The BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9100 was announced back at WES just a short month ago, and is about ready for primetime. It builds upon RIM’s older Pearl family with an upgraded HVGA display, optical trackpad to replace the now-defunct trackball, a new 3.2 megapixel camera with flash, and is the first BlackBerry to host Wi-Fi 802.11n. When combined with BlackBerry OS 5.0, the Pearl 3G is effectively a miniaturized Bold 9700.
Coming from the Bold 9000, I was already prepared to miss the luxurious screen size, but remembered my time with the original Pearl 8100 fondly, mostly in terms of how pocketable it was and how quick I was with the SureType keypad. Wi-Fi n was a big pull, and I was curious to see how much better it was than the Wi-Fi on the vast majority of handsets I had used in the past.
From the pictures alone, the 9100 looked like a solid, if perhaps too-familiar refresh on an established family of BlackBerrys. Carrying the first proper BlackBerry brand name, the Pearl 3G had a significant heritage to live up to. So… does it?
- Tight design and construction
- Smooth, stable operating system
- Reduced screen size
- Little gain from Wi-Fi 802.11n
- Optical trackpad susceptible to sunlight interference
First off, it has to be said that the BlackBerry Pearl 3G is extremely well built. The various parts are very snugly assembled, and the keypad is much tighter than I remember the old Pearl being. Build quality aside, the 9100 has mad style. We’ll get into that in a bit. First, the hard specs.
- Dimensions: 108 x 50 x 13.3 mm, 93 g
- Display: 2.6″, 360 x 400 LCD display
- Processor: 624 Mhz processor
- Memory: 256 MB
- Battery: 1150 mAh (5 hours talk, 18 days standby)
- Bands: 800 (850)/1900/2100 MHz UMTS (also in 900/1700/2100 MHz variety), 850/900/1800/1900 MHz EDGE
- Bluetooth: 2.1, includes Stereo Audio profile
So, back to looks. The chrome accent is nice and dark, and not so obnoxiously silver as other BlackBerrys. The rubberized siding and seamlessly-integrated convenience keys (much like the 8520 and 8530 Curve) add a tonne of grip and smoothness. The lines are both sharp and curvy, reminding me a lot of the X10 Xperia. The battery door adopts the same single-slate style as the 8500-series BlackBerry, which has always been my favourite since it minimizes the number of moving parts to fiddle with. Not all moving parts are bad, though – there’s a new one under the battery door that allows you to easily pop out the SIM card without having to dig and pry. It’s much better than the hinge that most other BlackBerrys are packing.
As nice as the size is, it’s not actually that much bigger than the first Pearl, as you can see compared here to the iPhone and BlackBerry 8120. It’s got a nice amount of weight to it without being too heavy – a very nice medium. As far as input goes, the optical trackpad, though ostensibly a step up from the older trackball, still fritzes out in direct sunlight. That’s almost as inconvenient as occasionally getting grit stuck beneath the trackball, really. RIM’s two-letter-per-key SureType keyboard has a learning curve to it, so be prepared. Like most predictive systems, you have to learn to trust the dictionary to figure out what it is you’re trying to say. There’s one major caveat with SureType: if you type something wrong, it will predict your word wrong, and probably mess up the word even worse than if you just screwed up a single letter on a QWERTY keypad. If you’re comfortable with prediction, you might also want to look into the 9105 variant, which has a standard numeric keypad that feature phone users might be more comfortable with. We aren’t sure if the 9105 is going to be exclusive to Europe right now, but we’re guessing so.