Sprint's BlackBerry Pearl 8130 combines the powers of the carrier's multimedia offerings (mobile TV, music, and GPS) with the comfortably chic design of RIM's slimmest handset. The result is a handy, relatively inexpensive ($129 with two-year contract and $100 mail-in rebate) smart phone for media-loving, mobile-messaging mavens who don't mind the absence of a full QWERTY keyboard.
Physically, little has changed from theBlackBerry Pearl 8120offered by AT&T and T-Mobile. You get the hybrid QWERTY/dialpad, armed with SureType technology for e-mail and texting; a crisp, 2.3-inch, 260 x 240-pixel display; the familiar trackball controller; a 3.5mm headphone jack; a 2-megapixel camera; and a video recorder. Missing from the Pearl 8130 is the nifty Wi-Fi found on T-Mobile's Pearl 8120.
Unlike thesilver and pink models offered by Verizon Wireless, Sprint's version of the Pearl 8130 comes in your choice of red or black. The other major difference is price: the Pearl 8130 costs $129 with a two year-contract and $100 mail-in rebate, while Verizon's version will set you back only $99.99 with a two-year contract and $70 online discount.
SureType Takes Practice
As we've noted in previous reviews of the BlackBerry Pearl, SureType is an acquired taste. The Pearl 8130's predictive typing software works very well; it remembers words you use frequently, it can complete those words for you after entering only a few letters, and it includes a customizable dictionary. But using the keypad and the trackball simultaneously (to scroll and select the correct words) will be a problem for staunch QWERTY fans who are used to keeping their fingers on the keypad.
E-mail and Messaging
Users can add up to 10 e-mail accounts to the Pearl 8130 using either POP/IMAP mail, such as Yahoo, or BlackBerry Enterprise Server to link up with their corporate accounts. Setting up our personal Gmail account took less than two minutes. Though the keypad may trigger a little frustration, push e-mail, SMS messaging, and RIM BlackBerry Messenger (which came preinstalled) worked like a charm. Unfortunately, there's no MMS support on this phone via Sprint's network, so sending pictures and video via texts are a no-go.
Sprint's EV-DO data connection provided a strong Web-surfing experience. NYTimes.com loaded in 6 seconds, and CNN.com took 5 seconds. Times were slower on Verizon's Pearl 8130, which took 13 and 10 seconds, respectively, to load the same pages. YouTube's mobile site loaded quickly on Sprint's Pearl 8130, and a video clip of Chappelle's Show--though small, pixelated, and hard to see on the Pearl's screen--began playing in the BlackBerry video viewer in about 5 seconds.
Sprint Navigator costs $9.99 a month or $2.99 for a one-time use (if you opt out of the Simply Everything Plan), and it's worth the cost. This GPS software offers voice 3D or 2D driving directions, a business database, traffic updates, an editable database of locations and more. We tested Sprint Navigator's driving directions on our way home from Manhattan to Brooklyn and, unlike with other GPS systems we've used, had no problems getting a signal amid the skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings. Sprint Navigator even managed to reroute us within a few seconds after a wrong turn.
Video and Photos
The Pearl 8130 supports MPEG-4 Part 2, H.263, and WMV video formats, but we enjoyed Sprint TV most of all. With selections from CNN Mobile Live to Comedy Central Mobile, Sprint TV uses a simple interface to showcase a variety of entertaining content. The selection is great, but we were disappointed with the video quality of an episode of ABC's Samantha Who? The screen was so small we couldn't read expressions on actors' faces. Sound quality via a wired headset was satisfactory, with only slight scratchiness. Like the Verizon model, Sprint's Pearl 8130 does not support stereo Bluetooth while viewing video.
Pictures taken in natural light with the 2-megapixel camera were clear. That changed when we used the camera indoors: Images appeared grainy, grayed out, and featureless. The same can be said for shooting video with the 240 x 180-pixel resolution video recorder. We did some filming in the late afternoon sunlight as we walked along Second Avenue in New York City. The faces of passersby were dark, gritty, and blurry, and the shop signs we passed were barely legible. The phone's speakers captured a high amount of wind noise--even though it wasn't windy--but managed to pick up the voices of pedestrians clearly.
Listen to the Music
Using BlackBerry's music player was a cinch. An MP3 of Nina Simone's "Work Song" had great texture and timbre via both a Bluetooth headset and the included wired headset. The Pearl 8130 also accepts MIDI, AMR-NB, WMA, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ audio codecs.
We enjoyed using the Sprint Music Store's over-the-air downloads. Though you can't purchase entire albums, Sprint's music store offers a selection of artists and genres that varies from blues guitarist John Lee Hooker to the hip-hop techno mixes of DJ Shadow. Downloading MP3s requires a microSD/SDHC Card (any size) and individual tracks cost 99 cents plus tax, or $5.94 plus tax for 6 songs. Our first download, Coldplay's "Violet Hill," took more than 5 minutes. Subsequent downloads, however, consistently took less than a minute.
If you're looking to move music files between the BlackBerry music player and Sprint's music player, you will hit a wall. There's no way to add music downloaded via the Sprint Music Store to the rest of the files saved in the BlackBerry music player. In other words, you can't listen to Sprint Music Store tracks while you check your e-mail or surf the Web, as you can with MP3s.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Calls conducted with Pearl 8130 and the included wired headset were pristine. Nary a hiccup nor pop could be heard. Using a Bluetooth headset (a Plantronics Voyager 855) presented some problems, however. Even the sound of a phone ringing before someone picks it up was marred by scratching. To boot, those we talked with said that our voice sounded distant and inaudible. We'd recommend pairing this phone with a noise isolating Bluetooth headset like the Aliph Jawbone.
RIM states the Pearl 8130 will last for 3.7 hours of talk time and 9 days of standby use; over a period of four days, we made calls, surfed the Web, and listened to music during our subway commute without unraveling the charger but, by that time, the phone was almost completely drained.
Despite the lack of Wi-Fi capability, we highly recommend the BlackBerry Pearl 8130 for Sprint. This slim smart phone juggles multimedia and push e-mail well, and unlike the Verizon Wireless version of this handset, you can watch TV and download tunes on the go. If you want the same features but a full keyboard--and you don't mind a little extra bulk--spend the extra $20 for Sprint's BlackBerry Curve 8330.