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Blackberry Pearl 8100 handheld: Review

Style matches substance in the Blackberry Pearl

BY OUR TECH EDITOR

7 March 2007: Blackberry 8100 Pearl smartphone is proof that wondefrul things do come in small packages. Weighing merely 3.1 ounces, the Pearl packs enormous punch for a gadget of its size. Welcome to the new Blackberry Pearl, the no-nonsense smartphone from Research In Motion, (RIM) brought to life in India by Airtel and Hutch.

For starters, Blackberry is more of an email device than a cellphone. So, if you have little to do with the Internet or email, this is not the product for you. If swanky looks, multimedia and mobile connectivity are all you need, you can get better ones for far less price, the ones flaunted by the frivolous John Abrahams and Rakhi Sawants in suburban trains. If you think you are a class apart, like me, go for the Blackberry Pearl.

The Blackberry popularised concept of bringing the email to your palmtop. Resembling bricks more than mobiles, the earlier Blackberrys were heavy and downright ugly, and put off many potential buyers. There were few takers for the early Blackberry models among non-business users. The Pearl is a valiant foray into that savannah currently populated by carnivores like Nokia and Motorola.

Let us get to the basics first. The Blackberry Pearl is a smartphone, and calls itself - rather snootily - a "handheld" rather than a run-of-the-mill mobile phone. Before I bought my Pearl, I was rather sceptical about the Blackberry's email and internet functions. (My paranoia with email configuration had started with my pathetic experience in trying to set up Microsoft Outlook to receive my mail. I failed). Whereas Outlook - and many similar mail programs - spook you with a diarrhea of acronyms -- POP, SMTP, HTTP, XML -- Blackberry spares you all that trouble. Configuring my Blackberry to receive my mail was a breeze. All I had to do with was to ask Airtel to activate Blackberry services on my Blackberry Pearl.

Once the Blackberry service is activated on the Blackberry, the 'edge' icon on the Pearl screen changes to EDGE. This means the GPRS data connection is on, ready to receive and send mails, chat, SMS, MMS etc.

How to receive and send mails with the Blackberry? OK. After edge turns to EDGE, you need to open an account on the Blackberry website. Go to http://airtel.blackberry.com , and fill in some basic stuff, including the PIN and IMEI numbers of your Blackberry Pearl. Nothing scary about these numbers - they are written on the back of the Blackberry Pearl's battery. If you can't find them there, go to options>status on the Blackberry screen. You will see both numbers there.

Once the account submitted, you get an email account like dancewithshadows@airtel.blackberry.com.


To configure email accounts, log into http://airtel.blackberry.com  on your computer. Enter the username and password of your email IDs and click submit. Immediately, you get an alert on your Blackberry saying the account has been configured. Believe me, it brings a smile to your face.

Airtel tells me that I can configure a maximum of nine email IDs on the Blackberry Pearl. So far, I have configured my official email ID, along with the GMail and Hotmail IDs. The set-up process, for all these IDs, was surprisingly smooth.

Once the email ID is configured, an icon for the ID automatically appears on your Blackberry screen. The more the accounts, the more the icons. Once you receive a mail, a notifier chimes, and a light blinks. No gory ringtones here. Roll the Blackberry trackball to the icon and press. You've got mail! You can use regular email functions like forward, reply, delete etc. If you choose to delete, Blackberry Pearl asks you if you want to delete the mail from the handheld or from the mail inbox too. Quite thoughful.

However, unlike the mailbox on the browser or Outlook, you don't have the luxury of having multiple folders in Blackberry. Once you delete, you can't go to the trash can and retrieve from there. However, you can still use the mailbox trashcan, just in case you deleted it unintentionally. Apart from regular text-based email, Blackberry Pearl can also open DOC, PDF and spreadsheet files.

The mail services on my Blackberry pearl worked to my near-complete satisfaction. Why near-complete? Reason is, Blackberry services, as I said early, requires GPRS EDGE service. In my case, Airtel provides the service. Sometimes, Blackberry services go down and EDGE changes to edge, and you may not notice it. This means the data connection is no longer active, though you may still be making and receiving phone calls. If a mail lands up in your mailbox when the EDGE service is down, you get it only after the service is up again. The EDGE service occasionaly snaps, though Airtel tries to quickly restore it. Once I got an Airtel SMS that the service is down and under maintenance for sometime. But several times I have noticed that the data connection dies and comes back to life in a short while without any information from Airtel.

It is important to note that I have used the Blackberry EDGE service only on Airtel. In India, Hutch too provides Blackberry services, though Airtel was the first to bring Blackberry here. I am still to check out the EDGE service on Hutch. I hope it is fault-free.

