BlackBerry Pearl 8130 Review

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$199

Pros: GPS Navigation; High-speed EV-DO data; Sharp 2-MP camera

Cons: Couldn't play WMV files; Audio for video clips doesn't play over stereo Bluetooth; Multimedia functionality needs improvement

Verdict: With GPS navigation, a better camera, and blazing 3G connectivity, the Pearl 8130 is one of the better smart phone bargains.

No longer limited to the business set, Research In Motion's recent BlackBerrys have been attracting more consumers, and the Pearl 8130 from Verizon Wireless continues that trend. With an upgraded camera, GPS support, and a media player built in, this compact smart phone has a lot more to offer than just e-mail.


BlackBerry Pearl 8130 Design

The silver BlackBerry Pearl 8130 is marginally thinner and heavier than its predecessor, but it's still quite compact and slips easily into a pocket. It has the same bright 2.3-inch, 260 x 240-pixel display. One welcome design change is the 3.5mm audio jack for plugging in high-quality headphones. Pecking out messages was relatively painless with the SureType keyboard. The layout takes some getting used to, but the software did a pretty good job recognizing most words, and after a couple of days with the device we were replying to messages at a brisk pace without having to double-check what we typed for accuracy.


E-Mail and Instant Messaging

Like the original 8100, the Pearl 8130 supports BlackBerry's push e-mail; BlackBerry Internet Service allows up to 10 personal e-mail accounts. Setup is as easy as entering your user name and password. Corporate users will gravitate toward the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which offers unique benefits such remote address lookup. Users can text one another using BlackBerry Messenger, but Verizon Wireless didn't bundle an instant messaging app that includes popular clients like AIM and Yahoo Messenger.


EV-DO Rocks

The most important update for us is that the Pearl 8130 runs on Verizon Wireless' high-speed EV-DO network, as opposed to AT&T and T-Mobile's slower EDGE networks. The front page of nytimes.com loaded in 11 seconds, and story pages with pictures took just 8 seconds. We were able to load gizmodo.com, complete with photos, in 50 seconds, and although the page looked horribly distorted in Column View mode, Page View mode enabled us to view the page fully and zoom in where we wanted.


BlackBerry Pearl 8130 Camera

The BlackBerry Pearl 8130 also sports an upgraded 2-megapixel camera, and we were generally pleased with the 1600 x 1200 images, which were colorful if a bit blurry. Its flash wasn't perfect but did a decent job. This phone can also record video, a feature new to the Pearl line. Unfortunately, the Pearl 8130 records at a tiny 240 x 176 resolution.


BlackBerry Pearl 8130 Mutlimedia

For music, the Pearl 8130 supports MP3, MIDI, AMR-NB, WMA, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ audio codecs, and for video, it supports MPEG-4 Part 2, H.263, and WMV video formats. The BlackBerry Desktop software now comes with Roxio Media Manager for transferring media to your BlackBerry device. Although it has a media player, the Pearl 8130 doesn't come with V CAST Mobile TV or Music, so you'll need to drag and drop content onto the device from your PC. The bundled software failed to successfully transcode WMV files for playback on the Pearl 8130.


Half-Baked Stereo Bluetooth

We listened to a track from The Best of Beethoven using a set of Bluetooth stereo headphones, and although the song sounded clear, we did have to adjust the volume to hear lows or decrease highs from time to time. For some reason, when we played a video, the sound came out of the Pearl 8130's external speakers instead of our Bluetooth headset, which was embarrassing on the bus. Verizon Wireless confirmed that the stereo Bluetooth is only for audio and not for video playback. We say stick with traditional earphones.


Good Call Quality and Battery Life

Phone calls were crisp and clear even on loud busy streets with the wind blowing, and we never had any complaints from other callers. The Pearl 8130 features voice-activated dialing, which you can use with or without a headset.

Battery life was excellent, and we especially liked the phone's ability to idle for days. Even though RIM decreases standby time to 9 days on the Pearl 8130 (down from the 8100's 15 days), we were able to go an entire weekend making calls and surfing the Web and still had one-third of the battery remaining Sunday night.


BlackBerry Pearl 8130 Verdict

RIM kept all the features we loved on the 8100 and made them better. Some may prefer Samsung's BlackJack II, which costs $50 less and offers a full keyboard along with XM Radio Mobile and streaming Cellular Video. But the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 still has a lot to offer for buyers who demand a sleek smart phone that's fast, easy to use, and chock-full of features.


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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Carrier Verizon
Form Factor Candy Bar
Operating System BlackBerry OS
Data EV-DO
Internal Memory 32MB RAM
Internal Memory 64MB ROM
Memory Expansion Type TransFlash/MicroSD
Display (main) 2.3 inches (260 x 240 pixels/65,000 colors)
GPS No
Bluetooth Type Bluetooth Stereo
FM Radio No
Camera Resolution 2 MP
Talk / Standby Time 3.7 hours/9 days
Size 4.2 x 2 x 0.6 inches
Weight 3.4 ounces
Company Website www.verizonwireless.com