As its name suggests, the BlackBerry Pearl series attempts to find a softer audience than the hard-nosed business people who own and love BlackBerry Bolds. Through its three previous iterations, the Pearl handsets have delivered the BlackBerry experience in a slimmer, lighter (but not necessarily more attractive) package. We love theand there's a part of us that is quick to dismiss the Pearl and its various advantages over its larger siblings, especially when this trimming down in size doesn't equate to a trimming down in price.
Sitting the Pearl 3G next to the Bold 9700, the newer model does look like the former after having been shrunk in the wash. They are of identical lengths, but the Pearl is only two-thirds the width, made possible by slimming every individual key. The layout of the full-QWERTY keyboard on the Bold and the dual-QWERTY keypad on the Pearl (where each key represents two letters instead of one) are very similar, but the Pearl only sports five columns of keys while the Bold has 10.
The result of this trimming down is fairly predictable, those who are used to typing on a QWERTY keyboard may struggle to make the transition. Similarly, those who are used to typing on a standard T9 phone keypad will need a little practice to become truly proficient at typing on the Pearl 3G. This keypad also feels a bit cheap, as the tiny plastic keys clack under our fingertips while we bash out emails and text messages. The Pearl 3G features SureType predictive text software to help speed up the effort of typing long messages, which for the most part works extremely well.
The other great sacrifice you'd make in deciding on a Pearl 3G over a Bold is in the screen size. Though you don't lose much in the way of the crispness of the images on-screen or in the rendering of colours, the screen is noticeably smaller, which will hamper its use with people who wear glasses when they read.
One area the Pearl supersedes the Bold is in its external music controls, an excellent touch. Along the top lip of the handset RIM has placed three simple controls; play/pause, forward and rewind. Matched with a decent set of headphones, the Pearl makes a decent replacement for your or non-Apple MP3 player.
Features and software
You may, at this point in the review, think we've been focusing too much on the comparisons with the Bold. The Pearl is, after all, a different handset aimed at a different segment of the market. The reason we've focused so closely on separating these phones feature for feature is because in regards to hardware RIM has built almost identical phones — an impressive feat when you consider the size of the Bold. The Pearl makes use of HSDPA data transfers, Wi-Fi (including support for the wireless N protocol), built-in GPS, and Bluetooth.