Walt Mossberg

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How BlackBerry Models Differ

Here are a few questions I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability.

I get confused by all the different models of the BlackBerry — Bold, Storm, Curve, Pearl and so on. Can you briefly explain the differences?

There are too many models to list here, because RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, makes varying versions for competing wireless carriers, and these may have different features, even if they look the same. However, here’s a quick breakdown of the main flavors.

The Bold is the top-of-the-line BlackBerry, relatively large and costly, with a wide keyboard and a big, vivid screen. The Curve is its little brother — still sporting a good, full, keyboard, but lower-priced, smaller and lighter. The newest Curve, called the 8900, has a beautiful screen and is even sleeker than its predecessor.

The Pearl is a slimmer, low-priced, more fashion-oriented model with a truncated keyboard that has two letters on each key and relies on software to guess which one you meant to hit. The Pearl Flip is much like the Pearl, except, as its name implies, it’s a flip phone.

The Storm is the BlackBerry line’s most direct competitor to the Apple iPhone. It’s the only BlackBerry without a physical keyboard, instead relying on a large, beautiful touch screen for typing and navigation. Unlike on the iPhone, however, the Storm provides physical feedback each time you press down on the screen.

I’d be interested in the new, tiny iPod Shuffle, except that I dislike Apple’s earbuds. And, because they have now moved the playback controls to the earbud cord, I can’t use my favorite third-party set. What are my options?

Well, one option is to buy the old model of the Shuffle, which Apple is keeping on the market. It’s larger, but still very small, and has the controls on the player itself, rather than on the earbud cord, so you can use plain old earbuds or headphones from other companies. Plus, at $49, it’s $30 less, though it has only 25% of the capacity of the new one and lacks the new model’s voice features.

Another, costlier, option is to buy better earbuds that have the new controller built in. Apple sells a pair of $79 in-ear buds with a control module on the cord. They were designed for the iPod Touch, but the company says they work perfectly with the new Shuffle. Several other headphone companies, such as Klipsch, have announced plans to offer either headphones or adapters with Shuffle-compatible controls in coming months.

Is it safe to upgrade my Vista PC to the beta version of Windows 7?

Since it is a beta version, there is always some danger of problems. But I have upgraded a couple of Vista computers with no special tricks or help, and with no significant problems. Still, there are a couple of caveats. First, Microsoft will be replacing the beta with a more polished “release candidate” that could involve a re-installation process, so you may want to hold off. Second, Microsoft isn’t guaranteeing that every hardware feature on every computer or peripheral will work properly under the pre-release versions.

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