What's hot: Elegant looks, solid build, 3G and WiFi 802.11n, strong music features.
What's not: Running the older OS 5, not a full QWERTY keyboard.
Reviewed November 30, 2010 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Like a slow growing flower, the BlackBerry Pearl is a beauty that blossoms behind her larger brothers, the BlackBerry Bold and Curve series smartphones. But sooner or later, she will get there. The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G is finally here with HSDPA 3G. RIM makes two versions of the Pearl 3G, one with AT&T ‘s 3G 850/1900/2100 MHz bands, and one with T-Mobile’s 3G 900/1700/2100 MHz bands (both models have Euro 3G too). We used the AT&T version for this review, since T-Mobile hadn’t released its version as of this writing. Worldwide, there are two models, the Pearl 9100 3G that has a 20-key condensed QWERTY SureType keyboard, and the Pearl 9105 with a 14-key traditional number pad. Both have SureType software built-in. It’s unlikely that we’ll see the number pad model in the US. The Pearl 3G currently ships with the older BlackBerry OS 5 rather than OS 6, a big hurt.
Other than 3G, the BlackBerry Pearl 3G also updates overall hardware specs: it’s now faster with a 624MHz CPU and has more memory with 256MB flash memory. It has a better 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus, an LED flash and video capture, upgrades to Wi-Fi 802.11n, and it has a higher resolution 360 x 400 display. This quad band GSM smartphone comes in many colors and shades, the AT&T version is in a red gradient design that makes the device look classy. The AT&T version comes with a 2GB microSD card in the box.
Design and Ergonomics
Measuring 4.25 x 1.96 x 0.52 inches, the BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G is almost the same size as the BlackBerry Pearl 8100 series, but the new Pearl 3G has a more refined body. The front of the smartphone looks similar to the last gen Pearl, but the red gradient paint looks very nice. A soft, rubber strip replaces the chromed sides and that makes it a lot easier to handle the device. The back of the Pearl 3G is curved and the deep chromed caps on top and bottom add nice accents to the deep crimson back cover and the black rubber sides. Like many consumer oriented BlackBerry devices, the Pearl 3G has media controls (play, rewind and fast forward) on top of the phone and a touchpad replaces the trackball found on the last gen Pearl. The entire package looks very pleasing and stylish.
Beyond that, very few things have changed on the BlackBerry Pearl 3G compared to the last gen Pearl. The 20-key QWERTY employs RIM’s SureType technology with predictive text, and the standard four menu keys flank the touchpad on the front of the phone. On the side, you get the same ports and buttons found on the last gen Pearl: a standard 3.5mm audio jack (the phone comes with a wired stereo headset), charging port, left and right convenience keys and volume buttons.
The Pearl 3G’s 3.2 megapixel camera lives on the back with an LED flash. The microSD card slot is under the battery door, but you need not remove the battery to gain access. The SIM card slot is under the battery, and you will need to take out the battery to access your SIM card.
Phone, Web and Social Networking
Like most GSM BlackBerry smartphones, the BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G has excellent reception. The phone usually got full bars in our area (many AT&T phones get only 50 to 60 percent of full bars), and voice quality is good on both incoming and outgoing ends. While the phone’s DSP can filter out most road noise, wind noise gets through freely. The Pearl 3G comes with the excellent Nuance voice command software for voice dialing and checking device status, and the phone’s speaker is loud. If this is your first BlackBerry smartphone, you should know that the Contacts database on BlackBerry devices integrates heavily with the phone app, the web browser and the messaging apps. You can assign all keys on the front keyboard to speed dial numbers.
Deals and Shopping:
Messaging on the Pearl 3G is excellent. You get SMS, MMS, PIN (BlackBerry Messenger) and push email. The SureType keyboard works well with predictive text and allows you to type as if you are using a full QWERTY. As with most recent BlackBerry smartphones, the BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G offers social networking apps. You can download Facebook, Twitter and MySpace for BlackBerry using the pre-loaded links, and BlackBerry App World 2.0 is pre-loaded on the BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G. Though the Pearl 3G doesn’t run BlackBerry OS 6, it has integration with social networking apps as do BlackBerry OS 6 phones like the Torch and BlackBerry Style. If you leave these apps running in the background, it will give you alerts for updates via a small icon in the status bar right below the time and date on the home screen.
As with all BlackBerry smartphones, the Pearl 3G comes with Docs To Do Standard Edition. You can view and edit MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files transferred via BlackBerry Desktop software or received as attachments in your email. Other PIM tools include Clock, Calculator, File manager and Password Keeper. AT&T includes links to download Mobile Banking and YPmobile.
