We almost thought RIM had retired the Pearl, as the company had not released a new one for almost two years. But it turns out we were wrong; RIM announced its latest Pearl earlier this year. The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 looks very similar to its predecessors, but it carries a much more modern feature set that includes 3G support, GPS, Wi-Fi, and a 3.2-megapixel camera. Though it ships with OS 5, the Pearl 3G is also one of a few phones that are upgradable to OS 6. The BlackBerry Pearl 3G is available for $149.99 after a two-year service agreement with AT&T.
At first glance, the Pearl 3G has almost the same design as previous Pearl handsets, like that of the Pearl 8120, for example. But at 4.25 inches tall by 1.96 inches wide by 0.52 inch thick, the Pearl 3G feels just a touch slimmer and smoother. The subtle curves, rubberized sides, soft-touch back, and 3.3-ounce weight add up to a nice feel in the hand. The overall compact design of the Pearl compared with the larger BlackBerry models is definitely its strong point. The Pearl 3G for AT&T also has a gradient red color we find attractive--it starts out maroon at the bottom and finishes black at the top.
Of course, with such a small handset, you can't expect a huge display. Yet we found the 2.26-inch display big enough for our needs. It supports 65,536 colors with 360x400 pixel resolution, which results in rich and vibrant graphics and text. We also like the bold and colorful icons that come standard with OS 5. You can adjust the size, style, and family of the fonts, the brightness, the backlight timer, and the menu style.
The Pearl 3G's navigation array is a miniaturized version of the Curve 3G's controls. Gone is the roller ball "pearl," and in its place is a square optical touch pad. The Send and Menu keys are on its left, while the Back and End/Power keys are on the right. The navigation controls are not as flat as the ones on the Curve models, which we certainly appreciate. If you like, you can adjust the sensitivity of the touch pad, and you can also toggle on an audible roll sound effect.
Underneath the navigation array is the SureType keyboard, which is the Pearl's main identifying characteristic. It consists of 20 keys with two characters assigned to one button. The SureType software will present you a list of autocompleted words as you start to type out a text message, though you sometimes have to click on a key twice to get to the letter you want. We personally found it to be very usable, as the automatic word completion makes typing easy and fast. Still, this is a matter of personal preference--some people might hate it. Regardless, the keys are large, spacious, and have a raised angled texture so we can dial by feel.
On the left spine are a 3.5-millimeter headset jack, a Micro-USB charging jack, and a side key that you can map to any function. On the right are a volume rocker and another user-defined side key. Also like the Curve, the Pearl 3G has external media player keys on the top. Though they are flat to the surface, they are not touch-sensitive, and we found that we had to press rather hard on them. We like that you can control the music player without having to activate the phone, but we did wish the keys were easier to press. On the back are the camera lens and LED flash.
AT&T packages the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 with a USB cable, a wired headset, and an AC adapter with three different plug attachments for international travel.
The RIM BlackBerry Pearl 3G ships with BlackBerry OS 5, but it is upgradable to OS 6. BlackBerry OS 6 will bring a whole new interface to the Pearl, with a different home screen experience, a new WebKit browser, universal search, and more. As we've seen with the BlackBerry Style, the new OS works surprisingly well with the optical touch pad, and we felt like we didn't need a touch screen at all. Still, we look forward to testing out OS 6 on the Pearl to see if it works as well as we hope. For more information on BlackBerry OS 6, read our review of the BlackBerry Torch.
The Pearl 3G 9100 is a quad-band world phone, with quad-band 3G support, so you can theoretically use this anywhere in the world. It also has Bluetooth with A2DP streaming, Wi-Fi, and GPS. It has all the phone features you expect, like a speakerphone, voice dialing, conference calling, speed dial, visual voice mail, multitasking, and text and multimedia messaging. As the Pearl is part of the BlackBerry family, it also supports BlackBerry Messenger, and other IM clients like Windows Live, Yahoo, Google Talk, and AIM.