AT&T BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review

By Adam Zeis on 29 Nov 2010 02:54 pm EST
BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review

While I was never a Pearl user in the past, something about the Pearl 3G intrigued me since we first saw it pop on the radar back at WES 2009. Many users got their start with a Pearl and either stuck with it or moved on to a full QWERTY device. I never had the pleasure of rocking one myself so I've been a bit anxious to get my hands on a Pearl 3G and put it through my day. While I claimed on our WES bloggers reactions video that purple was the way to go, I really am impartial for the most part when it comes to color. My AT&T Pearl 3G is the sweet faded red and that's fine by me. Keep reading for my thoughts on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G from AT&T.

BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 Review

I've been bouncing back and forth between the Bold 9700 and Torch 9800 as of late, so heading to the Pearl 3G it's safe to say it's a small device. It feels good in your hand and is extremely pocket friendly. I really like the "candy bar" form factor and the overall size (or lack of size) of the Pearl 3G. The screen is a bit small off the bat so that takes some getting used to, but perhaps the biggest (and most annoying, at first anyway) adjustment is the SureType keyboard. I was never a big SureType fan on any device, so being forced to use it took a bit longer than I had expected. If you get the hang of it and throw away everything you know about using a full QWERTY device it's not that hard, but as big a fan of using a full keyboard as I am it was fairly tough to adjust without sacrificing my usage style. When jumping to a different device you never want to have to adjust your usage style too much to fit the device and the Pearl 3G keyboard is a prime example. As noted with the Torch 9800, you have to change the way you use your device a bit with the slider form factor. As Kevin put it, "it takes more steps to get less done". The reason I keep going back to my 9700 is the familiarity - the keyboard shortcuts, ease of use in OS 5.0 and the hardware itself (bring on the 9780!). The Pearl 3G makes you adjust things a bit, but if you stick with it you can make it work for you just like any other BlackBerry.

Features And Specifications:

  • Elegant candybar design measuring 4.25" x 1.96" x 0.52" (108mm x 50 mm x 13.3 mm) and weighing only 3.3 oz (93 grams)
  • 624 Mhz processor with 256 MB Flash memory
  • 360x400 sharp-resolution display (238 ppi)
  • Optical trackpad that makes navigation fast and smooth, plus a comfortable keyboard that enables quick and accurate typing
  • Media player for videos, pictures and music (music plays up to 30 hours), plus dedicated media keys integrated along top of the handset
  • 3.2 MP camera with zoom, autofocus, flash and video recording*
  • Built-in GPS for location-based applications such as BlackBerry® Maps, as well as photo geotagging
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) - first BlackBerry smartphone to support 'n'
  • microSD/SDHD memory card slot that supports up to 32 GB cards
  • Premium phone features, including voice activated dialing, speakerphone and Bluetooth® (2.1) with support for hands-free headsets, stereo headsets, car kits (including systems that support the emerging Bluetooth Message Access Profile standard) and other Bluetooth accessories
  • Access to BlackBerry App World™, featuring a broad and growing catalog of mobile applications developed specifically for BlackBerry smartphones
  • Support for BlackBerry® Media Sync for easily syncing photos as well as iTunes® and Windows Media® Player music with the smartphone**
  • BlackBerry® OS 5
  • Support for tri-band UMTS/HSDPA and quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM networks
  • Removable, rechargeable 1150 mAhr battery that provides approximately 5.5 hours of talk time on 3G networks.


I love the overall size of the Pearl 3G. It feels great in the hand, and is the perfect size for your pocket. It's small and light and doesn't have the bulk of a larger device. The construction of the device feels solid as well -- there are no loose or "cheap" parts. The front of the device sports the screen and SureType keyboard. As usual the volume buttons are on the right side of the device along with a convenience key, and the charging port and another convenience key sit on the left of the device. Both sides have a rubberized coating that keeps everything safe and sound and helps with the grip on the device. On the back is the battery door (nothing fancy as it just pops off) and the camera/flash. Open the door and there is the battery, memory card slot and SIM slot. The cool thing on the Pearl 3G is the little SIM remover that we first saw back at WES.

BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review

BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review

Coming from full QWERTY devices, surprisingly SureType wasn't nearly as bad to use as I had made it out to be. After a few hours I was able to type fast enough to keep me happy (although not as fast as on a full keyboard) and I wasn't getting any crazy typos. Its just a bit of a learning processes to train yourself and your fingers to go where they need to be. Some things that annoyed me were the placement of the shift key (since I typically use the left shift on my Bold 9700, and it's placed on the right on the Pearl 3G) and the delete and alt keys. Having them a bit out of place or out of my norm was quite annoying at times. I did feel my fingers scrunching together a bit to keep in form to hit the right keys. I do feel that you need to "think" a bit more when using SureType to make sure you press the right key. Overall I can't say that SureType is bad, it just definitely takes some getting used to. Cranking out long emails is tough at times as I felt myself constantly looking back to make sure my words were coming out as I wanted them. 

BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review

The 360x400 screen isn't the worst I've seen, but its not the greatest either. As far as messaging goes it gets the job done, however if you get into heavy web browsing things go south. Trying to do to much on the small screen actually gave me a headache at times, maybe because I'm used to larger screens (or maybe not). The Pearl 3G also sticks with 256mb of flash memory, not the 512mb upgrade we were hoping for. It doesn't really show any lag as it is, but having the memory boost sure wouldn't hurt when OS6 is officially released for the Pearl 3G down the road. The Pearl 3G has Wifi and adds wireless N this time around. There is a bit of a speed increase from this, but you'd be hard strapped to notice it much if you did a comparison with other devices.

The camera doesn't get any upgrades that it should have had, so its still stuck at 3.2mp with no better video recording. While it does what it does ok, it itsn't the greatest on a mobile device. I think it fell short on this one as the upgraded camera on the Torch 9800 and Bold 9780 defintiely add some luster to the newer devices.

I do love the feel of the Pearl 3G overall. It is totally easy to hold and is extremely pocketable (or "purseable" depending on where you carry it). It feels solid and well constructed all around. The colors are smooth and I especially like the "faded red" unit I have and it's definitely one of my favorite device colors to date. On the flipside if you're not a fan of the colors and maybe want a bit more "bulk", you can check out the full line of BlackBerry Pearl 3G cases including some cool multicolored skins (which are by far my favorite). 

BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review


The Pearl 3G ships with OS 5.0 installed and is OS 6 ready. We had hoped this would be one of the devices to ship with OS6 ready to roll, but unfortunately we'll have to wait for an official release. There are a few leaked versions of OS6 floating around, but we'll get more into that in a bit.

All of the OS 5 standards are here - messages, SMS, phone, tasks, memopad etc. Everything I tested out ran solid and navigating around the OS was fine and dandy. The one thing I did miss is the keyboard shortcuts. I have long relied on them since the days of my 8830WE, so trying to get by without them (even for just a few days) was painful. I found myself struggling quite a bit to get to things I needed, but that doesn't fall on the device itself as much as how I choose to use it.

Obviously some things look a bit different on the Pearl 3G given the size of the display. Things like the calendar and email messages looked a bit more "scrunched" than I would have liked. It takes some getting used to when coming from a larger 360x480 display but it's not the worst to have to adjust to.

I did take the liberty of firing up OS 6 on my review unit to give it a sping and it runs surprisingly well. I still don't get the real point of the views of BB6 but they are easy enough to ignore. The new OS doesn't really make anything on the Pearl 3G better than with OS 5, but it does bring some new features like Universal Search that are welcome on any device. The big drawback for me was having the WebKit browser on the Pearl 3G. It's a great browser and brings along some awesome new features, but the display size of the Pearl 3G really kills a lot of pages and navigating around most times was frustrating at best (the same could be said for the OS 5 browser sans the new features like tabbed browsing).

Final Thoughts

Overall I think the Pearl 3G is a pretty good device. I think that more hardcore users will definitely pass for a full QWERTY device with a bigger display. Casual users or those coming from a standard dumb-phone may be more prone to adjust easily to the style of the Pearl 3G. For me the deal breakers are the display size and the issues I had with using the keyboard to type and navigate the device. Anyone who used (or still uses) an 81xx series Pearl will welcome the upgraded specs and trackpad of the Pearl 3G.

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Adam Zeis Adam Zeis "Mobile Nations Content Strategist" 3740 (articles) 2892 (forum posts)

Reader comments

AT&T BlackBerry Pearl 3G Review


OS6 works fine on the 9700, which is pretty similar to the 9100 under the hood. And with a smaller screen to manage, it might actually run a bit snappier.

I had to use a Pearl for 3 weeks when I sent my 9530 in for service to Bell. I specifically asked them not to send me a Pearl, so of course, they did. I used the Pearl for about 5 days before I was at the Bell store demanding another device, I got the Tour, which is WAY better.
The Pearl isn't something that I could live with, even if given it as a gift, I think they're just for people going from feature phones to smart phones.
Love JiggaBones.

PS To all you out there saying that my 9530 is the pits, just read my signature....The Storm doesn't suck, you just dont' know how to use it!!!

Hey, I'd definitely throw my hat in the ring for a Pearl contest, I like the looks of this little Berry. Though I'd have to agree going from a full QWERTY to SureType would definitely take some getting used to. Great review.

I love this phone! I got a torch, found myself frustrated by the slider, bought the pearl 3g and am having a blast! the best thing you can do is enter in any 'weird' words immediately into the custom dictionary. you're life will be so much better!

Go into languages and switch it to Multi Tap a much better experience and much faster imo... Try it out Adam and everyone for that matter.

Nice review - as someone who just switched carriers from T-Mobile to AT&T in order to get the new Pearl, let me provide some comments from the point of view of a Pearl partisan (rather than the typical review from a classic BlackBerry user "trying it out for a spin").

