Product: Blackberry 9105 Pearl 3G
System specifications: BlackBerry OS 5, 2.25-inch 360x400 screen, 624 Mhz CPU, 256 MB memory, microSD, microUSB port, 3.2MP camera, WIFI, GPS, GSM, GPRS, EDGE, 3G, Li-ion battery
RESEARCH IN MOTION'S Blackberry Pearl 3G 9105 is due to show up on mobile phone networks over the next few months, and The INQUIRER recently had an exclusive hands-on briefing with the latest candy bar handset.
The Blackberry Pearl 3G is RIM's most recent in its consumer range of mobiles, and it has improved network access and an updated keyboard that falls in line with the rest of the phone manufacturers.
This mobile is RIM's first Pearl since 2008 and its the first in this series with 3G access, whereas earlier it had only reached EDGE connectivity. When the first Pearl, the 8110, came out way back in 2006 there weren't many 3G phones around at the time and RIM still hadn't progressed to 3G elsewhere in its range when the last 8120 model arrived.
One of the criticisms over the past Pearl models was its keyboard and the non-standard way it was laid out. In all the previous generations RIM had used a compressed qwerty keypad, where the 20 keys on the Pearl housed a keyboard layout similar to a desktop computer's keyboard. All the other mobile phone manufacturers use a standard keypad, where the number 2 key also doubles up as the letters abc. Blackberry Pearls have always used the number 1 key as the 'qw' and the number 2 key as 'er' and so on. This all went against the status quo and was often seen as awkward to use. This format change was down to RIM's history in the corporate email handset world, where every device it had produced was a qwerty design.
RIM has now dropped the compressed qwerty layout and fallen in line with what every other mobile manufacturer is offering, the standard abc keypad. This breakaway for it is solely for the non-American audience, where those across the pond will still have to put up with the old compressed qwerty keypad in their 9100 version.
The Blackberry 9105 Pearl 3G to be sold in the UK is the 14 key iteration, with just four rows of non-separated keys. The American 20 key version has four horizontal rows, with four breaks in them vertically separating the keys. This makes for much smaller individual keys, whereas the UK model is much roomier with an altogether better typing experience. RIM has still bundled in its own Suretype word correction software for use in typing, which is its version of the T9 spelling software found on most other makes of phones. In our experience this is an effective feature, although the Android version that we've seen bundled into many handsets lately could give Suretype a run for its money.
The Blackberry Pearl 3G has also abandoned the feature that gave it its name, the Pearl-esque tracker ball for navigating around the phone's OS. Instead, RIM has gone with an optical mouse with no moving parts. The optical mouse seems to be a favourite of RIM's, which was first introduced into its lineup on the budget Curve 8520 device from mid last year and has more recently appeared in the Bold 9700. Other manufacturers, such as HTC, have also adopted an optical mouse for its responsiveness and lack of moving parts that could fail under heavy use.
The original 8100 Blackberry Pearl from 2006 was the first phone to introduce a camera into the RIM arsenal, with a 1.3MP variant. RIM has increased the Blackberry Pearl 3G megapixel count from 2MP in the previous 8120 model to a 3.2 megapixel camera. This seems an adequate enough choice, although we would have expected a better camera, as this mobile is being pitched at the consumer and there are better choices around for taking snaps for the average person. RIM has yet to offer a better camera in any of its models, and even its flagship Blackberry Strorm 2 and Bold 9700 have been equipped with the same 3.2MP camera as this latest Pearl.
The 9105 measures 108mm x 50mm x 13.3mm. The first Blackberry Pearl 8100 was 107mm x 50mm x 14mm. While both have a 2.25-inch screen, the resolution has gone from 260x240 in all RIM's previous phones to 360x400. This display is fairly bright and vivid, and is adequate enough to show a decent video picture in landscape mode, which we experienced at the briefing.
Previous generations of Pearls have run from the Intel 312MHz XScale PXA272, but there's a more powerful processor running the show now. Onboard the Pearl 3G is the Intel XScale 624MHz CPU, the same processor used in the latest Bold 9700 which also runs the same version 5.0 of the Blackberry OS. We were told by RIM that the Pearl 9100 series and the Bold 9700 share the same specifications, with the Pearl in a more compact chassis at almost two thirds the size of the Bold. The only clear differences between the two are obviously the screen size and the battery, other than that it's fairly evenly matched. There is even 256MB of flash memory in the Pearl that's also in the Bold, while the past 81xx models had only 32MB.
Some other changes are the inclusion of a microUSB port for data and charging, a switch from the former miniUSB socket, and this is now fully in line with EU regulations. Also on board are both GPS and WiFi, though in the past both features have not appeared in the same model of the Pearl. There's also the addition of a new WiFi specification that hasn't been used in any of the Blackberry phones, 802.11n.
Previous models in the series were equipped with only a 900mAh battery, whereas the 9100 series comes with a 1150mAh variant. Although this isn't the most powerful battery RIM could have gone with, it informed The INQUIRER that it is capable of around 37 hours of battery life, 30 hours of music playback or around two days of heavy use before recharging. We'll put the Blackberry 9105 Pearl 3G through rigorous battery testing when we get a sample phone.
According to Research In Motion, which quoted IDC figures in our briefing, candy bar phones still take up 75 per cent of handsets today. With this update to its consumer series of Blackberry devices comes RIM's first 3G handset in the range, the latest OS, a better keyboard, GPS and WiFi 802.11n. What could hold it back from increasing those IDC stats is the affordability of the mobile phone, as Blackberrys aren't always the least expensive. RIM needs to look at the pay as you go market more seriously for this consumer oriented phone. µ