I've been using Verizon Wireless' BlackBerry 8830 outside the US for a couple of weeks now. I got it brand new and without any previous configuration so, given the problems I have had with US phones in the Old Continent in the past, my first thought was that I wasn't even going to be able to get it into the network.
However, and despite the fact that Verizon's flavor of 3G doesn't work in Europe, Research In Motion's international agent of mail love managed to impress me in almost every test. Discover the adventures of a pseudo-American CrackBerry-addict werewolf in Madrid (gallery and video included) after the jump.
Verizon shipped the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition and the SIM card separately to Gizmodo's Madrid lair. The test phone came without manuals, so all the setup was done using just my gadget-o-powers and generous amounts of margarita cocktails. The slot for the SIM card is not marked in any way, so after I opened the battery compartment I spent a long time with Ad trying to realize where to slide in the SIM, which was marked "Verizon Wireless" with a small Vodafone band at the bottom. We figured out that it fitted in one of the sides of the phone after almost breaking the internal microSD slot, which is plainly visible next to its right. The SIM fits perfectly, but it just feels like if you are sliding it in a random empty location between the main circuitry and the exterior plastic case.
And that was the only problem. Starting up the phone worked like any other BlackBerry: It recognized the Vodafone Spain GPRS network instantly (unfortunately, 3G access was disabled) and, after setting up mail access to my Gizmodo account, I was sending mail to
unsuspecting women in Sweden friends all over the world and receiving replies back with no delays whatsoever.
Access to the Web worked equally well using the built-in browser. Even while it's nothing to write home about, I was able to get into all kinds of pages, including Gizmodo's own Movable Type publishing system. In fact, this post was started using the BlackBerry (it was originally titled "OMG thos wrksd graaat! Myt finghrs are tooi bnig!", but that's another story and too much tequila in the cocktail shaker). The speed was a little better than my old BlackBerry, but rather this wasn't caused by the network speed (which is exactly the same) but because of the better processor in this unit.
After trying data access I called some people both locally in Madrid, in other countries (UK and Sweden) and in the US (New York, Virginia, Los Angeles and San Francisco). All calls worked great, with clear sound every time, no delays and no problems connecting to anyone, independently of the network they were in. And while this is more a sign of good coverage and good network interconnection systems rather than of the 8830's abilities, it's good to be see that things are working so well after past years of echoes, sudden disconnections and problems.
Two of those problems used to be short messaging systems and voicemail. Again, both of them worked great. I sent short messages to our features editor Wilson Rothman in New York, who uses Verizon, and my friend Zac, who uses T-Mobile, and both of them received them in no time. We timed our SMS: To receive messages in my end it took about 3 to 4 seconds, while in theirs it took about 5 to 10 seconds, counting the time it took to the phone to connect to transmit to the network. Multimedia Messaging, however, didn't seem to work at all but I am not surprised about it. Even using two other Vodafone phones between the UK and Spain, MMS will never work for me either. This is a negative point because it means
no sex-phone with visual aids not a quick way to send pictures, but then again, you can still get your images and videos using normal email (which is free).
Voicemail worked without a hitch. After setting up the voicemail for the first time. I accessed like usual: just calling my own number, hitting # to access the login, my password and then # again to enter. I got into it in no time and listened to two messages: Wilson saying hi and someone called Sharon telling me that her oven was broken and I had to go and fix it. (Sharon, whoever you are, I don't want anything to do with your oven. OK, so maybe I am curious about it, but a) you are not Swedish and b) you are not my wife).
One important thing to remember about voicemail: When calling the US you must add the + sign (for international calls) and the number 1 (US' international calling prefix) before your number (i.e. +1 ### ### ## ##). This applies to your voicemail as well. Therefore, if you are traveling my advice is for you it to change your voicemail speed dial temporarily adding that prefix.
Clearly, the RIM BlackBerry 8830 World Edition and the Verizon Wireless/Vodafone partnership works great. Extremely easy setup, even doing it abroad, clear calls, access to email, the Web and voicemail, and almost instant short messaging makes the 8830 a winner for anyone who needs the features of a BlackBerry and travels outside the US. The only thing will be the cost: Let's just say that I am oh-just-so-glad that I am not paying the bill for this test.