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[Review] T-Mobile BlackBerry Pearl 8120


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Phone: RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120

Carrier: T-Mobile

Plan: 1000 Shared Minutes / BlackBerry Unlimited Internet $19.99

 

Last Tuesday I called up T-Mobile to inquire about some available upgrades for my phone, a Samsung T-809 (which had all of its features stripped by T-Mobile's custom firmware). I have been looking into getting some sort of PDA based phone to fulfill my lust for an iPhone, but there was nothing sexy about Windows Mobile or the Palm and Blackberry phones I've seen at the kiosks. They all had either gaudy interfaces (Windows Mobile) or busy looking keyboards (Motorola Q, BlackBerry 8800, Palm Centro) and I was still attached to having a regular keypad.

 

I had seen the BlackBerry Pearl, and while it looked nice, in advertisement photos it looks kind of big. It also used SureType, which I was wary of. But while talking to the very helpful and very cute-sounding T-Mobile representative, she realized that our current account was opened before T-Mobile was even T-Mobile, back when they were Voicestream, and that we were entitled to some serious discounts. A new BlackBerry Pearl 8120 normally retails for $399, and the upgrade would've been $149, but because I was a VIP, it would only cost me $79. I was sold.

 

First Impressions

 

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The first thing I noticed was right out of the box, is that its comparable in size to a Motorola RAZR, and is almost no bigger than my previous T-809. It's very light and the plastics and materials feel alot nicer than most phones I've touched, but maybe not as strong and robust (or drop proof) as the metal-feel of the T-809.

 

Upon plugging it in you are greeted by a very helpful Setup Assistant, that taught me in a matter of minutes how to navigate the menus and how to type and make corrections using SureType. It also helped me set up my Pearl for use on my home wireless network and was up and running in a few minutes.

 

EDIT: And how could I forget, the reason they named it the Pearl. The little scroll ball used for menu navigation is so much nicer than clicking directional keys, that it feels like every phone should be made this way. It makes navigating web pages and images so nice, it could almost be as nice as a touchscreen.

 

The basic home screen and menus are nicely laid out and easy to use, but I opted to install bPhone, an iPod/iPhone skin specifically for BlackBerries running OS 4.3 that gives the home screen a nice colorful feel and makes the phone feel much more casual, as opposed to the more professional feel of the built in skins. I don't want to feel like a yuppie while using it.

 

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Making Calls

 

After purchasing a copy of MissingSync for BlackBerry (it comes standard with PocketMac, but I prefer the simplicity of MissingSync), It easily synced up all my contacts and shows them just like my iPod 5G does on its vCard reader. The same goes for calendars.

 

When using my home 10 Mbps connection to make VoIP calls, the calls are very clear and there is no present static. Sometimes during a silence a small amount of static can be heard, but only if you have the volume at maximum and you listen very closely in a quiet room.

 

While at school I made several calls during lunch in both quiet and loud areas. When inside of a cafeteria, and with 3 bars showing the EDGE logo, the call was crystal clear, although my girlfriend had said she could almost hear what everyone else was saying. Maybe its a bit too clear..

 

When indoors and with only 1 bar or signal strenght, where my old T-809 wouldve failed to make a call, my Pearl had no problem calling and the signal was still clear enough to hold a conversation.

 

SMS, IM and E-Mail

 

SMS messaging is a breeze. While I was a master at texting using the Multitap method on a standard keypad, I found myself typing naturally and with incredible speed using the tiny SureType keyboard. I was sending off huge SMS messages (with proper punctuation) in a matter of seconds and was able to finally use AIM mobile with efficiency.

 

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The BlackBerry Pearl comes with AOL Instant Messenger, MSN, Yahoo, and Google Talk already pre-installed. At first, I kept getting an error, but I was able to fix it by activating my BlackBerry Unlimited Internet Plan. It effectivly replaces my $6.99/month WebAccess plan, and makes it easier to use 3rd Party programs over EDGE. Email was also a breeze to set up. I just logged into My T-Mobile from my Mac, and all it asked for is my email address and my email password, and it is able to figure out the rest. But because I still like using Mac OS X Mail to view my messages, I made a seperate GMail account and set my standard account to forward all mail to that instead.

