Sunday, September 17, 2006

BlackBerry Pearl Review

Yes, I got myself a new tech toy tool. It's the BlackBerry Pearl from T-Mobile. It was just released last week and I was one of the first (at that store anyway) to get one. :-) Very nice...

Anyway, I thought I'd write a quick "real world" review of it for those of you who might also be considering this amazingly small BlackBerry. Let's start at the beginning...

I'd been reading about the device for a few weeks before actually getting it. I knew how impressive it was supposed to be, what with the revolutionary "pearl" scroller ball, camera, tiny form factor, etc. But there were so many more features to be excited about, many of which I didn't even know existed until I began playing with the thing. I'm still discovering some, in fact.



So, last week, on my fiancee's birthday, I decided to give her the new BlackBerry Pearl and maybe get one for myself. We went that day to the T-Mobile store so we could get on a family cellphone plan and pick out our new phones. She really liked the Pearl and we decided to each get one. :-)

I'll skip past all the T-Mobile mumbo-jumbo of setting up a new plan and cut right to getting back home with our new phones. My first impression of the Pearl was simply, "Wow." I knew it was going to be small, but I still can't get over how thin it is! It's thinner than the Razr, believe it or not! And yet it has a very sharp, very large screen.

It didn't take me long to get used to the interface. And I immediately fell in love with the scroller ball. I just can't get enough of it. It makes navigating menus so easy. I'd say it's one of the best features of the Pearl.


The keyboard is taking me a little longer to adapt to. Longtime BlackBerry users will no doubt find it easy, but I'm used to T9, so it's a learning curve, but I'm getting it. :-)

On a real-world note, there are several things that made me very happy (and not happy) about the device. First off, the keys glow white. I am very grateful for that. Those phones that still use blue need to get a clue. Blue LEDs hurt the eyes and I'm very glad RIM decided to go with a pleasing white.

But while we're talking about LEDs, let's talk about the notification lights. In the top right corner of the device there's a light that lets you know what's happening. When you have cell service, it flashes green, when bluetooth is on, it flashes blue, when you have an email, it flashes orange. All of these can be turned off if you so choose, but I like them...to a point. The problem is that they're just too bright.

I like to leave my phone by my bed as an alarm clock and the green signal flash was so bright it would light up the entire room. And the blue is worse. I use a bluetooth headset while I'm driving and I usually drop my phone in the cup holder. Well, forget that at night...no matter how I position the phone, the blue flash is piercingly bright. The headset, by contrast (a Moto H500) is perfect. It flashes blue, but the light is muted and doesn't hurt my eyes at all. Why do phone manufacturers insist on using such glaring LEDs in their products?

One more note about lights...the camera flash. It's really cool. It's a very bright white LED that flashes twice, the first time to focus, apparently. It does a very good job lighting things up, even from several feet away. And...get this...it works in total darkness. I tried it with all the lights off and it must use the first blink to focus and the second to capture the picture, 'cause it was crisply focused even in the dark. Sweet!

Another really cool feature is the voice recognition. Most cellphones nowadays have voice dialing, but it usually works by pre-recording voice tags for specific numbers. Not so with the Pearl. I don't know how previous BlackBerries have been, but this one uses voice recognition. You press the button, then just say "Call" followed by any name in your address book. The system then reads it back to you, "Did you mean call John Smith?" to which I say, "Yes."

You can also use the voice recognition to check on other things...press the button and say, "check battery," or "check signal," and it will tell you, in speech, what the status is of whatever you asked for.

And now the things I find annoying about the Pearl. The first would be Browser Emulation. I don't exactly know how this works. The BlackBerry web browser is really good and automatically slims web pages down for viewing on the small screen. Most of the time I like it and find it very helpful. But sometimes it's not so cool.

Some web pages already have a cell-phone friendly version and these sites can automatically detect what kind of device you're using and deliver you the appropriate page. PocketPC Thoughts, for example, has this kind of setup. So, when I go there on my Pearl, I should see the mobile version. Instead, the BlackBerry browser takes the full version and then tries to slim it down itself. The same is true for Google. Why doesn't the BlackBerry browser auto-detect this?

The sort of happy ending is that for sites like that, I can go into the options and change the browser emulation to "Pocket Internet Explorer" and that makes the sites work. But I don't want to leave it on this because most of the time I like the BlackBerry browser. It's just a tiny bit frustrating. :-(

While I'm talking about the Internet, I really like the EDGE network. I know others have said that it's slow compared to other carrier's networks, but I'm impressed with it's speed boost over normal GPRS. But that's just me...

The second biggest annoyance is the "receive via bluetooth" option. Under normal circumstances, the Pearl will not accept pictures or music or anything sent to it via bluetooth. At first, I thought that object transfer was just not supported (which would have sucked), but then I found the receive via bluetooth option. Through trial and error, I learned that in order to beam something from another phone, I first have to hit "receive" on the BlackBerry. Not a huge deal, but tedious and annoying nonetheless.

So...overall, I very enthusiastically give this device a 9.5 out of 10. It really is amazing and I'd recommend it to everyone. Feel free to ask any questions about it and I'll answer as best I can. :-)

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