BlackBerry Pearl review:

BlackBerry Pearl

Unlike the 3G-deprived GSM Pearls, the Pearl 8130 works on Verizon's EV-DO network, bringing data speeds of about 300Kbps to 600Kbps, though they could potentially hit 2.4Mbps. This means you should enjoy a faster Web-surfing experience, and it should also be more enjoyable, thanks to the improved browser.

Compared with Windows Mobile, Symbian, or Palm devices, the BlackBerry Web browser has always been kludgy and laborious for viewing sites; it requires a lot of scrolling up and down with the trackball or scroll wheel. However, now you get an onscreen cursor that you can move in any direction and place on any part of the page where you can click a link. In addition, there's a Page View option that enables you to easily zoom in on part of a page. It's definitely a huge improvement, and the boost of EV-DO speeds is heaven-sent. Disappointingly, the Pearl 8130 does not support any of Verizon's V Cast services.

Other wireless options on the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 include Bluetooth 2.0 and GPS. You can use Bluetooth to connect to mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, and dial-up networking. To use the Pearl as a modem for your laptop, you will need to purchase a Broadband Access Plan from Verizon, which starts at $15 per month. It does not, however, support the object exchange profile.

The built-in GPS enables you to use the Pearl as a handheld navigation device. The device comes preloaded with the BlackBerry maps application that can provide text-based driving directions and search for local businesses. However, you can also get more robust programs, such as Google Maps for Mobile or Verizon's VZ Navigator, which can provide real-time tracking, text- and voice-guided directions, points of interest, traffic data, and more. Be aware that the latter is an add-on service and costs $9.99 per month or $2.99 for 24-hour access.

The Pearl 8130 is equipped with a 2-megapixel camera, but the bigger news is that it can now record video.

The camera also gets an upgrade to a 2-megapixel lens (from 1.3 megapixels), but more importantly, you can now record video--a first for a BlackBerry. For still images, there's a 5x zoom and flash, as well as three picture sizes and three quality options. You also get white-balance settings and several color effects you can add to the photo.

Video options are limited with just two video formats (normal or multimedia message), three color effects, and a video light. Picture quality was pretty good for a camera phone. Objects were sharply defined, but we wish there was a bit more brightness to the colors. Meanwhile, video quality was subpar, as our recorded clips looked dim and jerky.

Overall, picture quality was decent, although we wish for a bit more brightness.

Other than these new capabilities, the BlackBerry Pearl retains many of the same features that has made BlackBerrys popular, such as e-mail. The smartphone can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server, with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise, to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. It also supports up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. Instant messaging is limited to the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger client.

For mobile professionals, an attachment viewer opens popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more. You can also view tracked changes and embedded images and zoom, and rotate documents, but you can't edit documents out of the box, though third-party software is available that allows this functionality.

The built-in media player remains pretty much the same. You can listen to MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files, and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video clips. For music, you can create playlists as "folders," and shuffle and repeat songs within a certain folder. It also displays song titles, the artist, and album art, if available.

In video mode, you get the option of full screen, replay, and repeat. Other applications on the Pearl include a calendar, a task list, a memo pad, an alarm clock, a password keeper, a calculator, a Brickbreaker game, and a voice recorder.

We tested the dual-band (CDMA 850/1900; EV-DO) RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless service, and call quality was OK. On our end, we could hear a slight background hiss, but there was clear audio and plenty of volume. In other words, it wasn't anything that prevented us from carrying on a conversation or interacting with our bank's voice-automated system.

Meanwhile, our friends said we sounded fine, albeit a bit hollow. Activating the speakerphone didn't diminish the call quality too much. Finally, we had no problems pairing the Pearl 8130 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset, or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

Overall, the Pearl 8130 was a responsive device with minimal performance lags. We tried out the GPS capabilities with VZ Navigator, and it took about 3 minutes for the Pearl to get a fix on our location--pretty impressive for a cell phone.

Once locked on, it did a good job of tracking our position and offered accurate driving directions, though we think in-car use is a bit limited, given the smaller screen size. Multimedia performance was OK. There was a bit of hollowness to songs, and we craved more bass.

We are glad to see the inclusion of the 3.5mm jack, since plugging in some decent headphones improved the sound. We got the usual pixelation when watching video clips, but at least the audio and images synced up.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8130 is rated 3.6 hours of talk time and up to 9 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pearl 8130 has a digital SAR rating of 1.48 watts per kilogram.

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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