Review: AT&T BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100

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Although the BlackBerry Pearl 3G was originally announced at WES earlier this year, it only recently came to AT&T in the United States.  I won’t speak for everyone, but I was very excited to see a new generation Pearl launch with enhanced specs, and as we now know – supporting BlackBerry 6 OS.  I spent the last month testing the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 full time, just to see how it suits me as I have become used to the Torch for a little while now.  Hit the jump for our full review.

Body/Design:

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G is known for its sleek  and candy bar style body.  Since it has a SureType keyboard, it’s a lot slimmer than other BlackBerry devices such as the Curve or Bold which have full QWERTY keyboards.  In my opinion, the Pearl seems to fit well for those who like the keep their phones in their pockets due to the small size and weight.

On the front of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 is the screen (obviously) up top then below from left to right is the trackpad for navigation, green call button, BlackBerry menu button, back button, and then the red call end button.  Below all of that is the SureType keyboard.  The screen gets a nice 360 x 400 resolution which doesn’t sound so great at first, but for a small screen like this one, it’s actually pretty good.

The left side of the device includes the 3.5mm headphone jack, then the micro USB port comes right under, and lastly a convenience key at the very end.  I’ve been used to not having a convenience key on the lft side for awhile now since the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and BlackBerry Style 9670 both don’t have one.

The right side gets the volume up and down keys with a convenience key right underneath.  That right side lay out seems to be quite standard on all BlackBerrys nowadays.  Sometimes we see the 3.5mm headphone jack end up on the right but other than that it seems to be standard to have the volume keys and convenience key on the right side.

The backside is quite sleek as well.  In between the 3.2MP camera and single LED flash we see the word “Pearl” written.  Then it’s the red battery door with the BlackBerry logo on it in chrome.

Speaking of chrome, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G gets a chrome bezel which wraps the the entire device around the edges.

Keyboard/Trackpad:

As mentioned before, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G gets a SureType condensed keyboard which features two letters on each key in the same QWERTY layout we’re all familiar with.  So instead of Q and W on separate keys, we see QW one key, ER on another, and so on.  The only keys that sit alone solo are the L and M keys.

The trackpad is standard as we’ve been seeing it since the BlackBerry Curve 8500 series launched.  The last Pearl that was launched had a trackball so this is the first one to feature the trackpad.

Display:

The screen display is 360 x 400, which yes is the same as the BlackBerry Style 9670.  It sounds funny at first, but if you look at the two side by side, it’s quite obvious that the Style just has it stretched out more but keeping the same resolution.  It may seem like a downer for the Style user seeing this comparison, but for the one using a Pearl 3G, it’s definitely interesting to know and is a plus.

As other recent BlackBerry smartphones are these days, the Pearl 3G gets light sensing capability where it’ll automatically dim or brighten according to the light shining against it.  Some aren’t huge on this feature, but I think it certainly helps when walking through the shade or sun.  If not in either of those scenerios, there’s always moments where the light around you changes as you move or have your BlackBerry angled differently.

Connectivity:

The BlackBerry Pearl 3G comes equipped with 3G and WiFI 802.11 b, g, and n.  It supports UMA also, but that’s carrier specified so AT&T is a no go with that.  The tri-band UMTS networks supported are 800/850, 1900, and 2100.  As for quad-band networks, GSM, GPRS, EDGE and 3G are all supported on 850, 900, 1800, and 1900MHz.

Bluetooth comes stock on the device too obviously, which is a norm and not so much a luxury these days.

Memory:

The internal flash memory on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is 256MB.  So far we have the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and BlackBerry Style 9670 with 512MB of internal memory, which seem to work great on BlackBerry 6.  Currently I have BlackBerry 6 OS installed on the Pearl and am encountering some memory leaks which require a few reboots, but that’s only because the OS is beta.  Having 256MB of memory has been said to be enough to support 6.0, so we’ll be going by that for now.

In the box comes a 2GB micro SD card for saving media, but the slot is expandable to 32GB.

Media:

The media player is pretty much standard as we’ve reviewed it for other BlackBerry 6 devices in the past but we’ll take a quick touch on it now.  For functionality, you can use the trackpad to go back and forth between tracks, or the volume keys optionally.

Just like the BlackBerry Curve 3G, you get media keys on the top of the device which allow you to pause, play, and changes tracks back and forth.  The play/pause button also lets you lock the device.

On the screen you’ll see the album cover (if available), artist, and song title of course.

