Get ready for a new recession-buster: the $30 knock-off BlackBerry.

Surely the


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iPhone and the BlackBerry Bold from

Research In Motion


were enough to give


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Sprint Nextel

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techno hives. But now,


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, the reseller of those flagship devices, has decided these times call for some serious down-market marketing.

This once-stodgy monopoly has reinvented itself as an aggressive mobile operator. And recently the company has become very pushy with pricing on certain entry-level models. My assistant, Saj, and I have been testing one such new cheapie: The

Pantech Slate C530

, which costs a mere $30 after a rebate and with a plan.

If dollars are tight right now, and all you need is basic e-mail and Web connectivity as you try to stay alive in the small-business game, by all means consider the Pantech. It is well-made, relatively easy to use and offers surprising value for the money.

What you get:

The Pantech Slate is a perfectly reasonable mobile e-mail and text device.

At first glance, the Slate has that low-end, not-worth-the-hassle, foreign-designed gadget feel. Its screen is tiny by modern smart-phone standards, barely 2 inches. And features are minimal: a simple keyboard and some menus. Not many applications. And about zero sex appeal.

Not only is it not the iPhone, but the Slate was priced closer to the line of low-cost text and e-mail devices like the

Zipit Wireless Messenger

($50), the

Motorola IMFree

($35) or even a neat toy like

Rip Roar Instant Messenger

from Manley ($20).

But play around with the Slate a little and very quickly you'll see this little unit has far higher ambitions.

First off, the Slate is not a child's toy. It is an actual cell phone that runs on AT&T's actual cell phone network, which means it makes and takes calls as well as any of our knucklehead cell-phone networks. Furthermore, AT&T gets points for giving small groups easy access to its system. The C530 is squarely priced in the affordable family plan pricing structure: Unlimited minutes on up to five phones runs $99, according to the AT&T Web site. Unlimited data and text runs an additional $30 a month. If you can nickel-and-dime your usage a bit, you can wire up your entire small business of, say, five people for way less than $200. And keep them connected for about the same in monthly access charges. Listen up, folks, that is



And the Pantech is not as downscale as it makes itself out to be. The unit is thin, easy to handle and made of durable rubberized plastic that is tough and unfussy. I dropped this thing dozens of times and never even gave it a scratch. And I even came to like the keyboard, which was full QWERTY and comes with perfectly comfortable-to-use buttons. The unit even has a decent, if not terrific, 1.5 megapixel camera and video system.

What you don't get:

Don't expect the Slate to be a true portable digital device that really does things.

The Slate basically does


sophisticated. What you get here is e-mail, telephony, basic Web browsing and some other chatchas like games. The Pantech will not support your corporate e-mail. It will not run most programs, unless you are willing to mess around with some hacks -- which I do not recommend. So you get none of the portable applications upside of, say, the App Store or similar.

With the Slate, what you see is what you get.

Bottom line:

Clearly if you can dig in and get yourself a real mobile device for your business, like a BlackBerry Bold, or the G1 from Google, by all means do it. Mobile devices are in a golden age right now, economy or no economy. So the Slate will never replace that iPhone you lust after. But dollar for dollar, I was impressed with what the Slate can offer.

Particularly for those recently thrown up on the small-business shores, who need to get mobile fast and cheap, the Slate is worth a trip to your local mobile store.

Done right, the C530 can make you money. And these days that is all that matters.

Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.