BlackBerry Pearl 8120

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Small and neat
  • Includes Wi-Fi
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Accessible SDHC-compatible microSD card slot

Cons

  • No 3G connectivity
  • Screen small for viewing email attachments and web sites
  • SureType text entry system will not suit everyone
  • No hardware controls for music playback

Research In Motion (RIM) used to design its BlackBerry smartphones purely for the business market. Then the company found that some businesspeople like stylish devices, many like ‘crossover’ phones that deliver some consumer functionality, and plenty of consumers want phones with BlackBerry-style mobile email. RIM has therefore cast its net wider, delivering more mainstream devices such as the Curve 8300 and the Pearl 8100.

We found the original Pearl 8100 to be a bit under-featured, although we did appreciate its slim design. Does the new Pearl 8120 redress the balance?

Design
There's very little to distinguish the Pearl 8120 from the original Pearl in terms of looks. The attentive will notice that this new device has a deep blue casing with chrome edges and highlights compared to the original Pearl's black and chrome. The two devices have identical dimensions — 107mm tall by 50mm wide by 14.5mm thick — but the Pearl 8120 is very slightly heavier than its predecessor (91.5g versus 89.5g).

The Pearl 8120 resembles a normal candybar-style phone and feels very comfortable in the hand. The feature that lends the device its name is a small trackball located beneath the screen. This replaces the jog-wheel seen in earlier BlackBerry devices, and has a press-to-select feature. It can be used effectively with either the left or the right hand, which will please left-handers.

Flanking the 'pearl' are Menu and Back buttons, and outside these the Call and End buttons. Beneath this row is the QWERTY keyboard, whose keys are ranged on a slightly u-shaped curve; this doesn't offer any ergonomic benefits, but makes for a distinctive appearance.

For the most part, there are two QWERTY characters per key, along with sundry other characters including the 0-9 numbers and various symbols. As you start to type, alternative words appear in a vertically scrolling menu. You can type the complete word, or choose from the list using the ‘pearl’ button. This takes a little getting used to, but with perseverance it can become a relatively speedy data-entry system.

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RIM has enhanced this SureType system by adding a spellchecker, which you can configure to check all emails automatically before sending them; you can also opt to run the spelling checker manually.

The top of the device has a mute key that will silence the speaker or, if held down, push the device into standby mode. On both the left and right sides are what RIM calls the 'convenience keys', which can be assigned to launch your preferred applications. There's also a volume rocker on the right and on the left a USB slot for mains power, a microSD card slot for memory expansion and a 3.5mm headset jack.

The ability to expand memory and attach a wired headset have featured on previous BlackBerry devices, but RIM has improved both with the Pearl 8120. The use of a 3.5mm headset connector allows people to substitute their own headset for that provided by RIM without the need for bulky 2.5mm converters. Since the 8120 has music playback capabilities, some people will find this very handy. Meanwhile, the decision to site the mciroSD card slot on the edge of the device rather than under the battery cover (as it was with the original Pearl — itself the first BlackBerry to have a memory expansion slot) makes swapping cards much easier.

The screen measures 2.2in. across the diagonal, has a resolution of 240 by 260 pixels and displays 65,536 colours. RIM claims that new font rendering makes text more legible: we didn't have the old Pearl available for a side-by-side comparison, but there's no doubt that the 8120's display is sharp and clear.

In its O2 incarnation, the Pearl 8120 ships with a mini-USB cable, an AC adapter, a desktop software CD, a stereo headset, a 1GB microSD card and a leather carrying pouch.

Features
The primary focus of the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is mobile email. Like other BlackBerry devices, it can receive corporate email (Exchange, Domino or GroupWise) via RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or use the BlackBerry Internet Service to access POP3 email accounts.

We had no issue with mobile email delivery itself, but the relatively small screen makes it harder to read messages and view attachments than on the BlackBerry 8820, which we've been using for a couple of months.

