BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105 review
We review the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105, RIM's first handset to feature a standard numeric keypad.
Verdict: The BlackBerry keyboard isn't broke, so we don't really see a need to fix it.
Pros: Excellent email, decent browser, BlackBerry v5 OS, 3.2 megapixel camera
Cons: Standard numeric keyboard, small screen, so-so media player
Design: Standard candybar
Operating System: Blackberry v5
More Info: BlackBerry website
BlackBerry's Pearl series has made a determined effort to broaden the appeal of the business workhorse to a more consumer-oriented crowd. The latest version has added a few much-needed updates to the small and extremely compact template but it's also the first BlackBerry to feature a standard numeric keypad. It seems like a bit of a backward step, and we can only assume it's an attempt to attract potential buyers who might have been put off by BlackBerry's difference in the past. Whether or not it's a good thing remains to be seen.
The first impression of the 9105 is that it's very much in the Pearl tradition. It retains the same wavy line keypad layout of its predecessor and it's equally small and only slightly heavier at 108mm x 50mm x 13mm and 93g.
The original Pearl's trackball has now been replaced with an optical trackpad (very easy to use, plus you can adjust its sensitivity to suit) and the sides sport the now familiar black plastic strip covering the various buttons: volume, camera shutter and voice dial (actually a configurable smart key which you can set to access a wide range of functions). There's also a micro USB sync/power slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Reflecting the Pearl's consumer (as opposed to business) focus, on top is a series of touch-sensitive media player controls, nicely positioned for using while the phone's still in your pocket, though it's a pity there wasn't also room for the headphone jack, which sits awkwardly at the side.
The fact that we're referring to it as a keypad rather than a keyboard gives the game away. This is the Canadian company's most conventional looking phone so far, with a standard (ish, given its wavy line layout) 14-key numeric layout. The SureType predictive text is on board, but adapted so it works T9-style with the standard keypad and very good it is too.
It's not quite as good as BlackBerry's SureType keyboard however, which features 20 keys and two letters per key. The only reason we can think of for RIM 'dumbing down' like this is to make the handset more appealing to BlackBerry-phobes who found the unusual look a bit confusing. But since the US will be getting the 9100 option – basically the same phone but with a SureType keyboard, it's a shame we haven't been offered the same option here.
Operating system and user interface
The 9105 uses v5 of Blackberry's operating system, which, with its clear, icon-based interface and extensive menus reached from anywhere by pressing the BlackBerry button, is very easy to get the hang of. Blackberry App World is filling up nicely with over 7,000 available, and while it lags well behind Apple's store for sheer numbers, there are plenty of useful and fun apps available, many of them free.
BlackBerry hasn't yet gone the route of Motorola's Motoblur or Sony Ericsson's Timescape, which pull all your SN notifications into a single menu, but there are Facebook and Twitter apps on board, and you can be notified from your homescreen that you have updates waiting.
Email, as ever, is still very much BlackBerry's strength, and even though its push email convenience has been challenged by rivals in recent years, it's never really been bettered for security, reliability and support.
Web browsing is straightforward and efficient on the 9105, with high-speed connections via HSDPA 7.2Mbps or broadband via Wi-Fi, which has now been upgraded to 802.11n. The sensitive trackpad makes it easy to whip around web pages and a single press allows you to zoom in on text. The simple fact of the small 2.2in LCD screen however means that you're unlikely to do a lot of browsing for entertainment value, but at least it can deliver info quickly and without fuss, despite the absence of Flash support.
The 3.2 megapixel camera marks a step up from its 2 megapixel predecessor, but it's okay rather than brilliant. It has autofocus and an LED flash, as well as a 2.5x digital zoom. It can deliver a maximum picture resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels and picture quality is pretty decent, considering, with good colour balance, though images could in general be a bit sharper.
The small screen is a bit of a let-down for video watching too, despite support for MPEG4, H.263, H.264 and WMV3 formats. There's no option to stretch videos to fit the screen, so you can often end up squinting at near-postage-stamp size images, which may be sharp, but still not much fun to watch.
The music player is should have been better, especially on a handset that signals its media playing credentials with top-mounted play controls. It will play MP3, eAAC+, WMA, Flac and Ogg Vorbis formats but sound is muddy and confused through the supplied headphones and doesn't get very much better even when you upgrade to a decent pair.
On the plus side there's a 12-preset equaliser on board which will go some way to optimising the sound to your taste and it comes with a 2GB microSD memory card as standard.
Battery life proved to be very good, and we got well over three days of moderate to heavy use out of it, even with push email and WiFi enabled.
The BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105 is a nice, compact little handset that does a good job of updating the Pearl template to include RIM's more recent innovations such as the optical trackpad, 802.11n WiFi and 3.2 megapixel camera. We're not convinced by the numeric keypad however, which seems like a retrograde step for the firm, and we'd have liked the opportunity to choose between this and the 20-key SureType option.