There are, by now, a slew of BlackBerry-like cellphones with typewriter keyboards for mobile e-mail. But none, including Palm's popular...

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NEW YORK — There are, by now, a slew of BlackBerry-like cellphones with typewriter keyboards for mobile e-mail. But none, including Palm’s popular Treo, has mustered a following that resembles the malady affectionately known as “CrackBerry” addiction.

So it’s no ho-hum when BlackBerry’s maker, Research In Motion (RIM), overhauls its flagship device for the first time in nearly three years.

After a test drive of two weeks, it’s hard to issue a definitive verdict on the BlackBerry 8700, which debuted last week through Cingular Wireless at $300 with rebates and a two-year contract. But there’s little doubt the device, which does e-mail and telephone, will please BlackBerry devotees on many fronts.

First and foremost, it’s skinnier in width and thickness. That makes the 8700 easier to grip as a phone, addressing one of the few common complaints about its predecessors.

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This means, of course, that RIM has gambled on rejiggering the layout of the most comfy Qwerty keyboard in the thumb-typing realm. The result feels a bit more cramped, yet typing still seems simpler and smoother than on comparable devices.

Other changes include the addition of dedicated “send” and “end” buttons for phone calls, a speakerphone button, two customizable program keys, a doubling of internal memory to 64 megabytes and a brilliant color screen.

This last addition marks a long-awaited admission that RIM’s business-minded customers might enjoy a little eye candy even if a BlackBerry’s main function remains e-mail.

That doesn’t mean that RIM is abandoning its staid demeanor. RIM is holding orthodox to its presumption that most of the 3.65 million BlackBerrys out there were issued by employers who don’t want their staff playing with their gadgets or photographing internal operations.

So the 8700 is still primarily an e-mail device, though with a growing emphasis on being a basic cellphone as well.

Compared with the popular 7200-series BlackBerry, the 8700 really isn’t that much smaller. It measures 4.3 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide by 0.77 inch thick.

Yet this slight change makes a big difference in one-handed operation. The 8700 is also a smidgen lighter, weighing 4.7 ounces vs. 4.9 ounces with the 7200 series.

To accommodate this scrunching, the keys are closer together. Though roughly the same size as before, keys have been rotated to a more vertical position from their diagonal tilt on the 7200. This eliminates a good deal of the spacing between each key, which could bother users with meatier fingertips.

Another noteworthy enhancement is the screen. While the displays on the 8700 and 7200 both measure a shade above 2.5 inches diagonally, the new screen is far brighter and crisper, a pleasure for both e-mail attachments and Web browsing.

RIM says the 8700 boasts 16 days of standby battery capacity, or nearly twice as much as the 7200, but with the same “talk time” allotment of four hours.

Notably, one of the two programmable buttons is positioned on the side of the device — right where the walkie-talkie, push-to-talk button tends to appear on most devices with such capabilities. Cingular doesn’t yet offer this service but has indicated it will introduce push-to-talk soon.

Other features include compatibility with Cingular’s EDGE wireless technology as compared with the slower Internet and data capabilities on previous BlackBerrys, as well as Bluetooth for wireless headsets and direct communications with nearby devices.