BlackBerry Pearl: a first look

With the BlackBerry Pearl 8100, RIM has attempted to square the circle. The aim was to make a device small enough to be a covetable phone, that operates as a smartphone, and is still a real BlackBerry.

It passes the size barrier with ease, at only 14.5mm thick by 107mm by 50mm, and weighing 89.5g, making it one of the smallest smartphones around. The BlackBerry Pearl 8100 is also sleek, black and shiny -- which is what users want, according to RIM's focus groups.

To pass muster as a phone with wide appeal, RIM has added a camera and a media player, as well as expandable storage via a microSD card. It's had to sacrifice the thumbwheel -- always a fundamental part of BlackBerrys in the past, and replace it with a trackball (which, we're told, is how it got its name of the Pearl).

New features
The trackball will probably be described as the jewel in the Pearl's crown. It glows a pleasant white, and can apparently be made to change colour with particular ring tones. It rolls easily and has a pleasant, slightly rough, feel. It's not clear how well it will last with prolonged use, of course.

Every part of this device shows the trade-offs that had to be made to make it pocket friendly. The camera is a standard 1.3 megapixel unit, but has a flash that appears to work well enough on automatic, and can capture basic images. Anyone expecting a top-notch camera in a phone is usually disappointed, but if you just expect to take shots to make a record of something, this is fine. Saved pictures can be easily accessed and sent via Bluetooth, MMS or email.

The media player seemed efficient enough; we played the enclosed sample tune, which sounded good over the included wired earphones.

Where's the SD card?
The microSD card is loaded not via a slot, but inside the device, behind the battery and next to the SIM card. The file manager and camera all open and closed files from the media card, and when connected to a PC in Mass Storage mode (using the included USB cable), the card is visible as a 1GB Flash drive.

Communications: is it a BlackBerry?
As you would expect, the quad-band BlackBerry Pearl excels at handling data over GPRS and EDGE networks. RIM sensibly decided to leave out 3G, while Wi-Fi is also absent, to save space and power.

Reading and writing emails is straightforward, and the keyboard follows earlier small-format BlackBerrys, by placing the QWERTY keys two-by-two on a 20-key pad, with shift and symbol keys working much as on any BlackBerry.

It has a wireless-off mode, for planes. We haven't checked the battery life or talk time yet (RIM claims 15 days on standby and 3.5 hours talk time), but the display is bright and easy to read text on.

Check back soon for a full review of the BlackBerry Pearl 8100. You can read more news from the launch event here.


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