BlackBerry Pearl : Specs | Price | Reviews | Test. Though nothing revolutionary, the addition of multimedia features and the already solid e-mail capabilities make the RIM BlackBerry Pearl an attractive. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G. This device has been a long time coming. Since we first heard about the device way back, it has been on the list of. Blackberry Pearl 3G 9105 Expert Review: Will a QWERTY-free, slimline BlackBerry make merry in the mass market? Buying advice from the UK's. The Pearl is RIM's first smartphone with support for playing music and video, plus it has a built in camera. Brighthand's Editor-in-Chief.
RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G review £250 A big upgrade from previous Pearl models, the Pearl 3G has fast wireless and data connections. With GPS navigation, a better camera, and blazing 3G connectivity, the Pearl 8130 is one of the better smart phone bargains. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 shrinks the Bold to a more pocketable size, but keeps all of the important parts. Read our BlackBerry Pearl 8100 review, find the best UK BlackBerry Pearl 8100 mobile deals and compare our users BlackBerry Pearl 8100 reviews. Review: Digital Trends' in-depth BlackBerry Pearl analysis includes unbiased reviews, picture galleries, user reviews and price comparisons. The new BlackBerry Pearl phone is a perfect match for people with high expectations and who want a more compact mobile phone. This sleek cell phone adds a serviceable camera and multimedia features to BlackBerry's already terrific e-mail capabilities.
The BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 was announced back at WES just a short month ago, and is about ready for primetime. It builds upon RIM’s older Pearl family with an upgraded HVGA display, optical trackpad to replace the now-defunct trackball, a new 3.2 megapixel camera with flash, and is the first BlackBerry to host Wi-Fi 802.11n. When combined with BlackBerry OS 5.0, the Pearl 3G is effectively a miniaturized Bold 9700.
Coming from the Bold 9000, I was already prepared to miss the luxurious screen size, but remembered my time with the original Pearl 8100 fondly, mostly in terms of how pocketable it was and how quick I was with the SureType keypad. Wi-Fi n was a big pull, and I was curious to see how much better it was than the Wi-Fi on the vast majority of handsets I had used in the past.
From the pictures alone, the 9100 looked like a solid, if perhaps too-familiar refresh on an established family of BlackBerrys. Carrying the first proper BlackBerry brand name, the Pearl 3G had a significant heritage to live up to. So… does it?
Design and Ergonomics
Design is one of the highlights of the BlackBerry Pearl, and it should sell well just because it looks so darn cool and is so small and light. Besides the shinny black housing and the silver accents, the BlackBerry Pearl has all the right curves and feels very good in hand. Though shinny, the phone doesn’t feel very slippery and won’t slip out of your hand by accident. The 2.2” display takes up a good portion of the front face, and below it are the menus keys and keyboard which have white backlighting.
The BlackBerry Pearl has both SureType and multi-tap input methods. SureType technology is BlackBerry’s own version of predictive text that first appeared on the BlackBerry 7100 series which was the first RIM product line to have two letters on a key. The Pearl’s new keyboard design and SureType have been improved from the version on the 7100 series. The software works very well at predicting words and at learning new words. The multi-tap input works similar to multi-press/multi-tap on traditional phones. These input methods are good choices for the Pearl whose keyboard is in between a true QWERTY keyboard and a traditional phone keyboard. Some keys are dedicated to one letter (plus the higher ASCIIs such as numbers and symbols) while others are populated with 2 letter of the alphabet plus the higher ASCII symbols. If you are a traditional BlackBerry user, or even a Treo or keyboarded Windows Mobile user, this will feel awkward and your typing speed will be slow at first. Whether you’ll get used to this keyboard design will largely depend upon how much time you can spend on training yourself and your patience level. Those migrating from traditional phones (with just a number pad) should have a slightly easier time to get used to the BlackBerry Pearl keyboard as SureType will save you a few key presses and you will always have multi-tap to fall back on. The keys on the Pearl have more of a rocking motion than any other phone number pad or QWERTY keyboards we’ve seen and the keys are physically larger than those of the Treo or the BlackBerry 8700. The rocking motion does make one wonder if these keys are strong enough to last.