In the options of the music player, we see Headset Music EQ options where we can turn it on and off.  Audio Boost has been around on BlackBerry for a while and it’s still there here.  There’s two different styles to choose for your media player.  The follows positioning, and font scaling.

While browsing photos, they render a lot faster than they used to.  It’s always been a problem for me to load up my photos and scroll through my thumbnails.  I’d either see the famous hour glass/clock or just see empty blocks until the BlackBerry processor would catch up.  As it is on other BlackBerry 6 devices, media tends to move a lot faster.

WiFi Media Sync comes stock on BlackBerry 6 as it does here on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100.  It’s still a new service that most don’t use but I’m sure it’s a matter of time until more start to use it.

Camera:

A lot of smartphones nowadays have have 5MP cameras lenses or higher but some BlackBerrys have fell behind in 3.2MP.  The Pearl is one of those that fell beind, but it still takes some decent pictures.  The video camera supports MMS mode in 176 x 144.  Also is normal video stream at 640 x 480 resolution.  For snapshot pictures, you get three sizes: large (2048 x 1536, medium (1024 x 768), and small (480 x 360).  Within the options menu, you can customize your experience by turning on or off digital zoom, setting the time for picture review (the time a picture you just took stays up on the screen), and where you’d like to store pictures.

Battery:

Battery life on the Pearl 3G is great! It’s nice to be on the go all day with the Pearl 3G and see that your battery still isn’t low.  On my Torch, I end up in situations where a charger isn’t near which forces me to turn off Bluetooth, WiFi, reduce the screen brightness, and even turn off 3G and keep it on EDGE only.  Here are the full stock specs on the battery:

  • Battery: 1150 mAHr
    removable/rechargeable
    lithium-ion battery
  • Standby Time: GSM® – up to 18 days/432 hours, UMTS® – up to 13 days/312 hours
  • Talk Time: GSM – up to 5 hours, UMTS – up to 5.5 hours
  • Music playtime: up to 30 hours

Operating System & User Interface:

The device for now comes out of the box with OS 5.0, but we went ahead and put BlackBerry 6 OS on it as I strongly believe it’s more accurate since that’s the OS it will carry in the near future by default.  The OS is a bit buggy for now, since it’s a leaked version, but overall I am very impressed to see 6.0 run on such a small screen pretty fluid.

When I first started using BlackBerry 6 on the Torch, it seemed too necessary that a larger screen was required with the different menus and large icons.  That thought quickly faded as I started to see 6.0 come to non touchscreen devices.  But the Pearl was a huge surprise to me since it has such a small screen, smaller than any other BlackBerry on the market.

In the beginning of my testing session with the Pearl 3G when I installed BlackBerry 6 onto it, I noticed that the OS allowed three rows of 5 icons across by default.  You can certainly set it to one or two as the Bold and Curve 3G allow you too.  The only devices that allow for three rows of icons to be default are the Torch, Style, and Pearl 3G.  Other than that it’s capped off to 2 rows only.

Universal Search is really interesting to use on the Pearl 3G since it has a reduced SureType keyboard.  Sometimes it’s difficult to type what you want in the search bar as it comes up with different results.  If you’re used to using Universal Search on QWERTY, you won’t be as rapid with the Pearl 3G only because of the suggested words that come up, which can be customized by you.

Since it’s a SureType keyboard, there’s two different ways to type: Predictive, or Multi-tap.  Predictive allows you to type freely like you would on QWERTY, with predictive words helping you out by coming up on the screen.  Multi-tap takes it back a bit old school where you manually type on the keyboard.  For example, if you try typing the word “was,”  you’d have to press the QW button twice to get to the W, where in Predictive mode, you could type QW, AS, AS and “was” would display as a suggestion.

Other than that, everything else is the same with BlackBerry 6 OS on the Pearl 3G.

The Final Word:

I love the BlackBerry Pearl 3G.  For me it’s a great second string device for a night out where I don’t want to be on my BlackBerry much and feel like having light pockets.  No matter how small it is, the Pearl 3G still gives me everything I need in my BlackBerry: BBM, push email, web browsing, and media.

On the other hand, I could see this device being used primarily for those who find other BlackBerry models far too big and don’t mind the condensed keyboard.  I have just grown used to the large screen that the Torch 9800 offers so that’s my own excuse.  There’s all sorts of taste preferences out there who have different views on it but again for those looking for a small BlackBerry up to date with what RIM has to offer today, the Pearl 3G is definitely an option.

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  • I really like the 9100. This was a great review. I know it’s hard to go from the larger screen to a smaller one/device. But this is surly a nice alternative, Well done. 🙂