BlackBerry Pearl 3G (9100)

I've been a BlackBerry Pearl user for some years now, having had the 8110 since it was launched.

NameSmartphone: BlackBerry Pearl 3G (9100)
At a glance:3G and 802.11n in W-Fi,360 x 400 pixel screen,Touch-sensitive trackpad,3.2MP camera,Built-in GPS
Summary:A mostly excellent upgrade to the Pearl for those who like the one-handed, candy bar form factor

I’ve been a BlackBerry Pearl user for some years now, having had the 8110 since it was launched. Admittedly, even then its lack of 3G was a bit naff (BlackBerry was very slow to come to the 3G party) but I really liked the pocket-friendly form factor and the excellent SureType predictive texting app that made the 20-button keypad almost as easy to use as the 35-button keypad on a full-blown BlackBerry.

At the time I even liked the actual translucent navigation pearl itself that gave the handset its name. It seemed like a slicker new way to get around screens and menus than the average five-way navigator. Unfortunately, that pearl has not aged well and has become maddeningly unpredictable.

A good time then for a new Pearl to come my way and right from the get-go, I was keen on the 9100. It looks great, taking its styling cues from the Bold family with an all-black livery. It’s got a much improved 360 x 400 pixel screen, a better 3.2MP camera, it’s 3G, it has Wi-Fi, and it gets rid of the pearl in favour of a touch-sensitive trackpad.

Happily, too, many of the good things stay from the earlier Pearls. The phone is no bigger or heavier, the keypad is still excellent and features an improved version of SureType (and proper threading of text conversations), there’s still a proper headphone jack and call quality and clarity is good.

Of course, there are also a couple of niggles I’d like to get out of the way. Whereas my Pearl 8110 has an external slot for microSD memory cards, the 9100 has seen fit to make you pull off the battery cover. At least it’s not actually under the battery, but it’s hardly handy. Maybe it’s something to do with the all-over sleekness of the design that sees volume, camera and app launch buttons along the phone’s sides reduced to bumps under the phone’s black skin. Secondly, something I really like about my 8110 is that it’s a true one-handed phone. You don’t need two hands to do anything (making it great to use in the car when that was legal). So, it bugs me no end that the screen and keyboard unlock on the 9100 requires that you push the hard-to-press mute button on the top of the phone. You’d have to be an Olympic hand gymnast to achieve this with one hand without dropping the phone. Silly.

Email has always been the BlackBerry’s thing but given that the Pearl is aimed more at the business/consumer user than the hard-core business types, it’s become something of an anachronism that you can only really use BlackBerry email on it. Yes, you can use Gmail but only through a browser.

Speaking of which, browsing on the Pearl sucks but that’s down to the crappy browser. 802.11n Wi-Fi and 3G are great but not if the browser is no fun to use. I’ve put Opera Mini on my Pearl, which is a little better but it’s time for BlackBerry to offer a better browser of their own – which they tell us they intend to do soon.

While we’re on the topic, the whole small, non-touch display of the Pearl does limit the appeal of social media and online anything. Even games are less fun.

All is not lost, however, as the Pearl does a good job on the multimedia front. The camera is great at both still and video capture, especially with the 2.5X zoom. Music has plenty of body and volume and videos and images look terrific on the high res screen.

Other features to note are the Office productivity apps, built-in GPS and the one-button voice dialling.

On the whole the Pearl 9100 is an excellent upgrade within the Pearl device family (it’s also cheaper than its predecessor) and I’d be happy to step up. However, if you’re after an iPhone-like experience or you’re a mega-business user you’ll want to look elsewhere.

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Ted Gibbons

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