- Tight design and construction
- Smooth, stable operating system
- Reduced screen size
- Little gain from Wi-Fi 802.11n
- Optical trackpad susceptible to sunlight interference
Phone Features and Data
The BlackBerry Pearl is a quad-band GSM phone that will work anywhere in the world GSM services are available. It operates on 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands and it has good but not stellar RF. The Pearl gets about 75-80% of full signal strength in Dallas area where T-Mobile provides excellent coverage. In comparison, the Samsung D809 gets about 50%, the Samsung t519 gets close to 100% throughout the area and the Dash gets full bars on T-Mobile. The BlackBerry has average voice quality on both incoming and outgoing voice and the volume is loud. The speakerphone offers good voice quality when in a call and is loud enough for conference calls. The Pearl supports most of popular phone features such as conference calling, speed dialing (12 speed dials), call forwarding, call waiting, call blocking (handy when you don’t want to roam) and smart dialing (for country codes and area codes). You can choose from 6 profiles and switch between the current profile to vibrate mode by holding down the # key. If you need to type letters during a call, just hold the Alt key then press the letter key. The dedicated Mute key is decidedly handy, and when you need to swap calls, put a call on hold and other functions just press the Menu key to access these functions while in a call.
For the first time on a BlackBerry, the Pearl comes with VoiceSignal’s capable voice dialing software. The BlackBerry Pearl version of VoiceSignal includes voice dialing and checking network coverage, battery life and my number. While it doesn’t have as complete set of voice command features like Cyberon’s Voice Commander or Microsoft Voice Command, VoiceSignal does provide reliable speaker independent dialing, which means you don’t need to pre-record voice tags for voice dialing and anyone (who speaks English) can use voice dialing on the phone. It’s very accurate even through a Bluetooth headset.
Top to bottom: Pearl, HTC Excalibur (HTC S620, T-Mobile Dash) and the BlackBerry 8703e
BlackBerry Pearl, HTC Excalibur and the BlackBerry 8703e
Messaging and Security
Like all BlackBerries, the Pearl has the excellent BlackBerry push email client that will work with your existing BlackBerry Enterprise Server software and if you get the phone from a carrier you can use the BlackBerry services offered by the carrier. You can set up maximum 10 POP3 or IMAP4 email accounts and have email pushed to you along with attachments. RIM anticipates that the Pearl will bring new users to the BlackBerry family, so they included an email setup wizard which is a handy web-based email set up service. All you have to do is to type in your email address and password, the system will setup the mailbox for you. This is an essential service that takes the guesswork out of setting up multiple mailboxes and the fear of using a new kind of device. Please note, if you have the browser on certain page, when you launch the email setup, it will go back to the page that’s currently cached. All you have to do is get to the bookmarks page to access the email setup site.
For those who have used BlackBerries before, the Pearl’s email services and UI will look familiar to you, though without the jog wheel you will need to use a combination of the track ball (press for quick menu) and the Menu key. The extensive menu options in the BlackBerry email application make it a very powerful tool that includes not only support for Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise to get and send email messages but also provides handy tools for responding, filtering and searching these messages. It’s also worth noting that RIM actually updated the BlackBerry Enterprise Server software (v4.0.6 and v4.1.2) to include security policies for the BlackBerry Pearl. These policies allow IT managers to disable the BlackBerry Pearl camera and memory slot in tight security environment. The BlackBerry Pearl can receive attachments with email messages. You won’t get the attachments automatically pushed to you, you will get a link to the attachment and can download them. The attachment formats that the Pearl can view are extensive including all Office application formats, pdf, jpg, wav and several more. You can view Office files but not edit them as no editing software is bundled. You will need to install 3rd party software for that function. In addition to email messages, you can also send and receive SMS and MMS messages. For IM fanatics, the BlackBerry Pearl has an Instant Messaging client that supports AOL, Yahoo, MSN and ICQ. The IM tool offers automatic sign-in, save conversations and settings for alerts for messages.
Horsepower and Performance
The BlackBerry Pearl runs on an Intel XScale processor running at 312 MHz which is the same as the BlackBerry 8700g, and it feels very zippy except the boot up time. All applications load fast and menu functions perform well without any delays. When you run multiple applications such as the media player, the web browser and email simultaneously, you will however experience short delays. In BlackBerry Maps you might see a slight delay in refreshing a map view.
The BlackBerry Pearl has 64MB of flash memory and after loading an impressive number of applications including BlackBerry Maps, an Instant Messaging app along with all the other bundled applications, the device had about 28MB to store additional programs and data. If you need more storage space to store photos or other documents, get a MicroSD memory card.