However, the Blackberry browser has been a complete let-down for me. I have been disgusted enough with the piddly, scaled-down browser on my Motorazr before I decided enough is enough and blew up my savings on the Blackberry Pearl smartphone. However, the browser is a major let-down. The Blackberry Pearl browser is no competition to the full-fledged browser on the Palm Treo 650 or the iPhone. I hope RIM will load a better browser into the future models and not tie me down to this excuse-of-a-browser. Come on, if I shell out Rs 25,000 for a Blackberry Pearl I guess deserve to have a full-fledged browser like the preloaded Safari in iPhone.

The Blackberry Pearl also comes packed with icons of Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger. Download and installation are easy and intuitive. The applications download fast and start up quickly. I honestly believe that the Google Talk in my Blackberry Pearl loads faster than the chat window in my Gmail inbox on my PC. Unfortunately, there is no MSN Messenger available. There are several software manufacturers peddling their MSN-like IM software on the Web promising compatibility with MSN. If you feel confident enough, feel free to download them and use. However, we can't guarantee that all of them are virus and spyware-free.

Despite its marked tilt towards email functionalities, the Blackberry still has sufficient firepower in the mobile phone department. It has all the functions of the Railway Romeo's mobile phone and much more. Address book, phone logs, SMS, MMS, Bluetooth etc work without a hitch. One advantage of taking the Blackberry services is that you dont need to apply separately for MMS, Net On Phone etc. You got Blackberry services, you got it all.

The Blackberry Pearl has a 1.3 megapixel camera with built-in flash. The camera is far better than my age-old Motorazr, though that is not saying much. No kidding, the camera and screen of the Blackberry Pearl are above par and the pictures quite sharp. Yes, there is a 5X digital zoom too. The flash did not impress me much, but I have no complaints on that count. Once you click a picture, a menu pops up below the picture for quick editing, emailing, saving or MMSing. Very useful. There is also an expandable micro SD memory card slot, if you need to store more pictures. The organiser functions too are impressive - with a calendar, memo pad, tasks list, calculator etc.

Something that will discourage the Railway Rakhis is the absence of a video function. It does not have an FM radio either. The Blackberry Pearl smartphone can play movie and music files of several formats downloaded from a PC, but cannot record video. Blackberry Pearl has customisable keys, which often make you feel that you are handling a mini-computer rather than a mobile phone.

The voice quality was exemplary, in both the handset and the headphone. Allow me to be shameless enough to say that the stereophonic headphones of Blackberry offered the best voice quality I have come across since my iPod.

Unlike regular mobile phones, Blackberry has always offered QWERTY keypads, just the same as in ordinary computer keyboards. This meant that the keyboard was bulkier, ending up wth brick-sized Blackberrys which one had to lug from room to room. With Blackberry Pearl, RIM has broken that barrier - yes, the QWERTY keypad lives, but in a different format. Instead of one letter-one key, it is two letters-one key. This means a small compromise in user-friendliness, but I guess that is the price one has to pay for the extra style. The trackball 'pearl' is very user-friendly - one of those things which make you feel Why-didn't-they-think-of-it-before. When I applied for the Blackberry services, the rental was around Rs 1,000. Since then, Airtel has reduced it to Rs 245.

A Blackberry Pearl is recommended if you are in need of constantly keeping in touch across email and chat. This is not an entertainment-oriented phone; so, don't look here for exemplary movie & music capabilities, FM radio and large storage space. It is assumed that a Blackberry user has more important things to do in life than shooting MMS clips in shady classrooms. Though the Blackberry Pearl turns heads in the style department, it is actually in the engine room of functionality that the Pearl wins hands down.

Blackberry Pearl Smartphone Features

 

Camera
Media Player
Corporate Data Access 1
Wireless Email
Organizer
Wireless Calendar 1
Phone
SMS
MMS
Wireless Internet

Size and Weight

4.2" (Length )
1.97" (Width )
.57" (Depth )
Approximately 3.1 oz (Weight )

Data Input/Navigation

Trackball
SureType� QWERTY-style keyboard with SureType software (Keyboard )
Keyboard backlighting

Voice Input/Output

Headset jack
Integrated earpiece/ microphone
Built-in Speakerphone
Headset, hands-free and serial port profiles supported (Bluetooth� technology )

Display

Font size (user selectable)
Color display
Backlighting
Light sensing screen

Notification

Polyphonic ringtones
Vibrate Mode
LED indicator
MP3 ringtones

Battery

Removable/rechargeable Lithium (C-S2)
Approximate Battery Life
15 days standby time (Standby Time )
3.5 hrs talk time (Talk Time 2 )

Memory

64 MB (Flash Memory )

Modem

RIM wireless modem

Email Integrations

Works with BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange
Integrates with existing business email account
Integrates with existing personal email account
Integrates with optional new device account
Includes desktop software
Works with BlackBerry Enterprise Server for IBM Lotus Domino
Works with BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Novell GroupWise 3

Accessories Included

USB cable
Wall Charger

Device Security

Password Protection and Keyboard Lock
Support for Triple DES or AES Encryption when Integrated with BlackBerry Enterprise Server
Pending Approval (FIPS Validation )
Optional Support for S/MIME

 

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