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Home > Hardware Reviews > Mobiles

Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Blackberry Pearl

2. Design and Operation

The BlackBerry Pearl is incredibly small and thin. When I put it side by side with the Motorola Q, the Pearl is maybe 1mm thicker, but it is at least 1/3 smaller in over all size - just amazing! The screen in large for its size - it is Portrait in orientation with a 240 x 260 resolution.

Compared to the Treo, the Pearl feels and look to be maybe 1/3 the overall size and weight of the bulky Treo.

Images were incredibly bright and clear. One amazing feature of this phone is that it automatically senses the lighting conditions of the room you are in and brightens or darkens the screen accordingly. Why don't all phones do that?

Above the screen is the Earpiece and an LED in the upper right hand corner. One neat thing about the LED is that is changes in color depending on the function. It flashes blue when you are connected via bluetooth and it flashes red when email comes in.

Centered, below the screen is the "Pearl" a small, white trackball which handles all the navigation on this BlackBerry. There is no jog-dial on the side like all previous BlackBerries. I found the trackball incredibly intuitive to use. It was quick and easy to scroll through applications, appointments or whatever. The trackball can also be "clicked" to select most features. It lights up a bright white color when in use.

To the right of the "Pearl" is the "back" button and the red "end" button. To the left is the "menu" button and the "green" send key. Below these is the keyboard. BlackBerry chose to use their SureType Keyboard with the Pearl. Here is how this technology is described on the BlackBerry site:


The BlackBerry Pearl features RIM’s popular SureType™ keyboard technology that makes typing amazingly quick and easy on such a small handset.

SureType is an innovative technology that enables a QWERTY keyboard to be integrated into a narrower handset and allows users to easily, quickly and accurately thumb-type messages.  Users maintain the look and feel of their traditional phone, but also gain an easy-to-use QWERTY keyboard for typing email more naturally instead of the ‘hunt-and-peck’ effect caused by the cumbersome ‘abc’ layout and multi-tap process used on traditional phones.  As a result, users can concentrate more on their message and less on the typing process.  And SureType even learns new words, including the names, cities and streets that you type.

How to Type Using SureType

To type using SureType technology, press each letter only once until you have typed an entire word. The letter combinations will change automatically – by the time you have finished typing the word, SureType has typically already figured out the word you want. The SureType software has a word list of over 35,000 of the most common words. And it will also pull new words from the address book and learn new words as you type.

All I can say is that it works like a charm. The keys are a little cramped for big fingers, but they have a great tactile feel that was easy to use. Most times I found SureType to be dead on accurate. On a few occasions, when a wrong letter was chosen, I could just scroll the trackball to other "options" and select the letter combination I was looking for.

Rim had to sacrifice something to make this thing so small. In my experience, the use of the SureType system was more than a fair compromise to keep the size so small.

On the left side of the Pearl there is a mini-USB charging port, a 2.5 mm headphone jack and a dedicated key that is by default for voice dialing. On the right hand side there is another dedicated button that is pre-programmed for the camera, but is user changeable. There are also volume up and down buttons along the right hand side.

The BlackBerry Peal does accommodate a mini-SD card for expansion and if you use any of the media features you will certainly want at least a 1GB card. Getting to and installing the card requires a little excavation - another compromise to keep the size so small. You need to first slide off the back and then take out the battery and then pop up the Card holder slot - insert the card and then put everything together. My suggestion is to get a 2GB card, install it and leave it alone - it should meet all your needs.

The Pearl as an Email Device:

RIM is known as a maker of business-centric emailing devices. The Pearl takes advantage of the RIM BlackBerry Connect software and server for handing email needs. Here is the official line from RIM on the email features of the Pearl:

BlackBerry Internet Service
BlackBerry Internet Email™, part of BlackBerry Internet Service™, allows users to access up to ten personal and corporate email accounts (such as Yahoo!® and Microsoft® Exchange) from a single device

Wireless synchronization (optional setting)
  • Messages deleted on your handset will be automatically deleted from your email account.
  • Messages read on your handset will be automatically marked as read in your email account.
  • Messages sent from your handset will appear in the ‘sent items’ folder of your email account.
Account configuration features include:
  • Filters
  • Reply-to address
  • Friendly Name
  • Auto Signature
With BlackBerry Internet Service you can also create a special BlackBerry email address just for your device.  The device you are using has already been set up with a special address that looks like this: (name)@tmo.blackberry.net.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server

Users can also select the BlackBerry Enterpriser Server option.  Users can use this option to associate the BlackBerry Pearl with a Microsoft® Outlook, IBM® Lotus® Notes® or Novell® GroupWise® work email account and to take advantage of advanced wireless data synchronization capabilities.  If a system administrator has provided an enterprise activation password, users can set up email using this option by selecting the I want to use a work email account with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server option in the setup wizard of the handset.  If the user does not have an enterprise activation password, contact the system administrator.

