As T-Mobile proved several months ago with the first Pearl, smart phones aren't just for executives looking to stay connected to their Inboxes. The AT&T version of RIM's glossy black, pocket-sized device offers similar features and performance as its brother--including a bright screen, a 1.3-megapixel camera, and multimedia playback--but some may prefer AT&T's larger network, which means more consistent voice and EDGE data coverage in the U.S.
The piano-black Pearl weighs only 3.2 ounces and measures less than 0.5 inches thick. Its 2.3-inch screen is framed in silver, and the traditional BlackBerry scroll wheel has been replaced by a trackball that sits in the center of the keyboard. Volume controls and a button to turn on the camera reside on the right, and a push-to-talk button sits on the left.If you're used to a full QWERTY keyboard, the Pearl's SureType setup, which squishes two letters onto each key, has a slight learning curve. After sending a few text messages and e-mails, however, we were hooked on its ease and found that even with large fingers we didn't accidentally press the wrong keys.
Call quality was clear, and we had no problems with dropped calls or weak signals as we walked between the subway and our office in Midtown Manhattan. The Pearl's voice-dialing feature also worked well and quickly identified the contact we wanted to call. Web pages loaded quickly, and we were able to access reviews on our site in a matter of seconds. Surfing was pleasant overall, but don't expect a rich Web experience, as pages are stretched to fit the Pearl's vertical display.
You'll find little difference between the applications loaded on the AT&T and T-Mobile Pearls. Two notable additions to AT&T's unit are a push-to-talk option ($9.99 per month) and TeleNav Maps 1.0. We tested the PTT with a colleague using the BlackBerry 8800. It worked, but we noticed a distinct echo during test calls.
TeleNav's mapping program took more than a minute to display a map of our office. It also offers step-by-step driving directions, but you have to click on each turn to see the map, which isn't very useful if you're on the road. You can upgrade to TeleNav GPS Navigator, which includes 3D moving maps, spoken and written turn-by-turn directions, business location, and fuel finders for $5.99 for ten trips or $9.99 per month for unlimited use, but you'll also need to add a dedicated Bluetooth GPS receiver ($99). The BlackBerry 8800 has GPS built in.
BlackBerry's Desktop Manager, which syncs your contacts, calendar, and tasks with Outlook or Outlook Express can help you stay organized and on time. Connecting to the data stored in Outlook was simple and fairly straightforward using the Setup Wizard. The Pearl supports up to ten e-mail addresses, and you can view attachments but not edit them.
On the entertainment front, the BlackBerry Pearl has a basic music and video player that supports AAC, AAC+, eACC+, MP3, and MPEG-4 files. Songs sounded clear, and video was on a par with some flash players that we've tested, but the screen is too tiny to watch clips for an extended amount of time. The 1.3-MP digicam took decent shots (for a phone) but doesn't record video.
Overall, the BlackBerry Pearl is a great choice for anyone looking to stay connected without carrying a bulky device. Its slim design will appeal to consumers and executives alike, and its price tag of $199 (with a two-year contract) will fit most budgets.