RIM unveils its first 3G BlackBerry Pearl

Pearl 9100 3G smartphone coming in June

RIM has unveiled its first 3G-enabled BlackBerry Pearl handset and looks set to roll it out across all four main mobile phone networks in the UK by June.

The handset offers a "stepping stone" for mobile phone users accustomed to tapping out text messages on their numeric keypads and who aren't sold on the idea of switching to a Qwerty keypad but who like the idea of the enhanced functionality of a smartphone. The Pearl 9100 3G is designed to appeal to the 90 percent of mobile phone users who have never used a smartphone and who don't want to learn a new way of typing messages, RIM's spokesman told PC Advisor.

The handset is designed to be used one-handed like a regular phone and has a numerical keypad plus a forward and a back key. Text entry is assisted by RIM's SureType technology - a form of predictive text that works out which of two or more character options assigned to the button you press is the one you want. As the user continues to type, the software makes sense of what's being entered.

Our initial tests during today's demonstration of the handset didn't much bear this out - selecting Compose Email, for example, didn't immediately switch to letters rather than numbers for the 'to' field - but as Qwerty keypad users, numeric keypad-based entry is no longer second nature. As RIM point out, there are millions of mobile phone text-messagers for whom accurate, one-handed text message entry does come naturally.

Hardware specifications of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G include a 624MHz processor, 3.2Mp camera, 256MB of onboard memory, 3G, wireless n networking, Bluetooth and the ability to take up to 16GB microSD cards.

Although contract and tariffs details 'forthcoming, a RIM spokesman demonstrating the handset to PC Advisor today said he expected the Pearl 3G to be offered by T-Mobile, O2, Vodafone and Orange. The demonstration handset we were shown was using a Vodafone network SIM card, but we were told not to read anything in particular into that in terms of which mobile operator was likely to be first to offer its customers the slimline smartphone.

The Pearl line of BlackBerry smartphones was first introduced in late 2006. It became famous for its glowing orb navigation ball just beneath its screen. However, over time customers reported this ball became grubby and less responsive. Last year Research In Motion unveiled a new means of navigating BlackBerry menus when a half-centimetre square touch-sensitive trackpad was used in place of the trackball. This trackpad is nippy and responsive and has gone down well with customers.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G was designed in the same factory in Bochum, Germany where the Bold 8900 handset was dreamt up. This was the first model to come with the new trackpad navigator. RIM says several of the "design cues"" for the Pearl 3G have been taken from the Bold 8900 and Curve 8520. The slim, approximately 13mm thin chassis and silver metal accent around the perimeter are reminiscent of its larger siblings. It weighs 93g.

See also:

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Rosemary Hattersley

PC Advisor (UK)

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