The BlackBerry Pearl has a MicroSD card slot that lives under the phone’s battery. Though it’s inconvenient to remove the battery to access the MicroSD card, at least the card slot itself is well designed. You all know, if you have used recent devices with ever-smaller expansion slots, that your fingernails are at the mercy of the device designers. The BlackBerry Pearl’s expansion slot has a slider spring so you can easily slide open the cardholder and slide the card in and out of it. Well done!
Display, Gaming and Multimedia
The Pearl has a 2.2” bright LCD that’s capable of displaying 65K colors. The resolution of the display is 240 x 260, which is less than the BlackBerry 8700 series (there’s less room for a large display on the Pearl). The screen has a built-in light sensor that will help automatically adjust the screen brightness and the keyboard backlight brightness. The screen looks bright and sharp, and is very color saturated.
The biggest draw of the Pearl over previous BlackBerry devices is the bundled Media Play that brings music play, photo viewing and movie playback to the BlackBerry platfrom. The Pearl supports ACC, MIDI and MP3 music formats. Check your manual for a complete list of supported formats and the version of the BlackBerry server that supports them. Music playback through the built-in speaker is decent, though not as full as a dedicated multimedia phone like the LG Chocolate. But it doesn’t sound bad even when the volume is turned to maximum. The sound through a stereo headset is much fuller and has good channel separation. The music player is a basic one, offering playback, set the tune as ringer and replay. The video formats supported by the BlackBerry Pearl includes MPEG-4 Part 2 - Simple Profile + bvops (including DivX files in that format) and H.263 Profile 0 and Profile 3. The device played .avi files that came with the device fine, but when we tested a couple of our own .avi movies that played on other PDA phones and smartphones the Pearl couldn’t play them.
The Pearl comes with the usual BlackBerry game, BrickBreaker. The track ball actually makes for pretty good game control, compared to the old side jog wheel. We just wish that there were more games bundled with the device.
The Pearl is the first BlackBerry to have a built-in digital camera. The Pearl, with its new multimedia focus, comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera with 5x digital zoom that takes good pictures by camera phone standards. Of course, there are still some security requirements and RIM has addressed them by providing security policies in the server for IT managers to disable the camera. The Pearl’s camera can take still photos in three resolutions (1280 x 1024, 640 x 480, 320 x 240) at one of three quality levels. You can set flash options, white balance and picture storage locations in the menu. You can also use the track ball to zoom in and out. The pictures are reasonably sharp; colors are fairly accurate with a slight purple tint in some shots. It takes better picture indoors with good lighting than it does outdoor shots with strong sunlight which results in white out. The photo quality can’t compete with very high end cameras phones like the Nokia N73 or the Samsung a990 of course, but it’s on par with 1.3 MP cameras on current mobile phones. The flash helps a little for close up shots. You can save the photos to internal memory or to a MicroSD card. The Pearl cannot shoot video.
The Pearl has integrated Bluetooth v2.0 and supports Headset, Hands-Free and Serial Port profiles. We tested the BlackBerry Pearl with Cardo’s scala 700 Bluetooth headset and it paired with the headset easily. Incoming call quality is good with good volume, but our call recipients reported hearing feedback from their own voices echoed back. The phone and headset managed a range of 20 feet which is average among phones. Voice dialing through the scala headset worked like a charm. File transfer on the Pearl is limited to address book contacts. The Pearl’s Bluetooth v2.0 radio does have very good speed when transferring address book entries though these are very small files unlike multimedia files or large PDF documents. The Bluetooth radio does drain the battery power noticeably.
The BlackBerry Pearl comes with a 900 mAh rechargeable Lithium Ion battery (BlackBerry C-M2 model) that’s user replaceable. The claimed talk time is 3.5 hours which is an under-estimation in our tests; we got 4.5-5 hours of talk time. The Pearl has a long claimed standby time of 15 days. Bluetooth, accessing the EDGE network and shooting photos with the flash drains the battery more than messaging and music playback.
First off, it has to be said that the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is extremely well built. The various parts are very snugly assembled, and the keypad is much tighter than I remember the old Pearl being. Build quality aside, the 9100 has mad style. We’ll get into that in a bit. First, the hard specs.
