BlackBerry 8100 Pearl

BlackBerry handhelds haven’t quite acquired the iconic status of the iPod, but the classic design is certainly unmistakable, despite having spawned several clones over the past four years. Lately, however, makers Research In Motion have been experimenting with different handset styles, adopting a straight-edged ‘candybar’ design and a sleeker profile.

Having upped the processor speed to 312MHz with the last generation of handsets, the BlackBerry’s bulk has now been addressed and cut to just 89g, making the Pearl as light as any standard mobile handset – something to which it clearly aspires with its polished black exterior. Further evidence of RIM’s aim to become a mainstream consumer brand, rather than a business product, is that the Pearl’s opening screen has one-click links to Yahoo Messenger as well as your email inbox and business email server.

Controversially, the Pearl dispenses with the scroll wheel on the right-hand side that BlackBerry traditionalists have come to expect. Instead, you navigate using a glowing white orb – the pearl from which the handset takes its name. Using this, you can scroll up, down, left and right through the extensive menu of applications. To the immediate left of the pearl is a BlackBerry button that acts as a shortcut button to the items you’ll want to use most often – messages, email, phone, browser and so on – plus the option to hide any less useful ones.

Under Applications, as well as the browser, email, calendar, to do, contacts and other business functions, you now get voice-activated dialling and voice note-taking and forwarding, plus the Pocket Mobireader with which you can view PDFs. BlackBerry also adds its own instant messaging client as well as Google Talk.

At the time of going to press there was no way to sync the Pearl with your Mac contacts and calendars, but PocketMac (www.pocketmac.net) produce the free PocketMac for BlackBerry program. This works with all other models so an update should be available soon.

What marks the real sea change, however, is that RIM has relented and given the BlackBerry a 1.3-megapixel camera. This has a 3x zoom but is pretty awful except in bright conditions. And for the first time there’s a well-hidden microSD removable memory card slot, so you can take and store photos, videos and more – video clip playback on the Pearl’s 38 x 41mm screen is actually rather good.

In fact, we’d go so far as to say this is the best implementation of a smartphone and desirable mobile phone we’ve yet seen.

OUR VERDICT

This is undoubtedly the jewel of the BlackBerry range. The candybar design has come a long way since RIM’s original device, which was far broader and took up the whole width of your palm. This sleek black number weighs just 89g and can properly be called a phone rather than a PDA with all the bulk that such a term implies.

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