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Review: RIM reinvents the BlackBerry with the Pearl

It's equipped with a camera and a media player, plus all the features business execs expect

By James Turner
September 27, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The BlackBerry has always been a status symbol as much as a technological innovation. "I'm a business person, with business needs. I need to know immediately when trouble's brewing," your typical business user might say.

That's not to say that the BlackBerry hasn't evolved over time. Gone are the days of the black and white LCD, which was replaced with a handheld-like color screen and increasingly smaller sizes. Research In Motion Ltd., which makes the BlackBerry, has even made some forays away from its traditional square packaging, which forced the company to abandon the full QWERTY keyboard layout for an abbreviated 20-key system.

But RIM's latest product, the BlackBerry Pearl, represents a wholesale break from everything we've seen from RIM. This is its first offering that will appeal as much to consumers looking for a smart phone as to CEOs looking for a smaller BlackBerry.

BlackBerry PearlThe BlackBerry Pearl
Credit: Research In Motion

The first and most obvious difference is the size and shape. The Pearl is tiny, even by cell phone standards. It measures just over 4 in. long by 2 in. wide, and is half an inch thick. It's also extremely light, tipping in at a smidge over 3 oz. But battery life hasn't been sacrificed in the name of weight. The phone specifications claim 15 days of standby and 3.5 hours of talk time. In testing, it lasted a week in the dash of my car without sputtering out, even though I spent three days in a very weak signal coverage area.

Like the other phone-style BlackBerries, the Pearl needs to double up on keys to fit in everything by using SuperType intelligent predictive typing software. For example, if I want to type the word "dear," I type the keys that have the d, e, a and r letters on them. The software figures out that I probably meant "dear," and displays that word as the entered text. But it also offers "fear" as an alternative, and I can select it if that's what I really meant. I found the software was pretty good at figuring out the right words in the right context so that the same keystrokes may result in a different default word depending on where you are in a sentence.

The predictive typing is less intuitive when entering things like Web addresses, and you have to steer it in the right direction, sometimes midword. For example, when entering "Derry" into the mapping application, I could only get it right if I picked "Derr" from the selections before typing the "y." But all in all, I was able to type at a fairly impressive rate.

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