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The BlackBerry Pearl is a sleek, stylish phone, with plenty of multimedia features. If I was choosing a smartphone for personal use, I would give the Pearl serious consideration. Business users should be more cautious of the Pearl.
It’s easy to be sucked in by the unit’s small size, slick styling, and vivid LCD, but the cramped keyboard and highly-limited Office viewer will frustrate heavy e-mail and Microsoft Office users. In the following photos, I’ll show you why.
Keypad and pearl trackball
Just below the LCD screen, the Pearl has a new trackball and Menu and Escape buttons. These controls replace the right-side trackwheel and Escape key that many BlackBerry users are accustomed to.
Too small for my thumbs
The Pearl’s SureType keyboard features a traditional QWERTY layout, but two letters are assigned to a single key. The keys are small and make text entry very difficult for my thumbs. I found it nearly impossible to simultaneously use two thumbs, as I would with a Palm Treo.
SureType and cumbersome keyboard make text entry difficult
As you begin to enter the letters of a word, SureType provides a list of possible letter combinations or words based on context. The premise sounds good and the technology works for common words, but try to enter a proper name or anything with an apostrophe and SureType falls apart. I found SureType more a hazard than a benefit.
The white box is blocking the full address of the POP3 e-mail account I used to test the phone. I’ll talk more about my e-mail tests later in the gallery.
The BlackBerry Pearl has a 2.25-inch TFT screen that displays 65,000 colors at a resolution of 240×260-pixels. The screen provides a sharp, clear display with bright colors.
Here, I’ve created a contact for myself and add my own photo–taken with the Pear’s camera.
Back - battery cover
Depress the thin silver latch near the Pearl’s base to remove the battery cover.
Back - battery cover removed
BlackBerry rates the Pearl for 3.5 hours of talk time and up to 15 days of standby time.
Micro SD Flash memory card
Removing the Micro SD card is a delicate, but not a difficult, operation.
SanDisk Micro SD flash memory card
Our test unit included a SanDisk 1.0GB Micro SD card. You can see just how small the card is against my thumbnail.
Don't drop the Micro SD card
I actually dropped the card when removing it from the phone. If lost, the card’s tiny size could make it difficult to find.
Before tossing the Pearl into your purse or pocket, you should lock the keypad or place the unit in standby mode. My unit once called the last-dialed number while the phone was in my pocket. Mark Kaelin, my colleague and fellow editor, was treated to a conversation between me and my daughter will I placed her in the car seat.
I was surprised by how well the Pearl’s voice dialing feature worked. You press the voice dialing shortcut key on the phone’s left side, say “dial”, and then the number. The phone sill normally provide you a choice of numbers if it’s not absolutely sure and you answer “yes” to dial the appropriate number.
Voice dialing error
Although the voice dialing system works well, it’s not foolproof.
The Pearl supports bluetooth.
Instant Messaging (IM)
The Pearl can use BlackBerry’s own messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger, or four other popular IM services.
POP3 E-mail setup confirmation
The Pearl support up to 10 separate POP3 and IMAP4 e-mail accounts. Businesses who want to integrate the Pearl with Microsoft Exchange will need to use BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
As we don’t use BlackBerry Enterprise Server, I setup a POP3 account to test the system. The setup of simple and straightforward. I received this message shortly after configuring the e-mail account.
As in previous photos, I have blocked out the full address of the POP3 e-mail account I used to test the Pearl.
Calendar - Daily view
The Pearl’s calendar supports daily, weekly and monthly views.
Calendar - Weekly view
Calendar - Monthly view
The Pearl’s Web browser contains several preloaded favorites. You can also enter a URL.
This is a TechRepublic gallery of Firefox 2.0.
TechRepublic gallery thumbnails
Even the Firefox 2.0 gallery’s small thumbnails were crisp and clear on the Pearl.
Pressing the Menu button from within the Messages application, will let you compose a variety of new messages and perform other message-related task.
A small LED above the LCD screen lights up different colors for different status messages: blue for Bluetooth, green for wireless, red for new messages (seen here), and amber for low battery.
You have a message
The Home screen also shows a new message notification.
E-mail - Inbox
The inbox shows your latest e-mails, sorted by date and time.
E-mail sample Word document - attachment missing
To test the Pearl’s e-mail capability, I sent an e-mail containing a Word document to the test POP3 account. The message came through in seconds, but I had forgotten to attach the Word document. Doh!
