Business travellers is the US will be able to use their BlackBerry smartphones to automatically forward email to their ThinkPad laptops, after Lenovo launched a $150 device called Lenovo Constant Connect. The device will be available in the second quarter of the year in the US, and worldwide later this year.

The service has a hardware and a software component that was developed over two years by Lenovo engineers in Beijing, Japan and North Carolina.

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 email. That email 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 traveller rushing between flights or in a taxi can get the latest email without having to stop, turn on the PC and and log-in over a Wi-Fi hotspot, said Rich Cheston, a distinguished engineer and executive director in Lenovo's software and peripherals business unit.

Lenovo Constant Connect also serves as an alternative to 3G wireless services in the US from Verizon and other companies, and - for email 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 email server, Cheston said, to get full-sized attachments. This is done using AES 128-bit encryption and other security provided by BlackBerry.

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For domestic travellers 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.

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'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 shutdown, 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.

Computerworld US