BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105
Review compliments of Shaun at PDA247.
- 14-key traditional phone keyboard.
- Blackberry SureType
- 3.2 Megapixel Camera
- WiFi & Bluetooth
- 3G Connectivity
- Music & video playback
- MicroSD expandable up to 32GB
The Pearl is a legend in the world of BlackBerry, but not necessarily for good reason. It seems to be the phone that companies give to their employees more than any other and as such is commonplace in meeting rooms, on the train and almost everywhere else. The fact that almost all of the previous Pearls have had poor voice quality, limited memory and a hampered screen has strangely not mattered, but it is not a phone I have looked upon kindly in the past.
For reasons that bypass me RIM has decided to persevere with the formula and create the Pearl 3G 9105. Obviously 3G is the main inclusion, but how useful is that on a phone with a relatively small screen? Does it make sense to make such a small phone that includes Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G and a keyboard that requires time to get used to? It is a conundrum that people outside of the BlackBerry user group do not understand and I can see why. The question remains- has RIM done something remarkable with the 9105 or taken the Pearl family on one journey too far?
The box is typically RIM and so are the contents. There is no attempt to offer an instantly pleasurable experience, no cleverly designed packaging and little care given to presenting all of the accessories other than putting them in plastic bags and throwing them in the bottom of the box. Does it really matter? Not at all- the box is a one-time thing that you open and then put on a shelf in case you want to sell the phone later on.
The accessories are as expected and include a 2GB microSD card, 3.5mm headset, microUSB cable and an AC adaptor with UK and EU plug adaptors. There is no sleeve case this time which is surprising, but you get what you need to get started.
Now, the phone offers up a completely different first impression. It is impossibly small and unlike any phone I have used before. The X10 mini is even smaller, but the 9105 has a fixed front keyboard and screen and is shaped divinely. RIM has obviously put a huge emphasis on size with the 9105, but also ensured that functionality is a core part of the design. The screen does not feel small, even though it is, and the keyboard is a clever mix of swirling textures and well placed punctuation which should ensure speedy data entry once you are used to it.
At no point during my first few hours of testing has the 9105 felt cramped and this is remarkable for a smartphone that is so tiny and light. It pulls off the trick of feeling well built, despite the lightness, and is overall a pleasing to the eye smartphone that looks like a small feature phone. It is easy to look at a device like the 9105 and wonder why it is a better choice than the Curve 8520 or Bold 9700, but it is cheaper than the 9700 and has a better specification than the 8520. It sits in the middle of the BlackBerry range and it all comes back to the debate surrounding the Pearl series of smartphones. After a few hours I am starting to believe that RIM has not taken the Pearl on one journey too far, but tweaked it to the point that it compounds all of the smartphone rules we currently make our purchasing decisions on; large screens and large keyboards are dominant on all platforms, but maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s time to look at the feature set of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G and see how well RIM has managed to fit in all the functionality we now expect from a smartphone in such a small space. And the space is small indeed at 108 x 50 x 13.3 mm and with a weight of only 93.6 grams. You need to pick up this phone to appreciate how small it really is, but the previous Pearls suddenly feel cumbersome in comparison which of course they are not in reality.
It’s also worth remembering that this is a BlackBerry OS 6 smartphone. It isn’t at this particular time, but is on RIMs list to be upgraded in the future so you are not buying a phone at the end of the line here. You are buying a phone that is firmly in RIMs future plans.
The Pearl 3G, like all other Pearls, is not built for entertainment. It is built to be a phone and a messenger above all else, but something strange has happened. The 2.25” screen is small, but with a resolution of 360 x 400 pixels, and it feels crisp and sharp. In my tests video playback has been exceptional and I really could watch a movie on this phone… if it was a short one.
Sound quality is also much more impressive than on previous Pearls and of similar quality to the Bold 9700 which was no slouch in this area either. The Pearl 3G is a capable entertainer which is only hampered by the smaller than average screen size. This, however, is a small price to pay for the difference it makes to the overall experience.
