Lenovo device delivers e-mail via BlackBerrys

Lenovo Constant Connect serves as an e-mail go-between

Business travelers will be able to use their BlackBerry smartphones to automatically forward e-mail to their ThinkPad notebook PCs with a US$150 device developed by Lenovo Group and Research in Motion (RIM), the two companies said Monday.

Called Lenovo Constant Connect, the service has a hardware and a software component that was developed over two years by Lenovo engineers in Beijing, Japan and North Carolina, Rich Cheston, a distinguished engineer and executive director in Lenovo's software and peripherals business unit, said in an interview Friday.

The hardware part is a small ExpressCard device with 512GB of flash RAM and a Bluetooth antenna that pairs up with the user's BlackBerry via Bluetooth to download any new e-mail. That e-mail is stored on the ExpressCard device and replicated to the ThinkPad e-mail client after the user turns the laptop back on.

That way, a traveler rushing between flights or in a taxi can get the latest e-mail without having to stop, turn on the PC and and log-in over a Wi-Fi hotspot, Cheston said.

Lenovo Constant Connect also serves as an alternative to 3G wireless services from Verizon and other companies, and -- for e-mail only -- can be faster and more efficient than instant-on solutions such as Phoenix Hyperspace and Splashtop, which still face problems related to Wi-Fi availability.

While BlackBerries typically cut down large images and other attachments, Lenovo Constant Connect's software will pull the e-mail all the way from the user's corporate Exchange e-mail server, Cheston said, to get full-sized attachments. This is done using AES 128-bit encryption and other security provided by BlackBerry, he said.

For domestic travelers with unlimited BlackBerry data plans, users should not have to pay anything beyond the $150 price of the Lenovo device. However, international travelers may face higher charges, depending on their BlackBerry roaming contract.

The device will be available in the second quarter of the year in the U.S., and worldwide later this year.

It will work with any BlackBerry running Version 4.2 of the BlackBerry OS or later. It will work initially with Microsoft Outlook and POPmail services such as Google Inc.'s Gmail, with Lotus Notes compatibility coming in the second half of the year.

The device draws very little electricity from the ThinkPad, Cheston said. Any ThinkPad in shut-down, sleep or hibernate mode that has more than half an hour of powered-on battery life should have enough juice to power the device, he said.

The device requires unique electronics and software in the ThinkPad, and thus wouldn't work on a Dell laptop, for instance, Cheston said.

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