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BlackBerry Pearl 3G review: BlackBerry Pearl 3G

The Pearl 3G is a fast, solid smartphone that will always live in the shadow of the excellent, larger BlackBerry Bold.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
4 min read

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 the BlackBerry Bold, and 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.


BlackBerry Pearl 3G

The Good

Same hardware as the Bold. Excellent, stable performance. Wireless N compatibility. Good suite of software out of the box.

The Bad

Cramped, plastic-feeling keypad. Tiny screen.

The Bottom Line

Every time we used the Pearl we wished it was the Bold, and considering the way both phones are priced in Australia there's no reason not to buy a Bold instead.


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 iPod Nano 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.

Once powered up you'll discover the Pearl runs on version 5 of the BlackBerry OS, so that the user experience of using the Pearl 3G is identical to using the Bold or the Pearl Flip. Alongside the standard calling, messaging and email software you also have access to Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger, a word processor, MySpace, Flickr, and the BlackBerry App World for downloading tools for any tasks you can't find covered on the phone out of the box.


Matching hardware on a matching operating system means the Pearl 3G delivers the same blazing fast performance we saw when we reviewed the Bold 9700 — there wasn't a moment of lag during our entire review process. This is quite an accomplishment when you also consider that the BlackBerry OS is capable of true multitasking and while several services are delivering push notifications simultaneously.

The Pearls two- to three-day battery life is also a breath of fresh air in a world of single-day battery cycle smartphones. We left the phone set to its defaults, including push email and push Facebook messages, and never found ourselves rushing home to find a power point. We had no problem making calls, the internal speaker is loud and clear, though we did find the Pearl 3G did get a little warmer than we'd expect as we pressed it to our ears during long calls.


If the BlackBerry Pearl 3G has a problem it's that the BlackBerry Bold 9700 came out months before it. Of its own merits, the Pearl is an excellent phone, its fast, stable, capable of running your life and filling in the dull moments with games, music and videos. But we don't love the form factor, the keypad feels cramped and every time we look at the screen we wish it was bigger. The BlackBerry OS is a well-designed smartphone platform, but it really wasn't designed with screens of this size in mind.

Price is also a factor. In Australia we already have the choice between the 2G-only BlackBerry Curve 8250 on an AU$29 per month plan, or the Bold 9700 starting from an AU$49 per month plan. Telstra has scored an exclusive with the Pearl 3G and is launching it at an AU$59 per month including full unlimited BlackBerry services, but this seems a bit ritzy when you could have the Bold for less.