The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G is a great music phone with excellent audio quality via the speaker and the built-in 3.5mm audio jack using the included stereo headset. The dedicated media player buttons on top of the phone that control both music and video playback make the ‘Berry pleasant to use for multimedia. The built-in music player on the BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G can play audio files in MP3, AMR-NB, AAC-LC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMV, Flac and Ogg Vorbis formats. We tested a variety of tracks ripped in iTunes and Windows Media Player, and all played nicely on the Pearl 3G. In addition to your own music, AT&T includes music apps such as MusicID, Music Videos and AT&T Radio. You can of course download more music apps from BlackBerry App World including your favorite music streaming services.
The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G also plays video in MPEG4 Simple and Advanced Simple Profile, H.263, H.264 and WMV3 formats. The phone comes with AT&T’s Mobile Video that is an on-demand video service that offers TV shows, entertainment programs, sports, weather and more. Video playback quality is good: the videos are certainly watchable, but they won’t wow you with high quality. There isn’t a dedicated YouTube player, but if you go to YouTube’s mobile site, the phone plays the mobile versions just fine. Playback could be better though, since some YouTube videos look a bit blocky.
The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G has a built-in GPS that works with both BlackBerry Maps and AT&T Navigator powered by TeleNav. BlackBerry Maps is a free app that offers maps and directions. AT&T Navigator costs $10/month and it provides spoken turn-by-turn directions and a large POI database that’s updated every 6 months or so. The Pearl 3G works well with AT&T Navigator and the GPS got position fixes quickly and accurately in metro areas. Routing and re-routing in AT&T Navigator is speedy, and voice guidance is very loud on the Pearl 3G. Maps look good on the 2.26” display (though small given the display size), and the POIs are spot on.
The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G has a 3.2 megapixel camera that takes decent photos and videos. Photos look reasonably sharp and bright with good exposure, though you will see white out in sunlit spots. Colors are vibrant and balanced in still images. They are certainly good enough for sharing via email and on the web. Videos look smooth and they look good when shot in good lighting conditions. The flash works reasonably well in dark environments for both photos and videos.
The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G comes with a rechargeable cryptographic Lithium cell battery that’s 1150 mAh in capacity. Claimed talk time is 5 hours, music playtime is 30 hours and standby time is 18 days on GSM and 13 days on 3G. You will get these numbers if you use the phone moderately. If you keep some background apps running, like Facebook and Twitter and check email, the phone will last a lot less in standby; more like 3-4 days. If you watch Mobile Video via 3G and use navigation for long trips, you’ll need to charge the phone every other day.
The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G is naturally targeted at users who have been waiting for the Pearl to support 3G. You will get a faster device in general if you are upgrading from the last generation Pearl, and a sleeker looking phone. Though the Pearl 3G still doesn’t have BlackBerry OS 6, the web browser, the UI icons and many apps have been updated. Social networking apps and features are all there as well, but we're not sure the Pearl design still shines after this many years.
Price: $149.99 with a 2-year contract after discount. No contract price: $549.99.
Display: 2.26” 65K color TFT LCD. 360 x 400 resolution.
Battery: 1150 mAhr Lithium Ion cell. Claimed talk time: 5 hours and claimed standby time: 18 days.
Performance: 624MHz CPU and has more memory with 256MB flash memory.
Size: 4.25 x 1.97 x .52 inches. Weight: 3.3 ounces.
Phone: Quad-band GSM operating on 850/900/1800/1900 MHz. UMTS/HSDPA networks: 850/1900/2100.
Camera: 3.2 megapixel camera with built-in flash and 2x digital zoom. Records videos.
Audio: Integrated mic, earpiece and 3.5mm stereo headset jack. Polyphonic, MP3 and MIDI ringtones, supports vibrate alerts.
Networking: Bluetooth v2.1. Supports Headset, Hands free, Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP), Serial Port and stereo audio (A2DP/AVCRP).
Software: BlackBerry 5 with new icon-based UI. BlackBerry push email client and BlackBerry IM client. Nuance voice dialing software, BlackBerry Maps (North America only), media player for your MP3 pleasure and video playback. PIM apps include Contacts, calendar, Clock, Password Keeper and Calculator. Docs To Go standard included. Links to download Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and games are included. BlackBerry Desktop software for PC included for syncing and software installation.
Expansion: 1 MicroSD slot, supports up to 32GB cards. AT&T version comes with a 2GB card.
In the Box: The BlackBerry Pearl 9100 3G with battery, an AC adapter, earbud stero headset, USB cable and world charging adapters.