All that being said, setting up email was the easiest experience on any PDA or Smartphone that I have ever used. I just put in my email address and password for four different email accounts and they were all configure automatically with the exception of one IMAP account. For that account I had to input the settings like I would have to do for every account on a Windows Mobile or Palm OS SmartPhone.

The Beauty of the BlackBerry email system is that email is just automatically "pushed" to the device effortlessly. No more going on line to check for email. The other fabulous thing is that for the most part, email was formatted perfectly.

I have always run into problems when it came to sending email from my Treo or Windows Mobile smartphones - something invariably would go wrong with the SMTP settings. With the Pearl it was truly effortless to click "reply" and just compose and send mail. When in the email program, a click on the menu key brings up a plethora of email options and other messaging options.

Sending text messages was as easy as looking for a contact, hitting the menu key and selecting send SMS message. Discussions are threaded which is great.

The Pearl as a Phone:

I was skeptical about a T-Mobile phone since normally T-Mobile has little to no coverage where I live - or so I thought. I knew that T-Mobile was expanding their service but I was pleasantly surprised that I had stronger service nearly everywhere I went than I did on my Sprint Treo. I think the antenna of the Pearl is an engineering marvel for its ability to lock in and hold a signal.

Voice quality was excellent - much better than the Treo and on par with the Motorola Q. Callers felt that the sound quality was on par with land lines. The Pearl is plenty loud.

Dialing contacts was very easy. Either click the call log on the home screen or move the trackball to address book and type a few letters. Once a contact is selected, there are a plethora of options - just select call and you're done. If your contact has a picture stored, that will show on the screen during the call.

The Pearl as a Web Browser:

BlackBerry uses its own OS and Web Browser which is Java based. The speed of the internet service was dependent on whether I was in a GPRS or EDGE area. Most of the time at my home I was in the slower GPRS and when I went closer to Boston I picked up the EDGE service. Both were faster at loading web pages than my Treo. When using GPRS, the Pearl loaded graphics faster than my "Q" which was on Sprint's EVDO system. When connected via EDGE, internet service was the fastest I have experienced on a SmartPhone.

Web pages also looked beautiful. Pictures were clear and crisp and formatting was usually perfect on the Portrait screen. Navigation was simple using the Track Ball.

The Pearl as a PIM (Personal Information Manager.)

The Pearl comes with a robust Address Book, Calendar, memo, Task, memo pad, voice note, password holder and more pre-installed. The calendar and address book will import you information from Outlook using the desktop manager software. Unfortunately, you are tied to Outlook as your desktop PIM - but importing was smooth and synchronization was very easy.

The calendar did all I needed it to do. It was very easy to navigate with the trackball to input date for appointments. There are all the usual features - recurring events, alarms, inserting contact info from the address book and so on.

I found that navigating the calendar and address book was as easy as the Palm OS and required far fewer clicks and hunts through menus than Windows Mobile.

Multimedia features:

The Pearl cannot do some of the things I love to do on my "Q." I can't access my SlingBox (at least, not yet) and I can't stream Satellite Radio. The Pearl also does not support A2DP - streaming Bluetooth Stereo. However, the bundled media player is very capable. It was easy enough to navigate to where I put some MP3 files and have them play. The on board speaker is nothing to write home about, but music sounded fine when earphones (included) were plugged in. This will not be an iPod replacement - but it is a nice media player for music.

Video looked great on the Pearl. The screen was really beautiful and frame rates were acceptable.

Likewise, picture quality - at least viewing pictures - was very good. Images were sharp and clear. The camera has a built in flash that is adjustable and a 5X zoom which is controlled by simply moving the trackball. Picture quality was just fair for a 1.3 megapixel camera - but certainly acceptable for a camera phone. It should be noted that this is RIM's first foray into the world of camera phones and it was a pretty good first effort.

Bundles software and accessories:

I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to open up a SmartPhone box and see a full reference guide (written beautifully with lots of good illustrations and tips) as well as a CD, Quick set-up guide, AC charger, and included headset.

The software that was pre-loaded was so much more plentiful than the latest Windows Mobile offerings and the links in the web browser took me to lots more free add-ons. One piece of software that was a free download was a great RSS news reader called Newsclip. I could also get "push" content right on the home screen like updated weather and Reuters' News headlines. For an information junkie - it doesn't get any better than this.

I was also able to easily download free games, game demos, ringtones and other goodies from the T-Zones on the handset.

So, what's not to love?

For some, the keyboard will seem cramped - at least initially. Getting to the Mini SD card is not for the faint of heart. There is also no reset button. To reset the device (which occurs far less frequently with this OS than any other I have tested) you have to take off the battery cover and remove the battery.


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