 

So far, after using E-Mail, AIM and Google Talk on my BlackBerry, I am proud to say that I no longer sit indoors at my Mac on nice summer days just to keep in contact with my friends, but instead I jump into my poolside hammock and enjoy a nice glass of lemonade with my BlackBerry within reach. No wonder many users have affectionatly nicknamed them CrackBerries.

 

Internet Access

 

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Using the built in browser is incredibly simple, and it handles any "mobile" website I throw at it with ease. But sending it to lets say, www.apple.com works, but it chokes on the page layout and shows images underneath the links.

 

OperaMini, however has so far handled everything I sent it to. With the exception of flash and java, it works perfectly, but it does require faster bandwidth, so I think it would be more restricted to EDGE.

 

Multimedia

 

The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 has a built in 2.0 Megapixel camera, as apposed to the 1.3 offered on the 8100 and on my previous phone.

 

Not only is the image size huge at 1600x1200 (for a phone), but the quality is amazing (for a phone). It takes great pictures outdoors (for a phone), and with its built in flash, it can even take good ones in dimly lit rooms (for a phone).

 

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(Taken with BlackBerry Pearl 8120)

 

Not having to take my iPod to school and risk having it stolen again would be another advantage. After purchasing a 2 GB MicroSD (it still amazes me that something that small could hold so much) off Newegg for 15 dollars, I set up MissingSync to sync up a playlist with about a gigs worth of 320 kbps mp3 files. It sent all of the files over in about 90 seconds, and after waiting another minute for it to organize all the music by its tags, it felt almost like an iPod.

 

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Music showed album art nicely on the Now Playing screen, and everything was organized by Artist, Album, Genre and so on. While it wont be replacing my iPod on long trips, I dont think ill be bringing it to school with me anymore, as 2 GB is plenty for my favorite music, and with room to spare for some pictures or a few videos.

 

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Speaking of videos, the Pearl is video capable once you insert a MicroSD card. But the maximum video quality disapointed me, as my T-809 would take pretty high resolution (for a phone) videos at 320x240, while the Pearl can only take videos at 240x180. The sore quality leaves the video functionality as more of a novelty than something I could actually use to upload to Youtube.

 

Operating System

 

My BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is currently running the latest version, which is 4.3.0.115. It is all running on an Intel XScale running at 312 Mhz. The performance is good, and it handles multitasking very nicely. I tested it by playing music, reading google news on the regular browser, running AIM and Google Talk and holding full conversations on them while switching back and forth and everything ran very smoothly. It even has a nice application switcher much like the Command+Tab in Mac OS X.

 

Only the media player would take a few seconds to open a new song or switch manually to another one, but I think the reason for that is because my music was encoded at pretty high quality and the album artwork is also in the 600x600 resolution range. If I had the time and patience to run everything through Max to lower the quality and remove the artwork I'm sure it would be even more fluid.

 

Overall I would recommend the BlackBerry Pearl, and specifically the 8120 for its great Wi-Fi capabilities. T-Mobile is a great company and their service is almost always available, with the exception of a few middle-of-nowhere areas where I get no service. The only thing that bothers me is that they lock down all of their consumer cell phone handsets and restrict their capabilities. The BlackBerry Pearl on the other hand is completely free of that lock, and only contains a small T-Mobile logo on the bottom and at the startup splash screen. I was even able to start it without a sim card, something that none of my older phones could do. Either this thing is amazing or I'm easily impressed.

 

Final Score:

 

Interface and ease of use: 7, Occasionally quirky, but easy to get used to and customize to your liking. Simple and straight to the point. Not much eye candy, but for me it works perfectly.

Multimedia: 8, Photos and Media playback great, but speed on larger files a little slow and video quality very low for a phone of this quality.

Call Quality: 8, Good, clear VoIP and EDGE/GPRS calls with minor static (I mean really, really minor, almost unnoticable static), and some in load areas, a fair amount of background noise.

Messaging: 9, SureType is downright amazing, but it takes a day (or three) of using to get used to completely and learn how to speed up typing. A full keyboard may be faster, but for this size, I'm not complaining.

Internet: 7, Built in browser great for mobile sites, but not so good for pages with advanced layouts. OperaMini works for more advanced sites, but requires fast connection.

Battery Life: 10, Charges from 10/15% to 100 in about 25 minutes, but it lasts all day doing tons of music and data intensive applications.

 

Overall: 8, Not an iPhone, but it should hold me off until they come out with the 4G.

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