BlackBerry 8130 Pearl – Hands On

I have had the Ev-DO version of the Pearl for almost two weeks now and I must admit that this is by far the best phone I have ever used. It makes and receives phone calls so well that you almost forget that it does push email (GMail included), takes pictures, surfs the web, plays music and videos and includes a full GPS mapping & directions suite. That’s a lot of add-ons you might say. Actually the full lists of features reads a little longer but these are the applications that work well and make the device stand out.

This is not the first BlackBerry I have used, I had a 7250 (conventional fatty) as well as a 7130 (also slimline Suretype). I lasted longer with the 7250 than I did with the 7130, at the time the Suretype was nowhere as advanced as it is in the Pearl. I moved away from the 7250 because of the lack of a dedicated answer and hangup button and the thought of hanging up on the Boss again pushed me to a Treo. The 700p served me well and as a long time Palm OS user, I can certainly understand the affinity that people still have for the Treo. But let’s face the size of the devise and the fact that the battery never last more that a day just plain sucks.

So along comes the first CDMA/Ev-DO BlackBerry with a camera, an expansion card slot, and real call and end buttons and suddenly we’re looking a really attractive phone. At that it certainly does not disappoint, roughly the same height and size as the RAZR 2, it’s actually thinner than the ROKR and the LG Chocolate. The screen is huge: 240 x 260 it covers about half the surface on the device. The keyboard looks a little odd at first glance, however when in full thumbs mode, it actually makes sense as your thumbs naturally want to move up and down and not across (think about how you hit the space bar on a full keyboard). The trackball along with it’s mouse like movement is a such an improvement over the wheel form hell! On a web page crammed with a links section you easily skip lines with having to highlight 5 other links. This economy of movement actually will probably save me hours over the course of a year. The microSD slot is a lot easier to access than on the 8830 World Edition, which hides it next to the SIM card behind the battery (ARGHHH!!!), not that it matters as you can plug the Pearl into any USB port (with the included cable) and use the card’s memory like a USB Stick/Thumb drive. I have a 2 Gb card in mine and drag whole iTunes play-lists onto the Pearl very easily. You can even encrypt the card so it can only be read by your device, which is pretty clever thinking on behalf of RIM as cards and camera’s are usually a sore point with corporate IT policies. The top of the device has a mute button and the two side buttons can be assigned to almost any applications. This is also the first BlackBerry device to sport a min Headphone jack (3.5mm) rather than the typical phone jack (2.5mm) which means you can use your favourite white ear buds when listening to music or watching videos. I love this feature because it means that I can hook it up to the car stereo really easily and not have to rummage around my bag for the iPod everyday. When the Pearl is in media player using the headset output, it will pause the music when the phone rings and let you answer it on your Bluetooth headset; when you end your call, the music will start up again. iPhone users will say this feature has always been available to them, but not all current in car system offer this so it’s still quite impressive to find it on a BlackBerry. The Device still ships with a magnetic pouch which lock the device when holstered. However this pouch is the first of it’s kind not to had a belt clip. This was real bad planning of behalf of RIM, they could have easily included some kind of plastic clip like with the 7250 and 8703. The 8830 ships with a lovely black leather swivel pouch complete with magnetic clasps. Why RIM chose to play the cheap card with the Pearl , I have no clue, but at least you can buy another case like the standard 8830 one from RIM.

That pretty much covers the hardware, the software and user interface for the Pearl is just as well thought out. For starts the homepage interface is customisable and you can chose to start with your top 5 applications (Zen), pretty well presented Today screen or go old school and see all you icons at once. I prefer the Zen look as a nice balance of what’s in store for the day and the your most used apps. The standard applications include: messaging, Internet Browser, BB maps, BB messenger (PIN), Google Talk (free), Yahoo Messenger (free), Windows Live Messenger ($3/month?!?!?), and Facebook. All but the last two have been available since the 7250. However, paying a monthly fee on top of your data connection for Windows Live is just plain theft, especially since Yahoo messenger accounts now talk to MSN. And the Facebook app is pretty much CRAP! More on that later. What is becoming a standard in itself is the ability to run Google Applications on the BlackBerry platform, even if many of these are simply hot links to the web page in the Internet Browser (News, Docs, Reader, Picassa). The Google maps application now uses the Assisted GPS to triangulate your position and locate you on the map and then use that position to get you going on your way. The BackBerry Maps uses the Pearl’s built in GPS to do the same thing with the added advantage to also giving you land speed and integrating itself with your address book. The GMail App is a stand alone Java app which synchronises nicely with IMAP service. The search tool opens a text box with a search button which will then open a standard search page in your Internet, still no BlackBerry address book functionality though. And the newest app to gain some popularity is Google Sync which will actually synchronise your Google calendar with the one on your Pearl unless you are using a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, as I found out. Most Pearl users are most likely to be BIS users so this will be quite useful to them.

The last included app is FaceBook. I can understand why it was included, as Facebook is the fastest growing social network among university grads and among Canadians. Bell also went full hog on Facebook and certainly had there say in getting included on BlackBerry’s they sell. However, the application is complete $H!Te. Just how close to a pair of pants is it? Well for one, it’s completely one way. You can’t receive anything else but status update, and you have to manually refresh these. Sure you can upload pictures from the camera, poke your freinds (who still pokes?), and even send messages but if anyone tries to reply to these actions you will never know! Doesn’t make any sense right? RIGHT! To find out if anything you did worked, you will have to go to the Internet Browser and look up Mobile Facebook. If you update your status on the Pearl and then do it again in your desktop browser or even by text message you won’t see the updates in the Facebook app. At least with the Twitterberry application by Orangatame, you can see the lastest update in the friends timeline and even the public timelime. So I’m not very impressed with the Facebook app, but so far there is not much that has impressed me with Facebook in a long time. It’s just one more social network with a very limited potential, and every badly though out application only go towards adding to it’s general annoyance. Gone are the days of: “I must check Facebook to see if so and so has joined yet”. Now it’s all about: “I must check Facebook to cancel another 20 stupid applications”.

What I have really enjoyed about the Pearl is how nicely it integrates with your social networking needs: Flickr, Picassa,, Digg, Twitter, Blogger, Google Applications and, yes !sigh! even Facebook !sigh!. I have already sent a few blog posts directly form the Pearl without any hassle. I’m picking up Francois Gagnon’s RSS Feeds from La Presse on it very nicely simply using the browser and finding out what the general vibe on The Habs though Twitter tracking has never been easier.

Above all what I have really enjoyed about the Pearl is that is has all the stability of a BalckBerry and that is something you can actually count on. It is just that good.

5 out of 5 stars.