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BlackBerry Pearl 8120 - titanium (T-Mobile) review: BlackBerry Pearl 8120 - titanium (T-Mobile)

BlackBerry Pearl 8120 - titanium (T-Mobile)

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
7 min read

In case any of you T-Mobile customers were frothing with jealousy over AT&T's next-gen RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120, you can rest easy knowing that you'll be able to get your hands on one starting April 14. T-Mobile's version is largely like the AT&T model, though it does add support for the carrier's HotSpot@Home service, allowing you to make calls over a wireless network. More importantly, Wi-Fi means you're not restricted to Web browsing on poky EDGE speeds. The Pearl 8120 includes a number of other improvements as well, including a better Web browser and a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities--all making for a nice upgrade to the original Pearl. To sweeten the deal, T-Mobile offers its RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 for $50 less than AT&T at $149.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates.


BlackBerry Pearl 8120 - titanium (T-Mobile)

The Good

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 brings integrated Wi-Fi and works with T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service. The compact smartphone also has an improved Web browser and a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities.

The Bad

The Pearl 8120's SureType keyboard requires a learning curve, and the camera's video quality is poor. It also lacks integrated GPS.

The Bottom Line

T-Mobile customers looking to upgrade their BlackBerry Pearl or get their first smartphone will find a good choice in the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120. It's also compatible with T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service and $50 cheaper than AT&T's model.

Other than a drab, gray paint job, the T-Mobile RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is physically identical to the AT&T model, measuring a petite 4.2 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and 3.2 ounces. The phone's compact size continues to be one of the main draws of the device, and it's attractive to both guys and gals since it's small enough to fit in a pants pocket and slim enough to put in a small purse.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is slim enough to fit into a pants pocket or a small purse.

There's a 2.25-inch nontouch display on front with a 65,000-color output and 260x240 pixel resolution. It also features an auto light-sensing technology that will automatically adjust the backlighting depending on your current environment. As with all the latest T-Mobile phones, the Pearl 8120 supports the carrier's MyFaves plan so you can have your default screen automatically display your MyFaves contacts. Alternatively, you can try out RIM's new graphics, fonts, and themes, which includes an L-shaped menu. As we noted in the AT&T Pearl 8120 review, this isn't anything mind-blowing but just another way to customize your handset. And of course, beneath the display, you'll find the SureType keyboard and navigation array of a Talk and End keys, a BlackBerry menu shortcut, a back button, and the trackball.

Love it or hate it, you're going to have to get used to the SureType keyboard if you want the BlackBerry Pearl 8120.

On the left side, you have a 3.5mm headphone jack, a mini USB port, a microSD expansion slot, and a customizable convenience key that launches Voice Dialing by default. Meanwhile, you will find a volume rocker and a camera activation key on the right and a mute button on top. The camera lens, self-portrait mirror, and flash are located on the back.

T-Mobile packages its RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 with an AC adapter, a mini USB cable, a carrying case, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check out our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 builds on the success of the original Pearl by bringing a number of new features, most notably integrated Wi-Fi. The smartphone supports 802.11a/b/g standards, and there are enterprise security features, including WEP, WPA, and VPN settings. The addition of Wi-Fi is particularly nice since it gives you an alternative connection for surfing the Web, rather than poking along on T-Mobile's EDGE network. This, coupled with the Pearl 8120's enhanced Web browser, makes for a better and smoother mobile Internet experience.

With the integrated Wi-Fi, you can make calls over wireless networks with T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service.

Like the BlackBerry 8820, the Pearl also works with T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service, which lets you make and receive calls via wireless networks. The benefit of this is that calls made via Wi-Fi will not be deducted from your cellular plan, meaning you get unlimited calls as long as you're within range of the hot spot. However, you do need a HotSpot@Home plan, which costs $9.99 per month on top of an existing T-Mobile plan. There is also a family plan that costs $19.99 a month and includes up to five cell phones.

Of course, you can make regular calls, too. The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. 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 45 polyphonic ringtones. We should note that the Address Book has a slightly new interface that groups information in separate panels. It's a little cosmetic change but also makes it easier to find the info that you need.

As we mentioned earlier, the T-Mobile Pearl 8120 is compatible with the carrier's MyFaves service, which gives you unlimited calling to five contacts, regardless of carrier. Individual plans for MyFaves start at $39.99 a month. You also get Bluetooth 2.0 with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth wireless headsets, hands-free kits, and dial-up networking. Sadly, there is no built-in GPS, though you can add this functionality with a Bluetooth GPS receiver.

Like other BlackBerry 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. We had no problem setting up our review unit to access and retrieve our Yahoo e-mail as it merely required entering our login ID and password.

The smartphone is equipped with the latest 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 will be pleased to see that the T-Mobile Pearl 8120 comes with popular instant-messaging clients, such as AIM, Yahoo, and Google Talk.

On the left side of the smartphone, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD expansion slot that accepts up to 8GB cards.

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. There's a search function, playlist creation, shuffle and repeat, and you get 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.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8120's 2-megapixel camera now has video recording capabilities.

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

Overall, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 took decent pictures, though we wish the colors were warmer.

We were generally pleased with the picture quality, as objects had good definition. We could have used a bit more richness to the colors, but the Pearl 8120 is definitely one of the better camera-equipped smartphones we've tested. Unfortunately, recorded video looked pretty poor. Our clips were dark and grainy, so you're not going to get the best quality there.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service, and call quality was impressive. On our end, voices sounded crystal clear with plenty of volume and no distortion, and we had no problems using an airline's voice automated response system. Our friends reported similar results, though they said they could hear some slight background hiss. Speakerphone quality was also good. We were able to pair Pearl with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

We also made several calls using the T-Mobile HotSpot@Home service. The setup was painless as the Pearl 8120 immediately found and connected to the @Home network, and we were able to make calls right away. That said, audio quality wasn't the best. There were a couple of occasions where calls cut in and out on our side, and volume was a bit weak even though we had the phone cranked to the highest level. Similarly, our friends said we sounded a bit muffled and could occasionally hear a crackling noise in the background.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is rated for 4 hours of talk time and up to 15 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests and will update this section as soon as we have final results, but we can tell you that the Pearl 8120 has already surpassed its rated talk time in our first performance test. According to FCC radiation tests, the Pearl 8120 has a digital SAR rating of 1.48 watts per kilogram.


BlackBerry Pearl 8120 - titanium (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7