that makes them -$99 and free respectively).

Small Size & Keypad: Blessing & Curse

One of the things that’s nice about the 8220 is that though it’s small in size, it still runs everything a full-sized BlackBerry can run (albeit at a slower response to your keystrokes – more on that later). Screen resolution is 240 x 320 internally. There’s also an external 128 x 160 screen which displays the text of incoming emails and text messages so you don’t have to open the flip to view the full message.

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I judge the size of the 8220 as excellent, being neither too big to comfortably hold or so tiny that it slips out of your hand as you try to use the controls. The device most closely compares to a BlackBerry Pearl – with the most significant feature being the flip screen which easily opens and closes to protect from accidental key presses.

The keyboard on the 8220 might be the single biggest reason that you avoid the device. RIM uses a special SureType software program that translates your key presses on the two characters per key into actual words.

You’ll Type Nearly As Fast – Except For Unique Words

SureType works great for typing regular words found in the 8220’s dictionary. It’s a real downer when you’re trying to type unique words such as your user name or email address into a login field.

It’s an honest to goodness hair pulling four letter spewing exercise in frustration to type regular letters on the 8220. Using the menu while composing a message you can enable multi-tap to have the keys stop guessing your words and function so that your first keypress would select the first letter on the key and two keypresses select the second (similar to how regular cell phones manage text messaging)

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In actual use what works the best with BlackBerry Suretype is to avoid watching the screen as you type the word. When your typing is done you can review the text or select from a list of words that the 8220 thinks you may be trying to spell.

When I’m typing a regular message with no unique words I’ve gotten to the point where I’m as fast (or faster) than typing on my BlackBerry Bold’s full sized keyboard.

Mis-spell a word or stop typing and let the BlackBerry SureType guess your words? Here’s the screen you see. From the list of possible words you can click on the correct one and the BlackBerry inserts the word to replace what you’ve typed:

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The 8220 uses a microSD card and can access up to 8GB of data. The card is easily accessible from the upper right corner of the device. Thankfully no battery removal required. Swapping out this card is both easy and quick.

Although you can load songs onto the microSD via the BlackBerry Media Center, I find it much faster to load the mp3 files directly to the card via a memory reader. The Media Center also supports reading of playlists from iTunes and in testing it worked quite well. Be advised that DRM protected music (which may include purchased some iTunes songs) won’t transfer.

* Video format support: MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.263, WMV
* Audio format support: MP3, MIDI, AMR-NB, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA

Picture Quality Comparison

As with most BlackBerry cameras – the photo quality is just so-so indoors and slightly better outside. The 8220 has a 2 megapixel camera which is the same as the camera on the BlackBerry Bold while the BlackBerry Curve 8900 has a 3.2 megapixel camera.

Here are some comparison shots taken inside.

First, my BlackBerry Bold:

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The exact same subject with my BlackBerry Curve 8900 (this is an autofocus 3.2 megapixel camera which accounts for the better results):

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And finally, the BlackBerry 8220:

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As you can see the 8220 took the worst pictures of the bunch. It’s a bit unfair to throw the 8900 in the mix as the camera on that BlackBerry is of higher megapixels and includes auto-focus which creates a much crisper photo.

If camera quality is your sole deciding factor for a BlackBerry phone – the BlackBerry 8900 is going to be tough to beat. In real world experience most of the BlackBerry phones take pretty good photos when outside and in the sun.

The Killer App for the BlackBerry 8220 = UMA

The T-Mobile BlackBerry 8220 uses Wi-Fi. But it doesn’t use Wi-Fi just to speed up the web browsing (which on BlackBerrys never seems fast enough to me).

What the T-Mobile Wi-Fi does is connect via a special type of technology called UMA which stands for Unlicensed Mobile Access. When connected to a Wi-Fi signal UMA allows the BlackBerry 8220 to use regular cellular signals when within range of a tower. When you are inside your home or office and the Wi-Fi signal is strong – the phone will automatically switch to Wi-Fi.

This Wi-Fi signal also carries voicecalls, BlackBerry data and SMS or MMS messages (something other Wi-Fi enabled BlackBerry’s cannot do). T-Mobile has a plan where for $9.99 per month you are alloted unlimited voice minutes to use while connected to Wi-Fi.

