Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Pearl Review

TechCraver: BlackBerry Pearl Review
Overview:
The BlackBerry Pearl is Research In Motion’s (RIM) first attempt at making the BlackBerry a consumer device. For years the BlackBerry has been a device largely meant for enterprise customers to keep in contact with their office through email and calendar. The Pearl has been around for about a year on T-Mobile, and mobile phone enthusiasts have been clamoring for a CDMA. Well Verizon Wireless and RIM responded and they did so pretty well with a fun and useful mobile experience in the BlackBerry Pearl 8130.

On the hardware side the Pearl 8130 has an attractive silver colored exterior. This BlackBerry does not have a full keyboard but it does fit well into a front pants pocket because of it’s small size. It has built-in GPS, uses the speedy EV-DO network, features A2DP full stereo Bluetooth, a standard headphone hack, and a 2 MP camera. The Pearl has a Micro-SD slot that can be used for storing photos or playing media files in the on-board media player.

Currently, after rebate, the Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Pearl 8130 is $150 after rebate with a 2 year service agreement.

At First Glance:

The Pearl has a unique look, one I would describe as stylish and sexy. You can tell RIM was trying to balance work and play with this sleek device. In order to bring the size down, RIM had to shed the full QWERTY keyboard and replace it with a smaller version. Each key has roughly two letters assigned to it and is assisted with SureType.
In the box you get a software CD, a battery, travel charger, a USB data cable, the Pearl itself, headphones, and a belt clip.

Unlike the BlackBerrys before it, the Pearl does not have the side jog dial that is synonymous with BlackBerrys. You know, the one that gives you the fabled “BlackBerry thumb”. Instead, in the middle of the front of the device is a directional control that I would compare to the eraser-head control found on some laptop computers. I really like the new control mechanism and found it gave me greater control over the device than the old jog dial. It made it especially easy to control one-handed and while I was walking or on the go.

The User Experience:

The BlackBerry excels at putting you in touch with the people around you. BlackBerrys are made for people who communicate in their business or personal lives primarily through email. The Pearl is no different. You can easily go to RIM’s website and set up your personal and business email accounts. The BlackBerry service allows for up to 10 IMAP or POP3 email services to be configured. Within second of configuring your e-mail services online, you BlackBerry lights up with all the new mail items. It’s magic!

Using the directional control on the front is very effective and cuts down on the frustration of the old job dial. I found it easy to navigate to items and use applications. Out of the box, the Pearl comes with a basic web browser, email program, media player, their map program, tasks, calendar, alarm clock, and a few others.

I tried out RIM’s map program, hopefully to tap into the on-board GPS to track my position and get some point-to-point directions. However I was unable to get the program to use the GPS and I was just stuck with a basic mapping application that was less than mediocre. I thought to remedy this mapping problem, I’d have to download VZ Navigator, Verizon’s navigation program and services. I successfully downloaded and installed the application. However, whenever I tried to load the application, it would fail and go back to the main BlackBerry applications screen.

After trying out the on-board applications, I added some ones from the web including Gmail, Google Maps, and Facebook.

As I said before, the Pearl is made for keeping you in touch with your friends. If you are a Facebook user, you have to check out the Facebook application for BlackBerry. It’s a speedy responsive application that allows you to update your status and view the statuses of your friends, upload pictures taken on your Pearl, and fully interface with Facebook directly from your BlackBerry Pearl mobile phone.

I found web surfing to be a bit cumbersome on the BlackBerry Pearl. Not because of the device itself, but because viewing web content on any mobile phone is difficult. This device shines when using applications that take advantage of the Pearl’s hardware and connect to the Internet for rich content, notably the FaceBook application and Google Maps.

My main critisizm of the Pearl is the midget keyboard and the SureType technology that is supposed to make the lack of a QWERTY keyboard a non-issue. I found SureType to be frustrating and at times made me what to through the Pearl against the wall. I spent too much time managing SureType to tell it what I really wanted to be entering in. I found the keyboard layout combined with SureType to be no more effective or easy to use than the standard T9 most of us with cell phones are familiar with.

Overall I enjoyed the user experience on the BlackBerry. The operating system is well designed and responsive. The Pearl is peppy with no lag or other frustrating factors in the user interface realm.

Performance:

As a phone, the Pearl 8130 performs just a tad above average. I was able to hear callers clearly. My only complaint is that I had the volume almost all the way up just to hear people, even when I was in a quiet environment. Callers noted that when I was in a place with background note that my voice was hard to hear. In my opinion, this is caused by the placement of the microphone as it picks up ambient noise. Verizon’s material says the Pearl has noise filtering technology, but it doesn’t do much apparently.

The operating system was very stable, not requiring resets like the Windows Mobile devices I have tested in the past with only one exception. When I was working inside Google’s java-based Gmail program, the phone froze frequently, requiring me to pull the battery and manually reset the device. This was very annoying.

The Pearl 8130’s battery life seemed a little short. With moderate voice and data usage, I was only to get about a day and a half of usage. I know this is normal with 3G smart phones, but it should still be noted.

I was lucky enough to be trialing this review unit when Google Maps released a new 2.0 version that features “My Location”, a service that allows you to track where you are based off the cell towers your phone is connected to. It is a feature that resembles GPS. My Location is only accurate to about 1500 feet, so it’s not very effective for point to point driving directions in a local area, but it is perfect to find all the pizza places around you, for example. I really enjoyed this feature and thought it was very slick.

Conclusion:

The BlackBerry Pearl is a welcome addition to Verizon Wireless’ product line. It’s sleek and brings the BlackBerry platform to stylish consumers who want the BlackBerry features, but not a big mobile phone that screams “corporate”. The data access is fast and makes getting e-mails quick and painless.

Aside from the noted complaints about the keyboard and SureType, the Pearl is a great mobile phone that combines personal information management, e-mail, and a fun user experience. I’d easily recommend the Pearl to someone who can learn the SureType and is a heavy text messaging or e-mail user.