Research In Motion's Blackberry range of devices have taken the corporate world by storm and caught many traditional handset makers off guard. Nokia only recently stepped up to the plate with their E61 and Windows Mobile devices are in the minority in such environments. However this competition has led Research in Motion (RIM), to look away from their utilitarian designs and appeal to a broader market.
Traditional Blackberry users, the types who feel that not knowing the contents of their inbox would cause their job and company to go down the toilet, are already believers. Stand outside Canary Wharf or walk around in the Square Mile and you'll understand why many African dictators would give their right arm for legion of loyal followers. You can't help but feel that with the Pearl, RIM are trying to go mainstream.
The Pearl is the first Blackberry handset which consumers can lust over. It has similar dimensions to Motorola's iconic RAZR and looks to match that of any high-end Nokia handset. The Pearl is also the first Blackberry to sport a camera and have music and video players built in.
To behold, the Pearl manages to straddle the line between corporate handset and electronic bling. The glossy black with gunmetal-esque trim works as well in the conference room as it does in the club. With it being so thin, it glides into your pocket too. Weight wise, you aren't going to notice it. Physically there's very little wrong with the Pearl.
Due to the sleek dimensions of the Pearl, RIM couldn't include their trademark QWERTY thumb-board any longer. Instead they opted for a system called SureType. You still get the QWERTY layout but each key has more than one letter assigned to it.
As someone who likes a full size thumb-board a lot, when I first started out with the SureType system I had growing pains. However, if you power through those pains, then the SureType system is excellent. Input prediction is amazingly accurate and typing speeds end up being very high. For writing emails, you don't need more.
Clearly trying hard to shrugg off the suit and tie image, you won't be seen on the train pulsing a scroll-wheel either. That has been replaced by a trackball, the same technology found in computer mice of yonder. Actually the trackball works very well, needing only the slightest caressing from your thumb to glide through the menus. Is it a competent replacement for the scroll wheel? After six weeks of use, I would say definitely. It's a wonderfully simply piece of engineering which works effortlessly.
For a first attempt, RIM has done very well with the camera, audio and video playback capabilities. The Blackberry Pearl plays AVI files surprisingly well on its screen, a screen which is very bright yet manages to only sip juice from the battery. Music capabilities are also good, with support for MP3, AAC and WMA formats. The player application can even display album art.
The 1.3 megapixel camera is very good. The built in flash is like most mobile phone flashes, useless. However the picture clarity and colour reproduction is good for such a camera. Not forgetting their loyal users, corporations can disable camera capabilities through Blackberry Enterprise.
Bluetooth is provided so you can use hands-free units for conversations but sadly not for music playback. The supplied 2.5mm headphone jack is rather flimsy and may get damaged after heavy use. A standard USB connector is used for recharging along with connecting to a PC. For further afield connections, the Pearl has quad band support along with GRPS and EDGE. There's no Wifi or 3G support which is a shame.
Memory expansion occurs through microSD cards. The card slot is positioned underneath the battery is beyond, so don't expect the swapping out cards very often. The battery itself is perfectly suited to the Pearl. Standby times are great, even with having email pushed to your inbox. I managed well over three days without any problems and over seven hours of talk time.
It is PC connectivity where the Pearl stumbles a little. The software is fine but it doesn't really handle the multimedia aspects well. However if you're interested in just using your phone as a simple music player then the Pearl will cope just fine.
The Blackberry Pearl is the best marriage between heavyweight corporate features and elegant styling. It makes other Windows Mobile devices seem like overweight octogenarians. Physically the Pearl is perfect. Thin and light, you barely feel its existence. Battery life is also very good for such a device. The trackball is an excellent primary navigation device and is perfectly implemented on the Pearl. Dispensing with the full size thumb-board, the SureType keypad is a worthy replacement. It requires a little patience before you reach full speed, but if you put in the time, you will find it rewarding. Features such as music and video playback along with a surprisingly good camera really makes the Pearl an excellent all round phone. With operators such as T-Mobile offering this handset for free on certain contracts, the Pearl is exceptional value. There's no doubt that both business users and consumers should consider the Blackberry Pearl as their next handset.