- Dimensions: 108 x 50 x 13.3 mm, 93 g
- Display: 2.6″, 360 x 400 LCD display
- Processor: 624 Mhz processor
- Memory: 256 MB
- Battery: 1150 mAh (5 hours talk, 18 days standby)
- Bands: 800 (850)/1900/2100 MHz UMTS (also in 900/1700/2100 MHz variety), 850/900/1800/1900 MHz EDGE
- Bluetooth: 2.1, includes Stereo Audio profile
So, back to looks. The chrome accent is nice and dark, and not so obnoxiously silver as other BlackBerrys. The rubberized siding and seamlessly-integrated convenience keys (much like the8520 and 8530 Curve) add a tonne of grip and smoothness. The lines are both sharp and curvy, reminding me a lot of the X10 Xperia. The battery door adopts the same single-slate style as the 8500-series BlackBerry, which has always been my favourite since it minimizes the number of moving parts to fiddle with. Not all moving parts are bad, though – there’s a new one under the battery door that allows you to easily pop out the SIM card without having to dig and pry. It’s much better than the hinge that most other BlackBerrys are packing.
As nice as the size is, it’s not actually that much bigger than the first Pearl, as you can see compared here to the iPhone and BlackBerry 8120. It’s got a nice amount of weight to it without being too heavy – a very nice medium. As far as input goes, the optical trackpad, though ostensibly a step up from the older trackball, still fritzes out in direct sunlight. That’s almost as inconvenient as occasionally getting grit stuck beneath the trackball, really. RIM’s two-letter-per-key SureType keyboard has a learning curve to it, so be prepared. Like most predictive systems, you have to learn to trust the dictionary to figure out what it is you’re trying to say. There’s one major caveat with SureType: if you type something wrong, it will predict your word wrong, and probably mess up the word even worse than if you just screwed up a single letter on a QWERTY keypad. If you’re comfortable with prediction, you might also want to look into the 9105 variant, which has a standard numeric keypad that feature phone users might be more comfortable with. We aren’t sure if the 9105 is going to be exclusive to Europe right now, but we’re guessing so.
The BlackBerry 9100 comes with OS 184.108.40.2069. 5.0 launched with the Storm2, incorporating a lot of visual upgrades like bubbly, finger-friendly drop-down menu items, as well as more practical stuff, like e-mail flags and remote file lookups. You can see the whole list of new features in 5.0 over here at RIM’s knowledgebase. In a broad sense, it has a lot of graphical improvements and is generally smooth and enjoyable, but of course, that largely depends on what you’re used to. BlackBerry is still a clear-cut, no-nonsense experience, geared to help you get tasks done quickly, not prettily. If you’re coming from Android, iPhone, or webOS, you’ll probably be pretty unimpressed with the the staid icon layout and seemingly-antiquated menu system, but take some time and learn its nuances and efficiencies. You get a BlackBerry to get shit done, son.
What kind of efficiencies are we talking, here? Well, let’s look at the messages app, where folks spend most of their time. Out of the box it just handles e-mail, but after fiddling with the options, you can get SMS messages in there too. Once you start downloading official RIM apps, like Google Talk, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, your messages app quickly becomes a lot more than just e-mail – it becomes a hub for your every major means of communication. Most of those apps also plug into your address book, allowing you to see information gathered from a variety of sources, like caller ID pics from Facebook, and GTalk status messages. Even the media app lets you quickly and easily shoot pictures out to whatever social networks support it. If you don’t feel like digging through menus for what you want, you can often pull up a “short menu” by just clicking on the touchpad, and it generally offers the most common tasks, and even highlights the single most common first to allow quick double-clicks to take care of business. See, it’s the little things.
I’ve been using BlackBerry for awhile, so when someone calls the OS unintuitive, I have a really hard time agreeing. I can certainly see how a lot of options can be overwhelming, but once you find the options that you use regularly, it’s hard to imagine a faster, simpler way to get to them. Still, if you’re worried that the BlackBerry experience would be too complicated for you, I would be aghast if the new OS 6.0, and all of its streamlined UI and flashiness, wasn’t going to be available on the BlackBerry Pearl 9100. It’s also worth noting that the app selection (and prices) for BlackBerry is far from stellar. If you’re coming from the iPhone, App World will definitely leave you wondering what you signed a new two-year contract for. You likely won’t be swapping out for new apps every other week. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something worthwhile once every few months, and even then you may have to begin budgeting your app memory depending on how desperate you become for new apps.
Just remember that keyboard shortcuts make life a helluva lot easier, and there are some subtle, seamless things that RIM does to make your life easier when inputting text. For example, when typing an e-mail address, the first time you hit spacebar puts in an @ symbol and the second one is a period. Capitals and periods are generally automatically done, and there’s a whole bunch of keyboard shortcuts to make navigating apps easier – be sure to learn them early, and they’ll become second-nature in no time.
BlackBerry Pearl Price