Editor's note: Portions of the Design and Features sections were taken from our review of the Verizon RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130, as the two devices share many similarities in those categories. Exceptions are noted.
A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed the Verizon Wireless RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 and found it to be a true gem. Luckily, Sprint customers don't have to sit back, seething with jealousy, since the carrier offers its own version of the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130. For the most part, it largely resembles the Verizon model, except it comes in the stylish amethyst color and supports Sprint's mobile entertainment services, including the Sprint Music Store and Sprint TV. The sleek smartphone also features the added capabilities of built-in GPS, 3G support, and video-recording capabilities. And while we have some minor complaints (i.e., the SureType keyboard and video performance), we think the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 is a great all-in-one device that combines messaging, multimedia, and productivity in one sleek package. It's available now for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after discounts and rebates.
The hardware on the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 hasn't changed much from the original Pearl, but that's not a bad thing since we're fans of the Pearl's overall look. However, there are some slight tweaks, which we'll note as we talk about the smartphone's design.
Thankfully, the BlackBerry 8130 still keeps a slim profile, measuring a slight 4.2 inches long by 1.9 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and weighing 3.4 ounces. You'll have no problem slipping this handset into your pants pocket, and it feels comfortable and natural to hold during phone calls. Of the two colors available, Sprint offers the amethyst version of the Pearl (Verizon offers the silver model), and we're quite taken with the color. It's a deepish blue purple hue, so guys, you don't have to worry about it being "girly."
Front and center, you have a 2.25-inch non-touch screen that displays 65,536 colors at a 260x240 pixel resolution. Text and images look sharp and vibrant, and the display features a light-sensing technology that will automatically adjust the backlighting depending on your environment (e.g., it will get brighter in darker rooms). You can choose different font styles as well as customize the Home screen to your liking with various themes, background images, and menu styles. There's also a small LED in the upper-right corner of the Pearl that illuminates various colors for different status alerts, such as new messages, low battery, and so forth.
Below the display, you'll find the same navigation array and SureType keyboard of past BlackBerry Pearls. You get Talk and End keys, a shortcut to the main menu page, a back button, and of course, the pearl-like trackball navigator that started the whole Pearl revolution. All the controls are easy to use, and you can adjust the trackball's vertical and horizontal sensitivity under Options > Screen/keyboard.
And then there's the SureType keyboard. I've made it no secret that I'm not a fan of the modified keyboard. For those who are unfamiliar with SureType, there are two letters assigned to one key. As you start to enter the letters of a word, the SureType software will present you with a list of possible letter combinations or words based on context. Personally, I found it irritating, but I also know plenty of Pearl users who don't mind it and have no complaints. As with anything new, it just takes some time to acclimate, and it's a trade-off for the smaller design.
The most notable differences between the Pearl 8130 and the original GSM version are found on the side controls--all welcome additions. On the left spine, you'll now find a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, so you can plug in decent headphones, and the microSD expansion slot has been relocated from behind the battery to the exterior of the phone for easy access. There's also a mini USB port and a customizable quick-launch button on the left, while there's another convenience key and the volume rocker on the right. The top of the device has a mute button, and the camera lens, flash, and self-portrait mirror are located on the back.
Sprint packages the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, and a soft protective pouch. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page
The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 is noteworthy for more than just the fact that it's the first CDMA Pearl. It's also the first device from RIM to offer video-recording capabilities and the first Pearl to have built-in GPS, not to mention the EV-DO support and improved Web browser. But first things first: let's discuss the phone capabilities.
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 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 Download.com 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.