The BlackBerry 7100t from T-Mobile looks like no other BlackBerry and packs more power than any BlackBerry has before. If you’re okay with the odd keyboard, this is an exciting and satisfying e-mail device.

The 7100t is the first BlackBerry to look, feel, and work like a phone. Measuring 4.7 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches (HWD)—just a smidgen larger than a palmOne Treo 600—and weighing 4.3 ounces, the 7100t fits in your hand and in your pocket. The phone has a high-quality speaker phone and supports Bluetooth wireless head sets. Because it’s a quad-band GSM phone, you can use it overseas. The 2.1-inch, 240-by-260 color display is one of the sharpest we’ve seen, with a powerful backlight.

All the familiar BlackBerry applications are here, including very easy-to-use e-mail and PIM applications, plus two major new ones: a cross-platform IM application for AIM, Yahoo!, and ICQ, as well as a full HTML Web browser. Unfortunately, neither of those applications worked on our late-beta test unit.

The 7100t can hook up to corporate BlackBerry servers, Exchange and Lotus Notes e-mail (via a desktop redirector program), and T-Mobile’s Web client, which integrates up to ten POP3, IMAP, AOL, or Hotmail e-mail accounts. The included desktop software syncs contacts, calendars, notes, and tasks with a wide range of desktop apps quickly and easily.

To make the device smaller, RIM ditched the usual full keyboard for a strange, 20-key hybrid keypad in which the keys are small, flat, and close together. Most keys have two letters and a number on them, but the keys are in familiar QWERTY order. Yes, the 7100t uses predictive text, but stifle your groans. RIM’s SureType is a giant step ahead of any predictive text you’ve used before. It learns new words after one try and automatically integrates all the names in your address book. After 15 minutes on this keyboard we were typing with ease.

Although there are few problems with the 7100t, we did find some noteworthy drawbacks. The small screen sometimes demands sharp eyes. And like all Blackberries, it strips formatting out of e-mails and attachments, it doesn’t play MP3s or videos, it can’t be used as a modem for your laptop, and it has very few games or other downloadable applications available.

Also, the BlackBerry 7100t is available only from T-Mobile. This will limit its appeal to those who are either trapped in other carriers’ contracts or simply prefer other carriers.

The 7100t is a new device for a new generation of BlackBerry users, many of whom will be lured by the 7100t’s low price. (The other BlackBerry models with color screens—the 7200 and 7700 series—typically cost between $350 and $550.) If you’re looking for a powerful, portable, personal e-mail phone, this is an excellent buy.

Via PCMag