The Blackberry Pearl is RIM’s attempt to "get Blackberry out of the boardroom". They’ve made themselves indispensable to Serious Business People around the world, but now they’re after said Serious People’s kids. Or at least their less responsible, black-sheep-in-the-family, we’re-not-sure-he’ll-ever-settle-down, younger brother.
They’re also hoping that people will now truly ditch the mobile phone they’ve been carrying around in addition to their emailing device, as they think they’ve cracked the perfect combination of data and phone functionality. But then, doesn’t everybody?
Out of the box, the Blackberry Pearl emerges all shiny and new. I have to admit, if I didn’t know about the phones magical abilities, I would be tempted to buy it on looks alone. This is an impressive feat bearing in mind the quality of the competition out there. I’m getting bored of saying it, but it really does have a ‘piano black’ finish which stays that way, despite being chucked in my bag to wrestle against keys, sand and other miscellany. The black is set off with chrome on the sides, and surrounding the camera. It’s pretty. The best bit about it is the ball or ‘pearl’ you use for scrolling, in the centre under the screen. It’s a great way of scrolling through the extensive menu, since it works in the same way to the ball in a mouse, not constrained to moving just left to right and up and down. It also lights up with a kind of purplish glow when you start using it.
The email system itself is really easy to set-up, and is designed with consumers in mind, rather than those who have an IT guy and an Exchange server. It’s simply a case of getting on the Blackberry website from your PC entering your email address and password, and you’re done. There’s no entering of smtp addresses, finding well hid settings or anything that you could mess up. The only sticking point is that if you want Hotmail to deliver, you need to pay MSN for ‘premium access’, but that’s an MSN problem rather than RIM’s.
The performance of the Pearl could be battery sapping. After all, it’s got a great screen that adjusts it’s brightness according to your surroundings, Push email, and more backlighting than you can shake a stick at. In fact, I got about 3 days fairly typical use from a single charge.
In an attempt to catch up with other phone manufacturers, RIM have added a media player for music, photos and videos. To support this, they’ve included a MicroSD slot, and bundle a card with it, although they’re not clear on what size it will be at the moment. They’ve also included headphones for your media.
Blackberry are really pushing the inclusion of a camera on this one, but at 1.3 megapixels it doesn’t stand up against the competition. It’s the size now seen on budget phones, and those where the camera isn’t anything more than a quick addition when needs must. Given Blackberry’s excitement about it being there, you’d have thought they’d have got a better one. They’ve also put the MicroSD card under the SIM, which is a personal hate. It makes it really tricky to get to, and risks damaging the SIM card.
There are also certain things seen on your average mobile which you’ll miss. There’s no way of instantly getting into a new SMS message, or your contacts – all of these are done through the main menu. And to put that in perspective, the main menu has 33 different icons to navigate through, although you can move the order they appear in. There are 5 icons on the home screen, but they seem bizarre choices, including Enterprise Activation and Yahoo Messenger. There are two buttons either side of the handset which you can personalise, but there doesn’t seem to be a way of personalising the home screen. [Update: you can move the icons by rearranging the main menu, which in turn changes the home screen icon order].
The keypad itself is a full QWERTY keypad, but has two letters to each button. And unlike other models, it’s not a case of hitting each side of the key to get the different letter. So, this gives you a combination of predictive text and normal typing, where you’ve got to keep an eye on what you’re being predicted to avoid having to go back and do it all again. I found it really difficult to get used to, as the predictive element fooled my brain into thinking that the keypad would be set up like a normal phone. I would have found it quicker and easier if it had I think.
Another bone of contention is the lack of scroll wheel, which many Blackberry addicts will no doubt lament. Whilst the Pearl is attractive, and good for skipping about the screen, it’s just not as quick when you want to go through emails or scan to the bottom of a document. For some reason, the test model I had would plonk me in the middle of yesterday’s messages when I entered the email inbox, which meant I had about 40 emails to get through before I could see my new ones. It only started doing this after a few days, so it might just be a bug in an early model.
There is no 3G on this model, which Blackberry put down to an issue of space. This does mean that web pages are slow to download, and in addition, certain pages are completely useless to you. The squares of images that make up a streetmap are put one on top of each other, making it impossible to see where the connections are.
Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.97 x .57 inches
Weight: 3.1 oz
Screen: 65,000 colors, 240 x 260 pixel color display
Camera: 1.3MP camera with flash
Memory: 64 MB flash memory with Micro SD slot
Network: Quad-Band: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM/GPRS and EDGE networks
In our opinion
Despite it’s faults, the Blackberry Pearl is tempting. Whether it’ll get those elusive consumers emailing on the move I suspect will depend largely on the packages carriers put together – there’s still a fear held by many people that they will somehow end up with an enormous phone bill come the end of the month if they use data services.