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HolidayBuyer's Guide

BlackBerry Pearl 8130 review:

BlackBerry Pearl 8130

Voice features on the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 include a speakerphone, voice dialing, and commands, conference calling, text and multimedia messaging, and call audio enhancement, which lets you boost the bass or treble of sound. The address book is limited only by the available memory (64MB flash), and each entry can hold up to eight numbers, work and home addresses, e-mail and Web addresses, company information, and notes. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well as a group category--business or personal--or one of 45 polyphonic ringtones. The Pearl also supports MP3 and MIDI ringtones.

Unlike the 3G-deprived GSM Pearls, the Pearl 8130 works on Sprint's EV-DO network, bringing data speeds of around 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 allows 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.

Unlike Verizon's version, the Sprint Pearl supports the carrier's entertainment services: Sprint TV and the Sprint Music Store. Sprint offers these services as part of the Sprint Power Vision pack, which ranges in price from $15 to $25 per month. Sprint TV gives you access to programming from a variety of channels, including CNN, Comedy Central, E, the NFL Network, and Sprint Exclusive Entertainment. In addition, you can listen to live streaming music and talk radio from Sirius, VH1 Mobile, and MTV Mobile. Meanwhile, the Sprint Music Store offers simultaneous track downloads both to your PC and wirelessly to your phone. Songs cost 99 cents or you can get a six-pack for $5.94. Also, be aware that you'll need to store them to a microSD card; otherwise you won't be able to download the tracks.

As for the built-in media player, 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. It also supports MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video clips. Plus, in video mode, you get the option of full screen, replay, and repeat.

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. The built-in GPS allows 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 like Google Maps for Mobile or Sprint Navigation, which can provide real-time tracking, text- and voice-guided directions, points of interest, traffic data, and more.

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.

Other than these new capabilities, the BlackBerry Pearl retains many of the same features that have 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. Sprint includes a link to its software store so you can download more programs for your device; you can also check CNET for more titles. Other applications on the Pearl include a calendar, a tasks 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 Sprint service, and call quality was satisfactory. For the most part, we enjoyed clear sound and ample volume, but voices sounded a tad muffled, though not enough to prevent us from carrying on conversations or interacting with our bank's automated voice response system. Our friends didn't have any major complaints, and we didn't experience any dropped calls during our test period. Speakerphone quality was acceptable with good volume. We had no problems pairing the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 with Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

General performance was responsive. There weren't any significant delays as we opened and worked in various applications. Web browsing was great, thanks to the boost of 3G speeds, and downloading songs from the Sprint Music Store took a matter of seconds. We were quite impressed by the sound quality of the Pearl. Compared with other smartphones we've tested, songs sounded rich and full through the device's speakers. Unfortunately, we didn't enjoy similar results with video playback. Picture quality was pixelated and at times, it could get choppy with interrupted audio. Finally, we checked out the GPS capabilities using Google Maps for Mobile. We were amazed that it only took the Pearl about two minutes to get a fix on our location. We entered a trip from the Marina District of San Francisco to a holiday party in Bernal Heights, and though we didn't necessarily agree with the calculated route, the phone ultimately guided us to our final destination.

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

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