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In most situations the phone will even perfectly hand off from the cellular network to Wi-Fi (the general rule of thumb is that you are charged depending upon where the call starts from – so if you have an unlimited UMA calling plan — which T-Mobile calls Hotspot at Home — then calls started on Wi-Fi and transitioned to regular cellular continue to be no charge).

How Does UMA Work In The Real World?

I tested UMA in plenty of places including the free Wi-Fi at Mohegan Sun Casino, Panera Bread, and plenty of open and unsecured local Wi-Fi routers. Most of the time the connection was indistinguishable from regular cellular.

There are some routers that simply won’t carry your calls over UMA – or if they do carry the call you’ll have distorted speech (my Apple Time Capsule is one of those). Luckily T-Mobile sells “guaranteed compatible” routers for about $40.

I purchased a Linksys wireless router from T-Mobile and installed it in my office where I use the UMA services on average about 2 hours per day with never a problem. The solution to most UMA problems is to upgrade your router to one guaranteed by T-Mobile to be compatible.

There were several quirks that I found with UMA:
– If you are using UMA within a weak T-Mobile service area you probably won’t transition to Cellular data when you leave your Wi-Fi signal. Instead the connection will drop.

– While the UMA service is beautiful when you’re connected to a compatible router (and I found most were) – don’t expect to connect perfectly to every Wi-Fi signal out there. In some instances you may get an indication that your phone is working on UMA but when you try to place a call the voice may be distorted.

– UMA is not a savior for T-Mobile’s lousy coverage area. In practice I find that T-Mobile has the worst cellular signal footprint of all the providers. What you need to think about is what happens when you step out of your home and office? If you’re in a lousy T-Mobile cellular area you’ll probably be unhappy because upon leaving your Wi-Fi coverage there may not be a native T-Mobile cellular signal.

Tip: UMA Works Overseas

Shh – don’t tell but if you take this phone overseas and call home via Wi-Fi (UMA) – you won’t pay any roaming charges. If I were traveling overseas with somewhat steady access to Wi-Fi, I’d be all over this phone as a cheap way to avoid expensive overseas roaming for both data and voice.

How Does The 8220 Compare To Full Sized BlackBerrys?

Speed of Email Delivery? – No difference. The 8220 receives and sends as fast (or faster) than any other BlackBerry I’ve owned.

Speed of Applications – If there’s any downside to the 8220, the speed at which applications run as well as the overall keyboard responsiveness is the device’s achilles heel. Despite applying a carrier OS upgrade, I found that the screen would be several characters behind in displaying the keys I’d pushed. Applications also ran slower with Slacker Radio loading but taking 2 to 4 times as long to initialize as either my Bold or Curve 8900.

Some of this lag is undoubtedly due to processor speed or memory configuration. However the lag is noticeable on the 8220 and if you’re going to be a power user (probably not this device’s target market anyway) then you might want to think about a Bold or Curve 8900 which both offer much faster response times to both key presses and applications.

Media Player – The screen is a little less brilliant than that of the newer BlackBerry’s but I was able to both play music and watch video without a hitch.


The 8220 won me over with it’s full BlackBerry features in such a small design. I loved that the UMA service worked exactly as advertised and with few (if any) glitches.

I found myself loving the compact flip design which made it easy to take a full BlackBerry device almost anywhere. I could find no fault with the build quality or the screen resolution – both seemed just fine to me on a phone that Amazon is providing for free after rebate or – $99.

The BlackBerry 8220 makes a great phone for someone who won’t send a lot of daily emails (the keyboard would slow you down) or who wants a BlackBerry that they can throw into their purse without having to worry about stray key presses. If you travel overseas or spend a lot of time within reach of Wi-Fi – the UMA capabilities could prove to be a real cost saver as well.

Link: T-Mobile BlackBerry 8220 — BlackRed(- $99 and Free after 1 year new contract and rebate)

What I Liked:

– UMA capabilities that transmit cellular over Wi-Fi
– Outside flip displays incoming email text eliminating need to open phone
– Compact size that fits easily in pocket or purse
– BlackBerry instant email
– Runs nearly all BlackBerry apps
– Outer microSD slot makes inserting and removal of memory easy
– Battery life matches specifications – easily lasting over a day of use

What Could Be Improved:

– Key presses are “laggy”
– Applications run a bit slower than other BlackBerry devices
– SureType keyboard presents challenges when typing non-dictionary words
– SureType keyboard layout a little more confusing (because keys may have multiple functions)
– Camera quality is dismal

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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.