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RIM unveils BlackBerry Pearl 3G and global Bold phones

RIM has announced the BlackBerry Pearl 3G, the "sports car of BlackBerry smartphones" and the first of the company's smartphones to include Wireless N support
Written by Simon Bisson and Mary Bra Gaston, Contributor

Research In Motion on Monday introduced a new world-band Bold and the Pearl 3G, which is its first 802.11n Wi-Fi device and the first BlackBerry with a traditional phone keypad.

The new BlackBerry smartphones were unveiled at a press event in Orlando on Monday, in advance of Research In Motion's (RIM) annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium event. Described by RIM devices chief Mike McAndrews as the "sports car of BlackBerry smartphones", the new Pearl is the company's first 3G model in a candybar form factor. The Bold 9650 is also a 3G world phone, and marks a shift away from the Tour brand name that RIM had previously employed in the North American market.

Replacing the original Pearl's trackball with a new optical trackpad, the Pearl 3G continues RIM's transition away from mechanical navigation hardware. RIM first used optical trackpads in its BlackBerry Curve 8520 in August 2009. The original BlackBerry Pearl, which was the first RIM handset to feature a trackball, was launched in 2006.

Using a 624Mhz processor and 256MB of memory, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G weighs 93g and measures 108mm high, 50mm wide and 133mm deep. It is RIM's smallest smartphone to date and has a 360x400-pixel screen resolution. Operators will get the option of either RIM's condensed Qwerty SureType keyboard (model number 9100) or a traditional numeric phone keyboard (model number 9105). Both versions will be powered by RIM's SureType predictive typing system.

McAndrews told ZDNet UK that the option of a numeric keypad was not a change of direction on keyboards, but an attempt to help traditional feature phone users to transition to smartphones. "There are still a large number of users in the world — in fact over three-quarters of phone users — who use phones with the traditional phone style keyboard," he said.

"The Pearl 3G is the very first BlackBerry that supports 802.11n," McAndrews added, explaining the handset manufacturer had waited until the standard was ratified last year. "We think 802.11n eventually will be much more of a ubiquitous standard across the [mobile] industry." He also suggested that, despite the fact that 802.11n offers better bandwidth than its predecessor, it does not use more power than 802.11g because of the highly power efficient chipset RIM is using.

The Pearl 3G supports microSD/SDHC with support for cards of up to 32GB in capacity. It has a 3.2-megapixel camera and GPS. Other key hardware features include touch-sensitive media control keys and a mute button on the top of the device.

RIM expects worldwide availability to begin in May. On Monday, a RIM spokesperson declined to comment to ZDNet UK regarding BlackBerry Pearl 3G pricing and carrier support.

The first CDMA Bold is also a 3G world phone, based on Qualcomm's 7600 unified 3G and CDMA chipset. The design of the Bold 9650 is very similar to current Bold models, although it has 512MB of memory to allow users to load more apps than previous models. RIM is abandoning the Tour name it had used for its CDMA world devices, and all future high-end handsets will be released under the Bold brand because of its popularity. The Bold 9650 is intended for US markets, and will also be available from May 2010, initially on Sprint's network.

RIM also announced a new version of its Mobile Voice System (MVS), which is due for launch in summer 2010. Adding support for voice-over-Wi-Fi calling, MVS 5 integrates BlackBerry devices with business phone systems.

MVS-connected BlackBerrys are treated as phone extensions, with access to most deskphone features and services. The new Wi-Fi calling service allows businesses to prioritise Wi-Fi over cellular calls and to choose the Wi-Fi networks that can be used.

RIM also announced that it would be expanding the phone hardware supported by MVS, by launching a certification process for SIP-based PBXs.

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