The BlackBerry Pearl has finally gone 3G! We all know and love the Pearl as RIM's first true foray into the "consumer" market after years of carrying the torch as the "business" brand. And now the tiny smartphone (indeed, this one is the tiniest in the line-up at 108 x 50 x 13.3mm and 93 grams) has finally been given the full, 3G treatment.
The advantage with 3G speeds is, of course, the ability to access information at lightening speed. Website pages load quicker, applications run faster, and videos play back more smoothly. With calling, you're also latched on to a new network, with arguably better coverage. And when 3G coverage isn't available, chances are your device will revert to the old 2G EDGE network (if you're on the Rogers Wireless or Fido Wireless networks, that is.)
I've always seen the Pearl as the youth-friendly BlackBerry; not really geared toward business use of any kind. Mainly, this is due to the small size of the phone, which makes typing a little less comfortable for adult hands than on a larger keyboard. But more important than size is what is sacrificed to achieve it: the keyboard is not a full QWERTY, but rather uses RIM's SureType system. This consists of a 20-key condensed keyboard with dual letters for most keys, and intelligent software that determines what word you're composing as you punch it in. This does take some getting used to: if you peek at the screen, your words will look like a complete mess. But if you convince yourself to look away and only glance at the screen once you've completed the sentence, the magical desired statement somehow manages to arrange itself. Indeed, I recall slapping my head with frustration a few times with the original Pearl until I learned to look away from the screen until I was done.
The issue here is that while SureType gets it right a lot of the time, there are many times it does not. Where I find SureType most troublesome is for one of the most frequent reasons I visit my mobile phone's browser: to look up something quickly. Typing in an actor's proper name, or the name of a trade show or event, often requires several tries since they aren't words that typically appear in a dictionary. Case in point: my first attempt with the phone was to download Vlingo so that I could use it with the new BlueAnt S4 Bluetooth speakerphone and test both at the same time. Naturally, this isn't a common word in the English language, and it took me three times longer to punch in the word than it would on any other device. Just typing the keys corresponding with the letters I want brings up "climho." To select each letter one-by-one means waiting a second or two in between each to compose the six-letter name: a whole 6-12 seconds versus the two seconds it would take me to punch "vlingo" into any full QWERTY device. Note that if you desire, you can adjust settings to turn the keyboard into a standard multi-tap version, whereby you press the "QW" key once for "Q" and twice for "W" versus allowing SureType to determine what you're trying to say. Either way, however, I certainly can't say that SureType rivals a full QWERTY.
In defense of the Pearl, however, I sometimes find similar issues with the iPhone, whereby I'll hit the wrong key inadvertently, leaving the iPhone to figure out on its own what words I want. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't.
Aesthetically, the Pearl 3G is extremely lightweight and pocketable, making it a desirable option for a fashion-conscious female, or youngster with small hands. Adding to the youthful feel are touch-sensitive media buttons at the top of the handset, affording quick access to play/pause, fast forward/rewind and skips tracks; as well as mute button. It's a nice added touch for customers who use their mobile phones as dual music players.
The screen is QVGA (360 x 400), which is sufficiently attractive for viewing the occasional Web page. But the narrow screen does make it difficult to read text: I wouldn't be using this device to read eBooks! The Pearl operates on the BlackBerry OS 5.0 system, and has 256 MB of memory that's expandable up to 32 GB via a microSD card slot; and affords a rated 5.5 hours of talk time and 13 days standby. It comes with a decent 3.2 MP digital camera with flash and autofocus, and the ability to record video. It also has WiFi for saving valuable data megabytes when you're in an available free WiFi zone; and integrated GPS, with the ability to geo-tag photos. Photos can also be instantly uploaded to sites like Facebook; and music playlists can be transferred from iTunes using BlackBerry MediaSync.
A neat addition is an Apple-esque AC charger that consists of a cube-shaped plug, with a USB cable that attached on the opposite end and can be pulled out to plug into a computer. It's essentially identical to the cable that comes with the Apple iPhone, but for the black (rather than white) and signature RIM dot design.
Keyboard SureType issues aside, I still wasn't convinced that I'd want this device over a Curve or a Bold. The keyboard is so small that it's tough to manipulate; especially for someone like me with long fingers and long fingernails. One-handed operation, however, is more comfortable than most, simply because the device is so small, it easily contours to the shape of your hand, and requires minimal effort to keep steady as you type or navigate through menus. The keys are a bit stiffer than on a device like the Bold 9700; and the trackpad also seems a tad less responsive. Indeed, after a few weeks of use, I'd already noticed the trackpad sticking every now and then.
With that said, some will enjoy the compact design of the Pearl 3G over all else, along with the convenient media buttons. And chances are that over time, the keyboard and SureType does become easier and more comfortable to use as it learns the words and phrases you tend to compose.
Note, also, that the Pearl 3G is just $50 through most carriers (on a three-year term) versus $150 for the new Bold 9700. But the original Bold, which is much bulkier and comes with the trackball instead of the trackpad, is also $50.
Bottom line: I'd opt for a Bold 9700 or a Curve if budget permits before I snagged the Pearl 3G. But if you're looking for an affordable entry into the smartphone world, especially if you're transitioning from a numeric keypad design, the Pearl 3G might be a neat option that lets you experience and get familiar with popular BlackBerry features like BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook integration, and the BlackBerry App World.