The browser now offers a 'page view' that allows you to select an area of a web page to zoom into for detailed viewing. This is potentially useful, but again the small screen size is not ideal for serious web browsing.

The Pearl 8120 has a 2-megapixel camera with an LED flash unit and a self-portrait mirror. This is a big advance on the 1.3-megapixel camera in the original Pearl — especially considering that video support has also been added, at resolutions of 240 by 180 and 176 by 144.

Businesses may not aprove of RIM's inclusion of a Facebook application that allows you to do some — but by no means all — of the things you can do with the social networking site on a desktop PC.

As far as music playback is concerned, we have already noted the 3.5mm headset jack; the player also allows you to create playlists. However, there are no hardware controls for music playback apart from volume control, so to pause or skip tracks, for example, you'll need to navigate the menu system or hardwire one of the convenience keys to the music player.

The Pearl 8120 has 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, which was absent in the original Pearl. Bluetooth 2.0 is also present, but unfortunately there's no 3G connectivity. The Pearl 8120 has quad-band GSM with GPRS and EDGE support, which is enough for mobile email, but 3G may still be missed some users.

The Pearl 8120 uses the same 312MHz Intel XScale PXA901 processor that powered the original Pearl. It has 64MB of flash ROM and 16MB of RAM. On our review sample there was 16MB of free space in the device itself. If you need more storage the good news is that the accessible microSD slot supports SDHC, which currently caters for card capacities up to 8GB.

Performance & battery life
If you're not used to it, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120's SureType text entry system presents a (not insurmountable) learning curve. Also, anyone with stubby fingers may find the keyboard rather cramped.

Those used to a larger screen for web browsing may want to steer clear of the Pearl 8120, and the same caveat applies to email attachments: the screen is definitely not suitable for reading PDFs or viewing spreadsheets, for example.

RIM claims 4 hours of talktime and 15 hours on standby for the Pearl 8120. When we asked it to play music non-stop from a microSD card with the screen set to turn off after 30 seconds and the SIM left active, the device delivered just over 12 hours of music. Impressive.

Conclusion
More than a year after the original device shipped, it's good to see a range of updated features on the Blackberry Pearl 8120. Still, we'd have liked more — 3G connectivity and hardware-based music controls, for example. But if you're looking for a sleek, phone-like BlackBerry, the Pearl 8120 does a competent job.

 

Specifications

Cellular
Technology GSM
Phone Navigation Buttons trackball
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Band GSM 850/900/1800/1900 (Quadband)
Phone Form Factor bar
Service Provider AT&T
Operating System Family BlackBerry OS
Operating System BlackBerry Handheld Software
Input Device Keyboard, SureType QWERTY keyboard
Phone Features
Voice Dialing Yes
Phone Functions Voice dialing, vibrating alert
Details
Form Factor Bar
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging Services AOL Instant Messenger Service (AIM), MMS, SMS, Yahoo! Messenger
Communications
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 2.0, IEEE 802.11b/g
Cellular Protocol EDGE, GPRS support
Display
Technology TFT
Display Indicators Bluetooth indicator, GPRS indicator, SMS indicator, alarm clock indicator, battery meter, digital clock, missed calls indicator, roaming, signal strength, voice message waiting
Display Resolution 260 x 240 pixels
Color Depth 16-bit (65000 colors)
Audio
Type Speaker
Camera
Digital Zoom 5
Camera Light Source flash
Memory
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC, microSD
Input Device
Type Keyboard, Trackball
Battery
Talk Time Up to 240 min
Run Time Details Talk: up to 240 min
Standby: up to 360 hrs
Digital Camera
Digital Zoom 5
Camera Light Source flash
Header
Brand BlackBerry
Product Line BlackBerry Pearl
Model 8120
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type SureType QWERTY keyboard, keyboard
Features
Phone Functions vibrating alert, voice dialing
Power Adapter
Type power adapter
Flash Memory
Installed Size 64 MB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSD, microSDHC
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 2 megapixels

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