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 original Pearl form factor fans every. While some have moved on to other devices, simply due to lack of patience in waiting for the next generation Pearl others have stayed true to the Pearl form factor. For me, the BlackBerry Pearl 8100 series smartphone was the device that brought me into the BlackBerry world.
All devices before the Pearl looked bulky, aged and just unappealing. That is, until that fine day in September of 06' when the BlackBerry Pearl 8100 was exclusively released on T-Mobile then making it's way across carriers a short time after. Finally, after all this time we now have a fresh, newly styled and more powerful BlackBerry Pearl with 3G. Read on after the jump for my thoughts on the new Pearl and to find out if the joy of the original Pearl series was restored with the BlackBerry Pearl 3G.
The Unboxing Process:
You'll have the excuse the video. It was only my second video in over two years. But I promise they will get better as I go along. You'll notice I failed to mention the dedicated media keys at the top. Below is what they look like.
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.
My Thoughts On The Hardware:
The BlackBerry Pearl 3G is sexy. There really is no doubt about it. It looks great and feels great in your hands and it has all the right curvatures in all the right places. If you are a person who was in love with the original BlackBerry Pearl smartphone then the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is sure to please.
Given that the most notable addition here from the original Pearl series is the use of a trackpad over the trackball, some may find that change a slight bit of a challenge. Having both a BlackBerry Curve 8520 and a BlackBerry Bold 9700 I personally felt right at home with it. That's not to say I don't have some concerns with it though. For some reason, on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G the trackpad felt slightly awkward to use. I do have my ideas as to why however. The keys on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G are raised up above the trackpad. The trackpad itself feels more recessed into the device, almost so much that sometimes when running my finger over it I had to question if it was even there or if I was simply pressing on the escape key or menu key and on occasion even looking to see if that was indeed the case. No hindrance on use, just something that some of you out there may find as a quirk that is easily forgotten about over the initial hours of having the device.
Again, not straying too far from the original BlackBerry Pearl series the BlackBerry Pearl 3G does include Wi-Fi. This time around though, the wireless N protocol has been added. (something that was left out of the Bold 9650) The addition of wireless N is there to increase the speed of Wi-Fi data transfers and while I'm quite certain that I did notice some speed increase, given that I have capable hardware at home. I really cannot say that it was that much faster then any of my other devices. Connections were strong, Wi-Fi maintained and the device does not suffer from the feeling the BlackBerry Bold 9000 gives. That feeling being that the data is coming in faster then what the on board processor can handle. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G chugs along nicely consuming data in the carrier friendly way that Mike Lazaridis touts in every speech. While still on the networking side of the device, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G fairs quite nicely on my local Rogers coverage. I have had no problems with drop outs or dropped calls while making use of the Rogers 3G network.
Sadly one thing that the BlackBerry Bold 9650 did get that the BlackBerry Pearl 3G did not is the 512mb of flash memory. Instead, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G was left with only 256mb and while the device is snappy either way, for it to have 512mb would have been really, really nice. These days with the focus of consumers being on applications and feature rich content, the more memory on board the better. Plus, we're still left wondering what the scenario will be when BlackBerry 6 arrives on the scene. Will the Pearl 3G be able to handle it? Will it get a slimmed down version of BlackBerry 6? We're not positive on this stuff yet and that's quite bothersome not to know for certain.
Software is a very sticky point for me on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. I would love to come out and say that the OS matches the device perfectly and everything is bug free on the Rogers loaded 18.104.22.1689. But it's not. While the problems I have seen have also been witnessed in other OS' I am left wondering as to how they were missed. Some folks may find it minor and just say I'm nitpicking but it is what it is. And it is a bug.
That side banner should not be like that. You should be able to view the icons on the side where that banner is just simply not rendering anything. Given that BlackBerry App World is not preloaded and is something that I personally downloaded I'm not really certain where the bug may be. Is it in App World or is it in the OS? All I can think of is the fact that this is an official carrier released OS and running an officially released version of BlackBerry App World, I should not be seeing these issues.
In case you didn't notice as well, my other gripe with the software is in that picture. Those are themes that are listed in BlackBerry App World. Yet, none of them are compatible with the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. First, why am I being shown themes that are incompatible? Second, where are the tools to create themes for the BlackBerry Pearl 3G? With launches taking place across the world soon for the BlackBerry Pearl 3G I guess users are just expected to use the pre installed theme until then? Only fair to note though, this is not a Rogers problem as this would be the case on any carrier and its something that Research In Motion needs to figure out.