E-mail - Reply
I should probably let myself know I forgot the Word document. Pressing the Menu button from within and e-mail message, bring up the menu shown here. From this menu, I can reply to the message.
E-mail - New reply message
I can now enter text into this blank reply message.
E-mail - Text entry
When I begin typing, SureType provides a list of possible letter combinations or words. As before, I found SureType cumbersome and annoying for anything but common words. Here, I’m trying to enter the letter I, but the U and the I are located on the same key. Seems logical that I would press the key twice to enter the second letter, but that’s not how the system works. You press the key once then have to use the trackball to select the correct letter–very annoying.
E-mail - Complete reply
Finally, my reply is ready to send.
E-mail - Reply indication
Here, my Inbox shows that I replied to the message.
E-mail - New message with attachment
A new message has arrived. This one has the attached Word document–denoted by the file and paperclip icon. I must have gotten my message.
E-mail with Word attachment
I’m not sure why the e-mail shows two attachments as it only has one.
Opening the Word attachment
Pressing the trackball or the Menu button allows me to open the attachment.
Before actually opening the attachment, the Pearl lets you look at a table of contents. I didn’t really like this feature. Perhaps it would be useful for very long documents.
Word viewer - Receiving more data
Once you choose to open the attachment, the data is sent to the phone.
Sample Microsoft Word document with text and a diagram
Here’s a screenshot of the document in Word. It has a heading, body text, and a diagram.
The heading and body text display correctly, but the diagram is totally lost.
E-mail with Excel attachment
I also tested the Pearl’s ability to display Excel spreadsheets.
Again, I’ll open the full attachment.
Sample Microsoft Excel spreadsheet
Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet in Excel. I created a quick example with formated cells and formulas.
Excel viewer - Normal view
The Excel spreadsheet displays correctly, although the numbers are difficult to read as the columns are shrunk to fit the Pearl’s screen.
Excel viewer - Menu options
Pressing the Menu button from within the Excel viewer, brings up a variety of options.
Excel viewer - Edit cell
By clicking the trackball, you can edit individual cells.
Excel viewer - Expand columns
You can expand the columns to fit the contents.
Excel viewer - Expand all columns
You can expand a single column or all columns in a spreadsheet.
Excel viewer - All columns expanded
Here, I have expanded all the columns in the spreadsheet. It is now possible to read the numbers, but the spreadsheet now extends beyond the screen’s edge. You can use the trackball to scroll the sheet.
E-mail with PowerPoint attachment
Lastly, I tested the Pearl’s ability to display PowerPoint presentations.
PowerPoint viewer - Attachment
Again, I’ll open the full attachment.
Sample Microsoft PowerPoint presentation
The sample presentation uses one of CNET’s standard PowerPoint templates and contains 3 slides–a title slide and two charts.
Sample Microsoft PowerPoint presentation - Chart
Here is a screenshot of the first chart slide.
PowerPoint viewer - Whole document
The Pearl’s PowerPoint viewer automatically displays all a presentation’s slides stacked in a single view, which you can scroll through.
PowerPoint viewer - First slide
Using the trackball, you can select any one of the slides and open it in the full screen.
PowerPoint viewer - Chart
Looking at the first chart, the colors, and overall structures are visible, but the axis headings and scales are nearly impossible to read.
PowerPoint viewer - Chart 2
With less information, the second chart is slightly better than the first.
PowerPoint viewer - Options
You can view each slide one-at-a-time or in a slide show.
PowerPoint viewer - Zoom
If you can’t read a particular slide, the Pearl provides a Zoom feature to enlarge the slide.
PowerPoint viewer - Zoom Slider
When active, the Zoom feature places a slider bar on to the left of the screen. Using the trackball, you can zoom in and out on a slide.
PowerPoint viewer - Zoomed in
Unfortunately, even when I zoomed in on the first chart, I couldn’t clearly read the headings.
PowerPoint viewer - Enhance
The Pearl’s PowerPoint viewer also has an Enhance feature. I assumed this would try to improve the image’s quality and tried it.
PowerPoint viewer - Enhance receiving more data
When activated, I assume the Enhance feature pulls more data into the phone.
PowerPoint viewer - Enhance not working
Unfortunately, the enhance feature displayed merely a blank screen.
If you can hold you hand very, very still, the 5x zoom does an OK job.
The camera is adequate for quick snapshots, but it won’t replace a digital camera.