I’m about three weeks into my life with the RIM Blackberry Pearl. It has become my favorite Blackberry yet for a bunch of reasons.
- I had forgotten what it was like to carry a small phone on a daily basis. The Samsung SCH-600 series was the last phone I owned which could comfortably fit in the pocket of your jeans. The Pearl doesn’t need a belt clip, or a holster. You can just slip it in your pants, or jacket pocket.
- Like the 8700 series Blackberries, the Pearl has a gorgeous, and bright screen.
- RIM has finally done something about the interminable menus. There are now short menus with the most commonly used features on them, and full menus with the entire list. It’s a dramatic improvement in user experience.
- RIM has also added a usable voice command application. Now, when driving, I simply press the voice voice dial activation button, and say “Call Howard”, and the Pearl looks up Howard’s telephone entry in my address book, prompts me for which number to dial, and dials.
- Storage can finally be expanded. The Pearl has a micro-SD slot (inconveniently buried UNDER the battery, but it’s there nonetheless), which I have filled with a 2G storage card. There’s ample room for files, ringtones, music, and photos.
- The Pearl also finally has a media player. You can actually play an MP3 music file.
- It has a convenient, although relatively low (1.3 megapixel) resolution camera.
In other words, the folks at RIM have done a bunch of things right with this product. My biggest fear was the horror stories I had heard about the SureType technology for composing messages on the unique Pearl keypad. It turned out to be much more useable than people said, and I’ve become quite used to the quirky way of typing on this product.
The feature that the Pearl is named after, of course, is the glowing white trackball that replaced the scroll-wheel that all previous RIM products have featured, right back to the first two way pagers. It’s the absence of the wheel that allows the Pearl to be as diminutive as it is. The trackball is an intuitive and easy to use feature, although it takes a little getting used to the fact that it can send the cursor up and down as well as side to side. To help control it better, RIM has eliminated the continuous side scroll of previous Blackberries constraining side to side cursor movement to a single row of icons in the main UI. Frustrating at first, you quickly learn to work with it.
Blackberry excels at email, calendar and contacts, and the Pearl is no exception. It also adds a mapping application, which allows you to choose a contact, and then quickly pull up a map showing the location of that contact’s business or home address. If you have a GPS, the Pearl can even tell you directions to get from where you are, to there. Integration with both of the Bluetooth GPS units I own was simple and painless. Unfortunately, however, RIM has left out most of the most useful features of GPS navigation, including turn-by-turn navigation. The Pearl can tell you where you are, and how to get to where you want to go, but it can’t easily track your progress, or correct routing errors. For that, you will need to buy a third party application, like Wayfinder. And, in fact, Wayfinder works reasonably well with the Pearl, barking out turn-by-turn directions in a severe British accent which will surely have you sitting up and taking notice. It must have been a case of needing to meet a shipping date for the company to have left such a basic feature as turn-by-turn navigation out of their mapping software, but it has created opportunities for third parties.
The camera application is also basic but serviceable. A small button on the right hand side of the Pearl activates it, and serves as the shutter release. Simply click the button, which brings up the camera, point and shoot. With automatic white balance, and auto flash it does a reasonable job of taking pictures. Viewing the pictures after you’ve taken them necessitates loading the camera application again, and selecting view pictures from within the application. A gallery application would be a nice addition. Once taken, you have the option of mailing the photo to someone as either an email message or MMS, junking the picture, or setting it as your background, or as caller ID. No photo editing features are available on board.
With good light, you can takeÂnice pictures. For instance, this photograph was a quick snap of the “standard” daisies that came with Howard’s new VW Beetle.
This picture, which I’ve shown before, was taken a couple of weeks ago, early in the morning at the Boston Airport Hilton. Good color saturation, and contrast, plus a pretty scene made for a postcard moment.
The picture below, however, was a quick snap of Barcamp organizer Peter Childs on the weekend. The combination of less light, and my being in a hurry to take the photograph, resulted in a less satisfying image — slightly out of focus, and somewhat grainy.
You’ll get the most use out of this camera for quick snapshots of friends that you intend to share immediately. I’ve also used it extensively for snapping photographs of whiteboards after meetings, and even a snapshot of one of those legendary “business plan on a napkin” drawings that sometimes get made a restaurants.
One of the new features of the Pearl is the media player.Â With its micro-SD card, the Pearl can store hours of music that you can listen to when you’re not using it as a phone. And, when a phone call comes, it will automatically interrupt the music, so you can take the call. Sound quality with the supplied ear buds is fine, and the ear buds are a comfortable fit. The media application can also play downloaded video files, however, I didn’t try this feature. A good friend had Star Wars episode III, and several other movies loaded onto his Pearl, and reported a good experience.
The media application, itself, is pretty basic. It lacks any notion of genre or style of music, simply playing whatever music it finds on the memory card. The tools for loading music onto the card consist of the Blackberry transfer tool — a basic file transfer application — or the bulk transfer mode using Windows Explorer. Once loaded, you can play or pause the music from the application, but all other controls (like next track or previous track) are buried on a sub-menu. Moreover, the application itself has odd quirks. For instance, you can tell it to “play all” to play all of the music on the card, which, when combined with “shuffle” is a pleasant way to listen to a selection of music without having to make the selections yourself. However, play all isn’t offered until an MP3 file is found in the directory from which it is being invoked. In my case, I had loaded several CDs onto the card, and then had to place one MP3 file in the root music directory in order to be able to get “play all” functionality.
A welcome addition to the media application would be integration with any of the popular media player applications on the market. Because the Pearl has the capacity for such large storage, integrating the Pearl with Windows Media Player, for example, would make track management and conversion much easier.
For the legions of Blackberry users out there who’ve wished for the capabilities of high end media phones, like the Nokia N-Series, but have been reluctant to give up the Blackberry core capabilities, the Pearl is your answer. Where Blackberry excels — email, calendar, and contacts — Pearl also excels. The new features, while functional, hint at what is to come, rather than being home-runs today. For myself, the Pearl is my new constant companion, replacing my previous Blackberry 8700, and I am eagerly watching to see what RIM will do next with this new direction.