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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


BlackBerry Comes Technology 46 July 2009 to Russia
Text by Ian Mitchell

Everybody knows that Barak Obama was the first BlackBerry man to be elected President of the United States. Will he, won’t he, be allowed to take his treasured Canadian smart-phone into the White House? That was the question that was on the world’s backlit displays last winter. The answer came shortly before he was sworn into office in January: no, or at least: not just yet. Despite this setback, the international electronic community now knows that it is cool to be seen with a BlackBerry.

Amongst the coolest celebrities who own one are Mekhi Phifer, Ne-Yo, P Diddy, Seal, Milo Ventimiglia, Summer Glau and, of course, 50 Cent. A less cool B-List would include John McCain, Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Hillary Clinton, Harrison Ford, Guy Ritchie, Ross Hunter, Peaches and Pixey Geldof, Serena Williams and, just to show you don’t have to be smart to own a smartphone, David Beckham and his very slim wife, Victoria.

Nobody knows if Gordon Brown owns one, and President Medvedev is said to prefer his iPhone. Perhaps they don’t realize that you can buy a Homer Simpson ringtone for your BlackBerry, or upload the theme-tune from Mission Impossible.

Why is this gadget so popular? Certainly it has impressive technical specifications, but one wonders whether Ivanka Trump really chose her BlackBerry for the 802.11 b/g wi-fi support, or if Paris Hilton plumped for hers on the basis of its 312 MHz Xscale ARMv5TE PXA900 CPU? Anything is possible, of course, but I am inclined to the view that they, like Amy Winehouse, Dakota Fanning and Lady Gaga, were happy with the one feature which BlackBerry offers which no other phone, computer, watch, handbag or make of trainer does: full spec, open-source, cultural cross-over Obama-compatibility. Whatever.

The fact that will be of greatest interest to Passport readers is that you can now, as of May 18 this year, get a top-ofthe- range BlackBerry in Moscow. This is the BlackBerry Curve 8900, which is billed as the thinnest smart-phone to date. It is almost as thin as Victoria Beckham, and much cheaper, coming in at a mere 24,400 rubles.

At 110 grams, its weight puts Posh Spice to shame. Moreover, it features a “sleek and refined design” and, as the vendors claim, “feels comfortable for either one-handed or twohanded use”. Also, it will sustain conversation for more than 5 hours, and keep going in “sleep” mode for 360 hours.

Unlike Mrs Beckham, it has 256 megabytes of memory, built-in GPS, an intuitive trackball and a full qwerty keyboard. The expandable memory slot permits the insertion of 16GB cards, which will give you more songs than all the Spice Girls put together. And if you are into a visual groove, the Curve 8900 also has a 3.2 megapixel camera, with auto-focus, digital zoom, flash and video recording.

But we live in amazing times and one still has to ask: what is unique about the BlackBerry? It is not the only smart-phone on the market with more unusual features than an intergalactic mutant. So why chose BlackBerry rather than a less heavily celebrity-endorsed make?

I went to the Sukharevskaya Ploshchad shop of MTS, who are the only suppliers of BlackBerry in Russia, and put that question to the staff there. The basic answer is e-mail. If you want to be able to receive e-mails without having to go on-line to download them, you need BIS, or BlackBerry Internet Services, which is available only through MTS. For 350 roubles per month you can receive unlimited e-mail traffic, 24/7, on a sort of “broadband” basis, enabling the user to edit texts, as well as to send and receive attachments in a variety of popular formats.

The service is on-line constantly, and you receive e-mails as they come into your mailbox. No more dial-up, “oh my God, I’m already at the meeting” misery with a BlackBerry.

That is the unique feature of this phone and the service MTS offers with it. I say “mailbox”, but BIS allows you to register up to 10 different mailboxes, all of which are tracked constantly.

You pay for your telephoning and your internet traffic separately, on whatever tariff you choose, but your e-mail connection cost is fixed at 350 roubles per month, which is probably equivalent to the cost of three mailbox checks per day. How many of us make as few as that? And if you do, you can be hours behind with your inbox, and turning up to meetings that were canceled just as you were logging off last time.

This service operates everywhere within Russia that you can get MTS coverage. You can also “roam” internationally, though that is charged extra. For 3,500 roubles per month (a current special offer) you can have unlimited BIS roaming.

Finally, it should be mentioned that you do not have to buy so expensive a phone as the Curve 8900. MTS also offer the 8800, at 17,700 roubles, and the 8700g at 13,000. Naturally, “… at so low a price there is a cost in terms of functionality. On the 8700g you can talk for only 4 hours, not 5, before recharging the battery; the builtin memory is only 64 megabytes, not 256; and, horror of horrors, the phone weighs a pocket-sagging 134 grams. But that is probably less than the weight of all the credit and debit cards you needed to carry around in order to pay for your dial-up email services.”

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