I have had SureType on all my BlackBerries, starting from my 7100 (pre-Pearl candybar) and for me, it would be an adjustment to move to the traditional (tiny!) QWERTY keys. The 256MB memory may come up short for running OS6, but going from 6-10MB free on my Pearl 8100 (running OS4.5 from another carrier for HTML mail and other goodies) to 110MB free on the 9100 it sure feels roomy to me. So on both these fronts, the 9100 is a winner. The 3G network speed, WiFi and GPS are all great additions (some of the flip Pearls had WiFi or GPS, but the 9100 is the first to have both). As the review notes, the hardware feels solid (although there is a slight crackling to my keyboard when I first take it out of my pocket - this is still a vast improvement over the extremely annoying key-bounce of my Pearl 8100). I am especially happy to lose the ball (replaced 3 times on my original Pearl) - although I loved the BlingBall custom colors on the 8100's color LEDs, the thing just got dirty too fast.

It's a good thing that the keyboard on the 9100 is solid, because it helps me deal with my biggest complaint about the 9100 (for now) - no Vlingo!!!! :-( Especially with the crappy keyboard on my 8100 (it was probably a lemon, but I didn't realize until too late) making SureType painful even for me, Vlingo is a godsend. I suspect that with some experience with Vlingo, even QWERTY partisans might find SureType tolerable. Some other apps are also unavailable for the 9100 - Viigo and Shazam (I never really used the latter) among the more notable, also's app. It appears that the problem is mostly due to the "unique" resolution of the 9100's screen, together with its relative newness (and lack of adoption by US carriers - only AT&T and Cincinnati Bell so far) - apps that have screen-size-dependent displays are the most likely to be unavailable. Hopefully, this will change over time, although I suspect that the 9100 will remain a bit of an "orphan" BlackBerry.

I agree that the WebKit browser on OS6 may be a downer on the small 9100 screen - I am already jonesing for the old OS 4.5 browser - the "column" mode in the OS 5 (and 4.6) browser comes close, but still isn't as usable (or readable) in many cases as the old "screw the pretty layout - just display the text" view the BlackBerry browser used to sport. I doubt that WebKit will be an improvement in any way - it really is not optimized for making pages readable on a small display, as the older browser was. If I wanted a WebKit browser on my phone, I would buy an iPhone, not a BlackBerry.

However, other than the "missing apps" - I am loving the Pearl 9100, and I am even happy with AT&T (I'm especially happy to escape the spam text messages that I've been getting for the past half year since T-Mobile's customer data was compromised). I got the Pearl 9100 for $0.01 from Amazon Wireless, and although the data plan on AT&T is just the 200MB/month plan, rather than the unlimited I had with T-Mobile, it is also $5/month cheaper, and I never came close to 200MB in the past anyhow.

Agree with the above that once you get used to SureType it's hard to go back to a QWERTY keyboard since the keys are just way too feel like you have to try way too hard or use your fingernails. I love my Pearl 8100 and hope that the 9100 comes to Verizon sometime soon.

Great Review! I entered the world of BlackBerry with a Pearl 8120 about 3 years ago and I now have the Bold 9700. I LOVED my Pearl I chose that over the Curve due to its size... when switching from a sidekick to a blackberry I was def looking into something smaller. And I used the Multi Tap function to type. I could never get the hang of sure type it drove me crazy. When the Bold 9700 came out I didn't want to wait for my contract to be up to get it... had I waited the full 2 years I would have left Tmo and got the Pearl 9100 for sure ;-) ...though I very much love my Bold 9700 I would imagine going back to the Pearl would take some getting use to with the keyboard again haha Cheers! ;-)

The BB Pearl is an awsome introductory device. If the 9100 and 9700 would have came out at the same time I probably would have gone for this device. I started my BB Experience with the 8100. I never wanted a BB because they were so big and bulky at the time.. switching from dumb phone to 8100 was a very easy transition, and getting adjusted to the suretype keyboard took some time but once I had mastered it I really fell in love w/ it. It truly is a smart keyboard and the OS features remember the way you type so you get very little typos..

After upgrading to the 9700 however, I was able to experience the power of a real BB and full qwerty . Even though i miss the size of my pearl. I dont think I could go back to the smaller screen.

Thanks for the review Adam! We designed the Pearl to provide a faster and more convenient user experience on a smaller device. And like you and others mentioned, the transition to SureType might at first be smoother for those who aren't so used to a QWERTY keyboard. With that said, everyone is different and that's part of the reason why BlackBerry makes a wide range and variety of different form factors.


Alex from RIM

Wasn't the "pearl" the nick-name for ALL track BALLS...correct me IF I'm INcorrect, but wasn't the first Pearl close to if not the FIRST BB with a track BALL...just a casual observation...things that make ya go HMMMMMM...HAHAHAHA

the 9100 is the best bb ive ever used, small but does the job, i love it

by the way i have a 8110, 8310, 8520, 9500, 9000, 9100, 9800 and 9700