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The BlackBerry Pearl

I take it all back

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Confessions of an analyst A couple of months, I committed the cardinal sin of criticising a mobile device without actually having used one. When I posted my initial reaction to the BlackBerry 8100 “Pearl” here, I was bothered by the thought that RIM had sold out its loyal business users by bowing to the pressure of the consumer market and cluttering the most effective mobile email product line available today with a gimmicky track-ball and trivialities such as a camera and media player.

Time to swallow hard and admit my mistake.

A few days ago, on an impulse while upgrading my old BlackBerry 7290, I opted for the 8100 rather than the 8700 I was originally intending to move to.

Why?

Well, when I actually got to see and fondle the Pearl, I just wanted one – it was a lot slimmer and lighter than I expected, actually looks pretty cool (I think), and is a huge improvement on the old style BlackBerries from a usability perspective, particularly when used as a phone.

The obvious question from anyone who has been following RIM’s foray’s into the smart phone world starting with the “candy stick” style 7100 series is how well the “SureType” system works. For those who don’t know, this is a predictive typing mechanism, similar in principle to that found on most mobiles for use with SMS, but based on a 5 column keyboard with a QWERTY rather than ABC layout. You still have multiple letters on each key (though only two rather than the normal three as found on a standard phone), but the sequence is more familiar to those who are used to a computer keyboard.

I have to say, composing emails with SureType seemed a little weird to begin with, but by the end of the first day, it started to feel quite natural. Three days later, I can’t type quite as quickly as I could on my old 7290 with the full keyboard, but it’s far from slow and remarkably accurate. It also learns your vocabulary as you go so accuracy improves with usage.

I also have to applaud RIM on the track-ball innovation, which makes navigation and text editing very intuitive.

So, lots of positives, but is there anything I don’t like?

In practice, there is probably only one limitation worth mentioning and that’s battery life. I had got used to being able to go on the road for 3 or 4 days and not have to worry about taking a charger, but my guess is that this would not be wise with the 8100. It’s not that the battery life is poor by general mobile phone standards, but that the older BlackBerries were just in a league of their own. I guess that’s the price you pay for a better screen, faster processor and much smaller and lighter form factor.

Bottom line though, I am impressed with the Pearl as a multi-function business device and don’t have any regrets for my impulse decision - and that’s without yet having had the chance to put the camera and other multi-media capabilities through their paces.

With the competition hotting up for RIM, the significance of getting the 8100 right should not be under-estimated. It will be interesting now to see whether the device gains traction more quickly in the business or consumer market, as it has appeal that genuinely crosses the usual divide.

Then there's the 8800 - now that's really getting serious!

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