The BlackBerry Pearl sports a 1.3-megapixel camera with a flash and 5X zoom; however, it doesn't have video recording capabilities like most camera-equipped smart phones and cell phones. You also don't get as many of the customization options, but you can choose from three picture sizes (1,280x1,024, 640x480, and 320x240) and three quality settings (normal, fine, and superfine). You can also adjust the white balance setting depending on your environment. Once you're done snapping photos, you can save them to your device's internal memory or to the media card, or set them as caller ID or as your home screen. You have several options for sharing your images with family and friends: e-mail, a multimedia message, or an instant message. There's also a slide-show feature, but there was an annoying "Loading..." message in between each picture. We were a little disappointed by the quality of the Pearl's camera. Though we could recognize the objects in the photos, colors were washed out, and there was an overall grainy effect to the picture. Still, these camera phones were never designed to replace your digital camera, so for the quick snapshot, the Pearl is OK.
You can't record video, but you can watch video with the integrated media player. It supports various video formats, including AVI, MP4, MOV, and 3GP files. The player has play and stop buttons, and you can fast-forward and rewind clips by clicking the trackball and scrolling right or left. We just wish there were a full-screen mode since these player controls take up the lower quarter of the screen.
For music, the BlackBerry Pearl supports MP3, AAC, MIDI, and WAV files, among others. You can create playlists as folders and shuffle and repeat songs within a certain folder. It also displays some track information, such as title, artist, and album art if available. As we were trying out the music player, we quickly found that external player controls would have been nice. Instead, we had to press the Menu key first if we wanted to skip a track or go back to the previous song. We do like, however, that you can easily set a song as your ring tone simply by pressing the Menu key and selecting "Set as phone tune" from the list. You can also continue to play music as you use the device's other apps; and if you happen to get an incoming call, the Pearl will pause the music and pick up where you left off after you hang up.
Beyond multimedia, the Pearl is also the first BlackBerry to come with a map application. BlackBerry Maps provides local maps and allows you to get text-based driving directions right on your device, but there are no integrated GPS capabilities (you can add this functionality with a Bluetooth GPS receiver). You can map addresses straight from your contacts list or enter them manually. In addition, you can e-mail your location to a colleague or friend or add it to a Favorites list. The map details are pretty bare-bones, but you can zoom in or out and pan maps. We thought it weird that you couldn't pan left or right with the trackball. Instead, you have to use the numerical keypad.
Other than these new capabilities, the BlackBerry Pearl retains many of the same features that has made BlackBerrys popular, such as e-mail. The smart phone can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. It also supports up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. There's a setup wizard onboard to help with this process, and we used it to get our AT&T Yahoo account set up on the device. It was quick and easy, and we were soon receiving messages on the Pearl, sometimes even before they had showed up in our in-box on the computer. Other messaging options include text and multimedia messages, and we're glad to see the inclusion of popular instant-messaging clients, such as Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and ICQ.
For mobile professionals, an attachment viewer opens popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more. You can also view tracked changes and embedded images and zoom and rotate documents, but you can't edit documents out of the box, though third-party software is available that allows this functionality. Other applications on the Pearl include a calendar, a Web browser, a tasks list, a memo pad, an alarm, a password keeper, and a calculator.
As a phone, the address book is limited only by the available memory, which tops out at 64MB flash memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts). For each entry, you can store 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. The BlackBerry Pearl now supports voice dialing, so you can use voice commands to call up contacts and dial numbers. In addition, Bluetooth 2.0 is onboard for wireless headsets, car kits, and desktop connectivity. Though RIM has said it plans to add Wi-Fi to future devices, the Pearl does not have integrated Wi-Fi. Fortunately, you can surf the Web using T-Mobile's EDGE network. We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Pearl in San Francisco using T-Mobile service, and call quality wasn't quite up to snuff. On our end, callers sounded a bit muffled, while our friends said though they could hear us clearly, our voice sounded a bit digitized. We could still carry on a conversation, but it just wasn't the same crystal-clear quality we've experienced with other BlackBerrys, such as the BlackBerry 7130c. Activating the speakerphone didn't help matters either. There was an echo on both ends of the conversation, though volume was adequate. On the upside, we had no problems pairing the Pearl with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
Music playback was OK. The Pearl's speakers weren't the best for listening to songs, as it produced some background hiss when we cranked up the volume. Plugging in the included earbuds helped the situation a bit. Also, be aware that the headset jack doesn't accept Walkman-style headphones. We were blown away by the video performance of the Pearl. We watched a number of clips and never got that pixelated, blurry effect that often plagues the video performance on mobile devices. Overall, the device was pretty responsive. We didn't experience too much lag time when launching programs or switching between apps. We did notice, however, that the Pearl didn't have sufficient memory to activate the camera while we still had the video player open.
The BlackBerry Pearl is rated for 3.5 hours of talk time and up to 15 days of standby time. In our tests, we were able to get 5.8 hours of talk time. RIM also says the Pearl's battery can last up to 21 hours with just music playback and 6 hours for video playback.