Tuesday, 18 November 2008

RIM BlackBerry Pearl Red

(Review) - After its decision to attract mainstream consumers, RIM announced a brand new, more consumer friendly version of the BlackBerry, the Pearl. Needless to say, the Pearl is perhaps the most gorgeous of the entire BlackBerry product line, though some may argue that with the newly released BlackBerry 8800.

The exterior of the Pearl offers a very sleek and slim-looking device in four separate colors, including ruby red, which we are evaluating today. Starting from the left, the Pearl has a 2.5mm headset jack, a mini USB port and a shortcut key, while the right side offers volume controls and another customizable shortcut key for convenience. Similar to other BlackBerry smartphones, the top has the mute button, a power button, and an activity LED light. We can’t say we are impressed with anything thus far. After all, it’s just a standard layout more or less. However, once you get past the vibrant, crystal clear display (65k colors, 2.25-inch, 240x260 resolution), that’s where the real fun begins.

With the Pearl, to say that RIM has reworked the keyboard and the navigational keys would be an understatement. Instead of having the scroll wheel and the Escape key on the right spine, the Pearl now features a trackball that acts as a 4-way navigational key and a button once you press on it. The Back and Escape keys have been moved right next to the trackball, along with the Call and End buttons. Whether you are a first time BlackBerry user or an existing one, it will take some time to get used to the trackball and its corresponding keys, though for existing BlackBerry users, it may take a while longer. We found ourselves searching for the trackwheel on the right spine during the testing process. To RIM’s credit, the trackball is an amazing addition with its quick response time with adjustable sensitivity settings. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the "QWERTY" keyboard.

RIM BlackBerry 8800 Smartphone

As it’s apparent from the image above, the idea to include two letters on a single key in a QWERTY format is somewhat absurd. Let’s say you are used to the traditional cell phone layout with three letters on a single key or you are extensively used to the QWERTY layout, either way, you will have to relearn this unique layout. Not to mention, SureType is painfully annoying and isn’t an ideal layout for sending a lot of messages.

The Pearl is also the first BlackBerry smartphone to support multimedia capabilities and expandable storage through microSD card. The Pearl can now playback audio (MP3, AAC, MIDI, and WAV) and video files, and take photos, thanks to the onboard 1.3-megapixel camera (5x zoom). The integrated camera lens is situated on the back panel of the device with a self-portrait mirror. Since the Pearl has such an amazing layout, it feels natural when you are taking photos. It’s a pity that the Pearl can’t record videos like other smartphones. The camera also features flash, auto focus, white balance and a variety of other customizable settings. In our performance tests, the Pearl took decent photos, nothing too extraordinary.

The rest of the feature set is pretty standard for BlackBerry phones and otherwise. The excellent e-mail capability is present with the address book, EDGE and Bluetooth support. As we mentioned earlier, the Pearl supports expandable storage through microSD slot, which is located inside the battery compartment, behind the battery. While it’s not an ideal location, we are not too concerned about it, as we personally don’t play around with the microSD card too much. It’s certainly going to be an issue for some people, and RIM could definitely work on this quirk in upcoming designs.

There’s also the onboard GPS capability with BBMaps (BlackBerry Maps). The application doesn’t do justice to the Pearl’s GPS capabilities, as it only provides text-based directions, but combine the GPS technology with TeleNav ($9.99 per month or $5.99 for 10 trips), and you will be very pleased. TeleNav will give you live, turn-by-turn directions with voice commands right from the phone. It doesn’t get any better than that.

BlackBerry 8100 Pearl: A Multimedia Alternative

Music playback was decent. The external speakers produced a hiss of sorts, though it was a little more under control with the headset plugged in. The video playback, on the other hand, was quite amazing. Add crystal clear video quality to the bright display, and the combination is quite impressive. The call quality, unfortunately, was sub par with a decent bit of muffling in normal mode. The speakerphone produced a lot of echo, and the experience wasn’t up to our standards. We would’ve definitely expected a lot better from RIM. With that said, you shouldn’t have a problem with conversations. The audio quality just won’t be crystal clear. According to RIM, the talk time is rated at 3.5 hours with the standby time at 15 days; we managed to secure a record time of 5:15 hours on the Pearl. You could also play up to 21 hours of music and 6 hours of video exclusively.

The Pearl is an interesting device. Although the concept behind the Pearl isn’t earth shattering, coming from RIM, it managed to garner a lot of attention. From our standpoint, RIM has delivered well on its promise with the Pearl, and it’s a sign of great things to come with more consumer friendly smartphones from the BlackBerry maker. As far as Pearl is concerned, despite its shortfalls (lack of WiFi being one), you will be amazed at what a company that’s so devoted to business users can deliver for mainstream consumers.

It’s available for $0.00 from Amazon.com with a 2-year contract from AT&T/Cingular.

Click here to get an unlocked version of the RIM BlackBerry Pearl!

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