BlackBerry Pearl review: BlackBerry Pearl

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The Good The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 keeps the same sleek design of its predecessor but adds built-in GPS, EV-DO support, and video-recording capabilities. The smartphone's Web browser is also improved, and it has a 2-megapixel camera. The device's messaging functions remain strong.

The Bad The SureType keyboard takes some acclimation, and call quality could be slightly better.

The Bottom Line The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 improves on an already-impressive smartphone with the addition of GPS, video recording, and 3G support.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Everyone say it with me now: "It's about flippin' time." The CDMA version of the RIM BlackBerry Pearl is finally out, and though it's been a long wait (the original, GSM version debuted more than a year ago), we have to say it was worth the extra time.

You see, the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 keeps the same compact and sexy design of its predecessor yet manages to pack in even more features. There's built-in GPS, added video-recording capabilities, and an improved Web browser. In addition, you get EV-DO support and a 2-megapixel camera.

We had some minor complaints, namely that the SureType keyboard requires a learning curve and that call quality can be slightly spotty at times. However, the new additions, coupled with the tried-and-true BlackBerry messaging functions, make the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 an attractive choice for consumers and professionals looking for a sleek all-in-one device. The silver model is available now through Verizon Wireless for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after 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. The silver chassis may seem ordinary to some, but we think it's sleek and attractive. For the moment, Verizon Wireless will not offer the amethyst color, but it may decide to add it in the future.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 retains the sleek design of its predecessor, and you'll have no problems slipping it into a pants pocket.

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.

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.

Not everyone will be a fan of the SureType keyboard, but it can be mastered with a bit of practice.

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 to, and it's a trade-off for the smaller design. One other minor observation: the keyboard's backlighting is a bit uneven and gives the buttons a cheap, plasticky look. It's definitely not a deal breaker, but just something we couldn't help but notice.

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 3.5mm 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, the flash, and the self-portrait mirror are located on the back.

In addition to the 3.5mm headphone jack, we're glad RIM moved the microSD expansion slot from behind the battery to the exterior of the phone.

Verizon Wireless packages the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, a soft protective pouch, a BlackBerry Desktop software CD, and reference material. 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. 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.