CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T) review: BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T)

BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T)

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
8 min read

You knew it was just a matter of time before one of the GSM carriers got a hold of the next-gen RIM BlackBerry Pearl after Verizon Wireless released the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130. And that lucky carrier would be AT&T. Today, AT&T introduced the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120, a Wi-Fi-enabled version of the slim messaging smartphone that also offers other enhancements, including a better Web browser and a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities. In all, the new features make the popular smartphone even better but we couldn't help but want a little more. You see, unlike the BlackBerry Pearl 8130, it doesn't have 3G support or integrated GPS, so that left us feeling a bit unsatisfied. Still, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is a solid upgrade. The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is available now initially through business channels for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts.


BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T)

The Good

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 for AT&T brings Wi-Fi to the slim smartphone, along with an improved Web browser and a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities. The handset also has integrated Bluetooth, strong e-mail capabilities, and solid multimedia features.

The Bad

The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 lacks 3G support and GPS. The SureType keyboard still requires a learning curve, and there was a slight background hiss during phone calls.

The Bottom Line

The addition of Wi-Fi and other enhancements make the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 a nice upgrade, but we couldn't help wanting a little more from the smartphone.

If you were to go on looks alone, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the original BlackBerry Pearl and RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120. We can't really knock the lack of changes to the design either, since you're getting a full-featured smartphone in a cell-phone-like form factor that's pocketable and comfortable to use as a mobile. The Pearl 8120 keeps the same compact frame, measuring 4.2 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and even weighs less at 3.2 ounces. And while the casing might appear to be black, it's actually an attractive deep sapphire blue.

The overall design of the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 remains the same as the original Pearl. You do, however, get new interface themes, graphics, and more, including this L-shaped menu.

On front, there is a 2.25-inch nontouch display with a 65,000-color output and 260x240 pixel resolution. It's also equipped with a light-sensing technology that automatically adjusts the backlight depending on the environment. All these factors combined make for a sharp and vibrant screen, but RIM also made some enhancements to the user interface to make it more visually pleasing and easier to use. There are new themes, including an L-shaped menu format, new graphics, fonts, and colors. The changes aren't anything to write home about, but they certainly make for a better user experience.

The SureType keyboard will admittedly give some users some trouble, but also features enhanced word completion for easier text entry.

Below the display, you'll find the same navigation array of previous Pearls, which includes Talk and End keys, the BlackBerry menu shortcut, a back button, the pearl-like trackball, and of course, the SureType keyboard. As we've said many times in the past, the modified keyboard isn't going to suit everyone (present company included), and there is a bit of a learning curve to the text entry. However, we understand that some concessions had to be made in order to fit a QWERTY keyboard into a smaller space. The SureType software also now features improved word completion and an easier way to correct misspelled words, though we didn't notice a huge difference.

Among other things, the left side of the smartphone holds a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD/SDHC slot that can accept up to 8GB cards.

On the left spine, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack, a mini USB port, a microSD/SDHC memory card slot, and a push-to-talk button. Meanwhile, the right side holds a volume rocker and a camera activation button. Both the PTT and camera keys can, however, be reprogrammed to launch other applications if you prefer. There's a mute button on top of the unit, and finally, the camera lens, self-portrait mirror and flash are located on the back.

AT&T packages the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a stereo headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.

The most noteworthy addition to the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is, obviously, Wi-Fi. The smartphone supports 802.11b/g networks--enterprise, home, public hot spots--and has a setup wizard to help configure your device. The Pearl can automatically scan for networks or you can manually input the SSID and security login. The Wi-Fi integration is particularly welcome since the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 only supports AT&T's EDGE network. Obviously, we would have liked to seen 3G support but at least Wi-Fi gives you an alternative (and faster) way to surf the Web on your smartphone. We should also note that the Pearl 8120's Web browser is improved with 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.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (pictured here with the RIM BlackBerry Curve, right) now includes Wi-Fi.

In addition to Wi-Fi, you also get Bluetooth 2.0. Supported profiles include those for mono and stereo Bluetooth wireless headsets, hands-free kits, and serial port. Unlike the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 for Verizon Wireless, the Pearl 8120 doesn't include a GPS radio. To add real-time tracking, you will have to use a Bluetooth GPS receiver.

As for voice features, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, and speed dial. The handset also features advanced audio technology that's supposed to cancel out background noise and echoes and will automatically increase the volume when you're in a noisy environment. The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well a group category--business or personal--or one of 32 polyphonic ringtones. Finally, the Pearl also supports AT&T's Push to Talk (PTT) services, which gives you instant access to your contacts. PTT plans start at $9.99 per month.

And what would a BlackBerry be without e-mail? Like other models, the Pearl 8120 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. With BlackBerry Internet Service, you can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. The smartphone is equipped with a spell-check feature that will look for errors in e-mails and memos but not text messages. Plus, there's an attachment viewer that opens popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more. Instant messaging fans may be disappointed to find out that the Pearl 8120 only comes preloaded with the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger client.

There are several sources of entertainment on the BlackBerry Pearl 8120. First, the built-in media player allows you to enjoy your favorite MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files, and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video clips. You can now search for songs on the smartphone, create playlists on the fly, and shuffle and repeat songs, and there's a full-screen mode for video playback. To get media onto the Pearl, just use the USB cable for drag and drop, and the process should be swift, thanks to high-speed USB support (around 10MB per second). The included software CD also contains a copy of Roxio Easy Media Creator, so you can create MP3s from CDs and add audio tags. There's 64MB of flash memory onboard, but we'd load multimedia files on a microSD/SDHC card to conserve storage. The expansion slot can accept up to 8GB cards. Alternatively, if you're looking for some fresh content to listen to on the go, there's support for the AT&T Music service, which includes streaming XM Satellite Radio.

On the back, you'll find the 2-megapixel camera, flash, and self-portrait mirror. It can also now record video.

Finally, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is equipped with an upgraded 2-megapixel lens (from 1.3 megapixels), complete with video recording capabilities. 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. Meanwhile, video options are bit more limited with just two video formats (normal or multimedia message), three color effects, and a video light.

Picture quality was decent though we wish for a bit more warmth to the colors.

Overall, we were happy with the picture quality. Objects were clearly defined, but colors lacked a bit of warmth. Video quality was pretty poor , as our recorded clips looked discolored and jerky.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 in San Francisco using AT&T service and call quality was fair but not spectacular. Despite claims of wind, echo, and background noise cancellation, we could hear a slight background hiss during our phone calls, though it never prevented us from carrying on a conversation or interacting with our bank's automated voice response systems. Friends said audio quality was just "OK," and they could tell we were using a cell phone. However, they were impressed with the speakerphone, as calls sounded clearer,while we found sound to be a bit hollow. Finally, we had no problems pairing the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

General performance was snappy. There was a slight speed bump when we activated the camera, but otherwise it was smooth sailing and we didn't experience any system crashes during our testing period. Browsing the Web on AT&T's EDGE network was painfully slow, having experienced the joys of EV-DO on the BlackBerry Pearl 8130. Luckily, the Pearl 8120 was able to immediately detect and connect to our test Wi-Fi access point, and we were able to continue surfing without problem. Multimedia performance was pretty good. Songs sounded slightly hollow through the phone's speakers but thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack, we were able to plug in a decent pair of headphones and enjoy our tunes that way. Video

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120's 900mAh lithium ion battery is rated for 4 hours talk time and up to 15 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 5.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pearl 8120 has a digital SAR rating of 1.48 watts per kilogram.


BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7