Other then those issues, the OS is fairly snappy and responsive. All the typical items are preinstalled for you. Things such as brick breaker, Wordmole, Sodoku and Klondike. You also get all the Rogers options such as their "My Account" application, and the other virtual preloads they offer like Telenav, Zoompass and the odd game demo. In the end, no huge unexpected changes here nor anything that no other BlackBerry has. After all is said and done, out of the box you still have approx. 130MB of room left for apps and theme downloads.
To close out the software portion here. Let's talk about battery life considering that can be software related. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G has a F-M1 battery that is noted as being 1150 mAhr. With that, the claims of 5.5 hrs of talk time on 3G are laid. I got the device at around 10:30AM here it is now, 11:10pm at night (AST) and the battery is almost dead. It's on its last LED flash. Very little web browsing, twitter or anything else besides emails has been in use today. Now given that my Bold 9700 can last all day then right into the next before requiring a new battery I'd say the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is not the best but certainly not the worst. I have a Nexus One and it dies in 4 hours just sitting there.
Apps, Themes And Accessories:
As I had mentioned in the software portion of the review, something that may be considered a bad thing with purchasing a BlackBerry Pearl 3G is the fact that we are still waiting for Research In Motion to give developers resources. Those resources needed come in the way of BlackBerry Theme Builder, as no developers can currently make themes for the device. Applications are quite a different story though, the developer tools for applications have been made available for a while now and most apps should support the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. Of course, you can view those applications in our CrackBerry App Store or via BlackBerry App World. Just be sure to check compatibility before you make any purchases.
Accessories are always on the mind of new device owners. Cases, skins and screen protectors lead the way there and the Shop CrackBerry Store is getting stuff daily for the BlackBerry Pearl 3G, so be sure to check things out often.
I like the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. It really is a great device overall and I can see it fitting into many BlackBerry users lives. The keyboard (20 key version) is alright to use and while there is a small learning curve to getting the hang of it, it's easily overcome if you just go with the flow of it. While I'm not a huge fan of SureType, I can use it quite well once I get in the groove and stop caring that I'm using SureType.
Screen size may be an issue to those coming from a device with a larger screen on it but if you are a past Pearl user, you'll not have any issues here. The screen is bright and displays colours perfectly. Videos look great as well but I can no longer imagine watching a movie on a Pearl sized screen. Youtube clips, yeah but not a whole movie.
9100 on the left, 9700 on the right
In regards to camera quality, it's pretty good. It's a 3.2MP camera that was designed for a mobile device. For quick pics of family and loved ones it will do. The autofocus really helps with increasing the quality of the pics and I'd place this one in line with the rest of the newer BlackBerry devices. And really, no one is buying a BlackBerry Pearl 3G based on the camera anyways. (Note: In the above test shots, the 9100 fired it's flash and my 9700 did not. Despite both being set to automatic and no changes in lighting condition occured.)
The software issues on the device are minor. I pretty much challenge anyone out there to find an OS on any platform that is totally bug free. It just can't be done. I have a iPhone, I have a Nexus One and they all suffer from some issues that drive me nuts but that is the nature of the beast.
Call quality is something that is usually passed over in reviews. I like to save it for the last and while we all know these devices are capable of making phone calls, the fact is more and more people are moving away from calling and moving into data usage. That said, I did test the call quality on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G and was quite satisfied with the results. People could hear me, I could hear them and nothing sounded tinny or hollow and certainly no echoes. To me, that passes as standard successful phone call and the Rogers network in my area is great so no dropped calls.
In the beginning of this review I was thinking of original BlackBerry Pearl owners. Would a 8100 owner be happy with the brand new design of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G? That was my personal basis for the review. Looking back on the past of when I used a BlackBerry Pearl 8100 I can safely say that most users will feel right at home with the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. That is, if they haven't moved onto a full qwerty device because of the long wait for a the revamp. Since WES I have been really liking the BlackBerry Pearl 3G and even reached the point where I could see myself possibly keeping it as my main device. After some dedicated time with it, I don't think I'll be giving up my BlackBerry Bold 9700 anytime soon for the SureType sexiness that is the BlackBerry Pearl. But, I will most certainly be adding it to my collection for those times when I need a change. As we mentioned in a previous post, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is available Rogers Wireless now.