Rogers BlackBerry Pearl 3G hands on!

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In 2006, RIM launched the BlackBerry Pearl 8100. It’s critical reception was mixed, but there’s no denying it helped propel the BlackBerry brand to super stardom. Since then, smartphones have become even more mainstream and many serious competitors have emerged. Yes despite all of the competition and its own success, RIM has remained relatively true to its conservative tradition. Even today, a time when more than half of its customers are consumers, RIM is still sticking with a Java-based OS that has remained relatively unchanged since the Pearl first hit the scene. This year, RIM announced to little fanfare. Can a consumer product from a company that is business-centric at its roots survive in the age of Android and iPhone? Hit the jump to find out as we review the BlackBerry Pearl 3G from Rogers.

The Rogers Pearl 3G ships with OS 5.0.0.629 and has about 130MB of free memory out of the box. Without getting into the ins and outs of the software (sorry, but we’ve been there and done that about 50 times), let us just say that this particular OS build is solid overall. As for the phone itself, like all RIM devices, the call quality wonderful and reception was excellent whether over 3G, EDGE or Wi-Fi. We have to admit that we didn’t observe any notable speed improvements while using Wi-Fi (in fact we found 3G to be faster for web browsing, which is either a testament to Rogers’ network or a shoddy Wi-Fi chip), but the fact it’s on board is a plus, especially with 802.11n. A 624MHz Intel XCore CPU helps the Pearl 3G go through the motions with ease. Not once did we see a spinning clock.

For a phone that many deride as being meant for little girls and sissies (shouts to Justin Bieber fans), the Pearl 3G is a solid device that can withstand drops and tumbles that would make other phones wide-eyed with terror. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its build issues. Even for a low-end smartphone, the fit and finish is nowhere near as good as it should be. Dust easily gets trapped between the display and the housing, and light seeps out around the display, trackpad and keypad.

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Speaking of the display, yes it’s small at 2.4″, but it’s also very sharp owing to its resolution of 360×400. The only issue we have with the display actually has nothing to do with the display, but the light sensor which controls it. Its performance was erratic and for the lack of a better description, seemed to believe it was opposite day. When we wanted it to be bright it went dark and vise versa. It might be a small thing to complain about given that you can turn off the light sensor, but that would needlessly drain the battery. And regrettably, the battery on the Pearl 3G wasn’t exactly what we were hoping it would be. Coming from the BlackBerry 9700 and its incredible battery life, the Pearl 3G is a let down. With relatively light usage we struggled to make it through the day.

The SureType keypad is a bit of a contentious issue in these parts. Apart from feeling rather slippery thanks to aggressive ridges and a very smooth and glossy surface, we still aren’t sure what to make of the concept after all of these years. While we understand that there’s no way RIM could comfortably cram an entire full-QWERTY keypad into the 50mm wide frame of the Pearl 3G, a part of us thinks that there has to be a better way — but we don’t exactly feel like going off on a tanget over this. With that said, we shudder to think of the struggles of a first-time SureType user who didn’t take the time to populate the custom dictionary. If you don’t do that, you’re in for one hell of a frustrating time.

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The camera on the Pearl 3G does an admirable job when compared to other 3.2 megapixel sensors. It performed well in low-light environments, was able to achieve focus without much of a delay and booted up quickly enough that we find no reason to fault it. Here’s a sample taken in a dark room in which a computer monitor was the single source of light.

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The external speaker on the Pearl 3G is situated directly below the keypad and faces towards the ground. To put it politely, the external speaker is simply awful. You’d think that a phone with dedicated media keys would have decent acoustic qualities, but the speaker on the Pearl 3G isn’t even average. A few years back we accidentally drowned a Sony Ericsson W810i while it was ringing (long story, don’t ask) and would have gladly swapped out its drenched speaker for that found on the Pearl 3G. We liken it to a police radio.

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The Pearl 3G isn’t for everyone. No one’s trying to say that it is. Power users would be best served by staying away from it and so would those who are looking for a feature-rich smartphone. Ultimately when considering who the phone is designed for — the casual user who wants a dependable phone with more perks than a featurephone and what is still the best platform for PIM — the Pearl 3G is a pretty solid choice.

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