Bla1ze already posted a great BlackBerry Pearl 3G review up here on the CrackBerry blogs (check it out if you missed it), but I just had to follow-up with a little unboxing video of my own. Bla1ze's Pearl 3G came as a review loaner unit from Rogers, so it actually didn't have the same packaging and stuff in the box that you'll get if you buy one of these devices for yourself. Having been jonesing to try the new Pearl out for a while now, I went down to my local Rogers dealer on Thursday evening (June 3rd) and picked one for myself and have been exclusively using the device for a full three days now. I recorded the unboxing video on Friday afternoon, halfway through the first day of use, and followed up Saturday and Sunday putting the new Pearl to everyday use. Keep reading for the unboxing video and some first impressions.
It's been a pretty interesting few days with the BlackBerry Pearl 3G to say the least. First the disclaimer - I have never been a BlackBerry Pearl user nor a real SureType user. The original BlackBerry Pearl 81xx candy bar I've used for a total of 7 minutes in my life. The BlackBerry Pearl Flip I used just long enough to pump out a review on it when it was still the pre-release BlackBerry "kickstart." And even on my BlackBerry Storms, both the 9530 and 9550, I've always gone for either the full qwerty in landscape or the narrow full qwerty in portrait. Suffice to say, having to really use SureType after being such a full qwerty guy for so long has been an experience. Let's go through this..
The BlackBerry Pearl 3G Hardware Reactions
Size - It's really small. It's really light in weight. These are both good things, making it very pocketable and very much like that little cell phone you may have used to own before entering the world of smartphones (or if you were an original Pearl owner you're going to feel it's just perfect). To be honest, for me it almost feels a little too small and lightweight compared to my BlackBerry Bold 9700. I like to carry around my device in my jeans or jacket pocket. The 9700 is small enough that it doesn't get in the way too much, yet big enough that I always know where it is. I've been finding with the Pearl 3G that I sometimes am losing track of where the phone is on my body. In the hands, the device is pretty small. I'm not a big fan of the skin that comes with the device, but think using a slightly thicker hard/soft skin might help with the overall feel and grip. I think some people will simply love the size of this device. Others won't. That's why RIM is a believer in making different form factors - hopefully one of their devices will fit you like a glove.
Speed - It's fast. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G really is the Bold 9700 shrunk down. It's snappy to use. The WiFi seems quick. Everything on it seems quick. I've been very, very, very happy with the overall speed of use of the operating system. The fact that it performs so well despite its tiny size really makes me really look forward to the components RIM will jam into the next generation of full qwerty.
Battery Life - I really had two question marks to answer that would determine whether the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is a device I can use longterm or not - battery life, and whether I can really get used to SureType. The battery life on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is OK. Using it full days Friday, Saturday and Sunday (off the charger at 6am to 7am, back on between midnight and 1am) the Pearl 3G managed to make it through each and every day. On day one, Friday, I put the device through pretty heavy "normal" use. Tons of phone calls, lots of web browsing sessions, and I installed a few apps, including Twitter which checks for updates pretty regularly. On the Friday I basically hit "red" just as I went to bed. It was a close one. Saturday and Sunday were quieter days on the device, and I went to bed without hitting yellow. I think for average consumers, you should be ok making the day. If you're a more hardcore user, which may include you if you visit a site like CrackBerry.com on a regular basis, then you may not be totally happy with battery life. It definitely doesn't match the 9700. You could always run the device on Edge, in which case you can go quite a bit longer, but that's something I think most people would rather not have to worry about. Conclusion: I think if I had to I could live with the battery life on the Pearl 3G, but I'd rather not have to worry about it at all so have a feeling I'm going to be a BlackBerry Bold 9700 user again soon.
Other Hardware Stuff - Everything else is pretty good. I like the display resolution - the 360 by 400 is quite nice actually. The first thing I did was change the default font size to 7 from 8 (I might even go down to 6) because it's crisp and clear and you can view a ton of messages in your inbox when you shrink the font a bit. For general web browsing the resolution is decent too. The camera seems to work pretty well, and I've been very happy with voice call quality. It's an all around great performing device.
Let's talk about using SureType on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G
Let's start with the conclusion. SureType isn't bad. It's actually quite good and it didn't take me long to get used to it, but that said I'd rather have a full qwerty.