Call Quality / Signal
Call quality is not too bad. It is clear and loud, but lacks the depth that I am used to on the larger BlackBerry’s. The speaker phone also suffers a little, but again is clear and loud which is most important when you are driving or in a noisy place. Strangely, the external speaker sounds much deeper when playing a video than the speakerphone does which is a small quirk. To be fair I need to do more testing on this side, but it is certainly capable, just not quite to the standard I expect from a BlackBerry.
Signal strength is slightly above average, at least compared to the phones I have with me. It is showing a full 3G signal at my desk whereas my iPhone 4 is just about clinging onto 3G with 1 bar showing (same network by the way). There is no death grip, just the loss of one bar when holding it which could be classed as a ‘slightly hurt grip’ I suppose. In theory this phone should suffer the death grip scenario more because it is so small and holding it inevitably means cupping almost the entire body in your hand. However, it is looking pretty solid in this area.
This will always be an area of discussion when SureType is involved. The thing to remember about SureType is that it is not an input system you get used to in 5 minutes. It does take some getting used to, but ask anyone who has owned a Pearl for a long time and they will tell you that it works very well. RIM has raised the keys this time and made them a lot more tactile than previous models which helps a lot. There are some non-standard keys such as the delete key on the left and the small space bar, but as I said time pays dividends here. It isn’t as good as a QWERTY keyboard, but really isn’t too far off.
The screen is typical BlackBerry and perfectly viewable in all conditions. The high resolution verses physical size ensures a crisp view in every core app and it really doesn’t feel like a 2.2” screen in use. The BlackBerry OS is scalable and simple enough to work well on small screens and thus I have little to complain about here. Of course a small screen is never ideal, but if it ensures that the phone itself is small as well then it is a worthy trade off.
So far the battery is proving to be excellent. I was impressed with the Bold 9700 battery, but from what I can gather so far this one is even better. The small screen obviously helps, but there has been no scrimping on battery size and I could see 3-4 days of solid use coming out of the Pearl 3G. If 3G is turned off maybe even a week is possible. This is how smartphone batteries should work.
Wi-Fi works perfectly and connected very quickly every time I used it. The 3G is not too bad, but with a device like this its use is limited. Web browsing is never going to be more than simply looking up information and emails and other communication will fly on 2G so this does offer the genuine option of turning 3G off. But, when OS 6 is released it may make the Perl 3G a better proposition for web browsing so having the option is far from a bad thing.
GPS is included which is required for apps that utilise your current location such as Google Maps and of course the built-in BlackBerry Maps, but you are unlikely to be using it for full turn by turn navigation because there are no proper software solutions available that allow this. Still, everything is here and that is impressive in such a small device because it all works as expected.
At 3.2 Megapixels it won’t set the world alight, but RIM knows how to make a camera that works like a smartphone camera should. You point and click and the resulting snap looks like it did on the screen at the time you took it. The LED flash is adequate and even though it is not going to work as well as a full flash it adds a sense of atmosphere to the results. People moan about LED flash systems, but if I could draw a positive I would say that at least you know the photo was taken at night.
Video recording is adequate and about the same quality as the 9700. As such the results look great on the BlackBerry itself, but the limitations are apparent when viewed on a desktop computer. To sum up this is a capable camera and one that will serve its purpose well.
It is a speedy little fellow and the 624 MHz processor and 256MB of internal memory are more than enough to cope with a seriously heavy day. It is as quick as the 8520 which is even quicker than the 9700 so I am expecting ‘no’ issues at all with this phone long term.
The Pearl 3G is an exceptional smartphone in many ways. The size is the overriding factor and something that makes it perfectly formed for almost every section of the market. Consumers will love it and I believe that RIM will aim at the PAYG market to push it in big numbers. Business people who use a Pearl will adore the Pearl 3G. And I suspect that many others will be intrigued by this phone as well.
The Pearl 3G feels like an experiment in miniaturisation, but one that worked better than could have been expected. I really do like this phone and when I consider the typical usage of most BlackBerry users, the Pearl 3G could be the best of the entire range.