RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 smartphone

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 has similar specifications to RIM's flagship BlackBerry Bold 9700 but in a more compact design.

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Research In Motion BlackBerry Pearl 3G
  • Research In Motion BlackBerry Pearl 3G
  • Research In Motion BlackBerry Pearl 3G
  • Research In Motion BlackBerry Pearl 3G

Pros

  • Fast to navigate, same capabilities as more expensive BlackBerry handsets, impressive specifications, SureType software is excellent, unbeatable e-mail service, optical trackpad

Cons

  • Less sturdy than RIM's Curve and Bold series, glossy keyboard is slippery and keys are cramped, small display, awkwardly mounted media controls

Bottom Line

We were impressed that RIM's BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 offers the same capabilities and functions found on more expensive BlackBerry smartphones. The trade off comes in the form of a smaller, pocketable form factor, resulting in a cramped keyboard, small display and flimsy build quality.

Would you buy this?

Intended to appeal to first-time smartphone buyers, RIM's latest BlackBerry — the Pearl 3G 9100 — features similar internal specifications to RIM's flagship BlackBerry Bold 9700 but offers a more compact design.

Targeting a similar audience to the Curve series of BlackBerry handsets, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G differs mainly in its smaller frame, making it easier to pocket. The candy bar-style Pearl 3G has a similar, attractive shiny black-and-silver finish as the original model, but it feels less sturdy than RIM's Curve and Bold series — in particular, the rear battery cover annoyingly creaks when pressed and the top-mounted media controls are awkwardly positioned and hard to press.

The smaller size of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G results in a downsized keyboard, in this case a compact, 20-key QWERTY keyboard that saves space by combining two letters on most keys. Combined with RIM's SureType technology, which automatically suggests words based on the keys pressed, the smaller keyboard of the Pearl 3G is quite intelligent and doesn't take too long to grasp. Unfortunately, it remains rather small and cramped and the glossy finish of the keys makes for an often frustrating typing experience.

The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G's smaller display may irk some power users but it remains bright and clear. It doesn't perform as well in direct sunlight and also suffers from poor viewing angles, but considering the compact size of this handset, it does a reasonable job for day-to-day use.

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G is just the third BlackBerry to possess the new optical trackpad, replacing the older trackball. The trackpad operates in a similar fashion to the trackball, except there are no moving parts and you simply glide your finger across an almost flat surface. The speed of on-screen movement and scrolling using the trackpad takes a little getting used to (it can be adjusted in the settings menu) but it's responsive. It will be better in the long run, too: the trackball was known to deteriorate over time as dust and sweat crept in underneath its edge.

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G runs the latest version of the BlackBerry OS (5.0), but the most surprising (and pleasing) aspect of this smartphone is the rest of its specifications — it has the same processor and memory as the more powerful and higher positioned Bold 9700, despite being aimed at a different market segment. It also has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS capabilities, so this is in no way, shape or form an inferior device to other BlackBerry's on the market.

The powerful specifications reflect in the general use of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G. Applications open and close quickly, the menus are easy and fast to navigate and we didn't experience any lag or slow down issues. The main menu again uses a simple yet effective grid format with labelled icons. However, we feel scrolling needs to be improved, especially when it comes to Web browsing. It often takes an age to scroll through a long document, an application's licence agreement or a Web page.

Being a BlackBerry device, e-mail support is as strong as ever. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G supports e-mail services through the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) and BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES). Microsoft Word and Excel documents can be edited and viewed thanks to the on-board Word To Go and Sheet To Go applications.

BlackBerry's App World application store is currently available in Australia, though the store currently only supports free applications, not paid ones. At the time of review, RIM claimed paid apps will be available in Australia "within the next quarter," but didn't provide a firm time to market.

Among the many free apps available in App World application store is the official Facebook, Twitter and MySpace social networking clients. Unlike other smartphones, social networking client integration with BlackBerry devices is excellent: once you set up and configure your Facebook or Twitter accounts, for example, you get Facebook and Twitter messages and updates through your e-mail inbox, events in your calendar and notifications on the home screen in a similar fashion to using your e-mail account.

For mobile Internet, the included BlackBerry browser lags well behind Safari on the iPhone. It slightly improves with each new smartphone release, but zooming, panning around a page and clicking links are all inferior and they lack the polished feel of many alternatives on the market. There is also no Flash support and the small screen makes for an awkward browsing experience overall.

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G isn't a multimedia powerhouse thanks to the small screen and a standard 3.2-megapixel camera, but it does have a left-mounted 3.5mm headphone jack and iTunes support using the BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac software.

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G is exclusive to Telstra and is available for $0 upfront on $59 per month BlackBerry plan, including $400 with of calls and texts and unlimited access to e-mail and BlackBerry Internet browsing.

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