The traditional SureType keyboard on the Pearl 3G places two letters on each button, except for M and L which each have their own key (and my brain keeps thinking the delete key should be where the L key is for some reason, which is a bit frustrating). To use SureType, you really just put your faith into the software. In SureType mode, you just hit a button once for each letter you want in the word you're trying to spell and the software pretty much knows what you want to type and will help you autocomplete words or pick from the drop down list of words it thinks you're trying to spell. That probably sounds a bit confusing, but once it's in your hand it really isn't. When you're doing things like passwords, it kicks back to multitap mode, where you simply tap once for the first letter on a button, and twice for the second letter. That ensures you don't mess up too badly when doing more complicated bits of text entry.
If you KNOW HOW TO SPELL WORDS and type in nice complete phrases that are fairly devoid of slang and crazy uses of random punctuation and capitalization, then SureType is really quick. I've known SureType people in the past who are quicker on it than they are on a full qwerty, which I can understand how that is the case (especially as words auto complete you save yourself some keystrokes). You definitely need to pay attention to what you're typing on SureType more than you do on a full qwerty though. With a small keyboard like the Pearl 3G you need to watch what buttons you're hitting as you type and you need to watch what's happening on the auto suggestion/completion side of things. Similar to typing on a touchscreen, you need to engage your brain a little more in the typing experience vs. a full physical qwerty. But if you pay attention and don't make any typing errors, you can really hum along.
However, if you're not a great speller or don't have perfect dexterity as you're typing what you want to spell out, it's easy to run a mess on SureType... and when you do you spend a lot more time fixing your mistakes vs. on a full qwerty where if you mess up a letter you just keep pounding out your message. My SureType skills really went downhill when I was out a friend's birthday party on Saturday night. With both a little less focus and dexerity (as a result of drinking Campari of course), I had to re-type and explain myself on more than a few BBM messages I sent because the autocompleted words were not the words I meant to type out. Moving around the keyboard is simply more of a dancing act as well. On a full qwerty you have a caps key on both the left and right side of the keyboard. On the Pearl 3G it's only the right hand side. Doing words mid sentence with caps (especially with words that start with M or N or J -- close to the caps key) are a bit of a pain in the butt. Doing the @ symbol for email addresses is also a bit of pain. And as mentioned above, it's a little tricky when you want to write messages that are less than perfect in form. Typing out a BBM to my gf with a phrase like "you're looking HOT tonight BaBy!!!!!" is just way too much effort on a Pearl 3G compared to a full qwerty. The other issue is that you have to teach SureType all those swears and slang terms you like to use. I really wish RIM would just include them by default.
If you read between the lines above, the conclusion I have come to is that SureType is actually a little bit backwards for the target market of the phone. The Pearl 3G is geared towards consumers, who tend to write messages with a lot of slang, a lot of short form words, and a lot of WeIrD capitlization and punctuation (I'm this type of person). For formal writing, aka business/professional type message typing, the Pearl 3G really is awesome. But when writing messages where I'm injecting my personality into the writing (slang, weird punctuation, etc.), then I find SureType takes more effort then I really want to put into it.
So just like the battery, I could easily get used to SureType and live with it, but in a world where I have a device like the Bold 9700 that is still pretty darn small and gives me that full keyboard ease of typing, it becomes much harder for me to want use the Pearl 3G. In all honesty, I REALLY wish RIM would have taken a closer look at the keyboard on teh Palm Pixi before they went ahead and finalized the keyboard design on the Pearl 3G. The Palm Pixi's full qwerty keyboard is tiny, but is awesome to use, and I'm pretty sure RIM could have fit a keyboard like that onto the Pearl if they wanted to. That would realllly take the device to the next level for me. And heck, they're already taking the Palm Pre's form factor with the Bold slider, so why not borrow the Pixi's design for the Pearl's keyboard. :)
Closing Thoughts for Now
After three days of use, you should really take this write up for what it's worth.... in complete. I'm going to try and stick with the BlackBerry Pearl 3G for a bit. Maybe with time my SureType gripes will disappear. I guess my big hesitation here is that SureType sort of requires you to bend your behaviour to the way it works best, whereas I prefer a situation where the device/os will bend to how I want to use it. But I'm willing to bed, so who knows, maybe once I get flexible with SureType it'll become a better solution for me than a full qwerty ever was.
Overall, I think the BlackBerry Pearl 3G really is an awesome update to the original BlackBerry Pearl 81xx series, packing a ton of performance into a small form factor. I think there are literally millions of soon to be BlackBerry Pearl owners out there who are going to be extremely happy to call this device their own.