Review: Two Weeks With Verizon’s BlackBerry Pearl 8130

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Three weeks ago, I ordered my new phone to replace the Motorola Razr V3C that I’ve had for the last two years: The BlackBerry Pearl 8130. It arrived via FedEx a couple of Tuesdays ago, and I’ve been using it ever since. What follows is my review of the Pearl and my thoughts on it so far. In short, it’s an awesome smartphone, and the best phone I’ve owned so far.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8130

The 8130 is BlackBerry’s smallest phone, sort of a cross between a regular handset and a smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard. It’s also the first consumer-oriented BlackBerry to be available for Verizon Wireless, including a camera, GPS, and a media player application. Don’t let its small size fool you though: This thing is every bit as powerful as phones twice its size.

Handset Design

The Pearl is surprisingly small. To give you an idea of its size, I placed it next to my old Razr and took a couple of pictures:

Blackberry Pearl 8130 vs Moto Razr V3C - Closed
Blackberry Pearl 8130 vs Moto Razr V3C - Open

As you can see, the 8130 is just slightly longer than a closed Razr. It’s also just a bit bigger than the Razr in terms of thickness.

The other two notable hardware design items are the trackball and the keyboard. The trackball, directly below the screen, replaces the thumb scroller used on previous BlackBerries. It is used everywhere for navigation, and can be pushed down to “click” on an icon, link, etc. The keyboard is not a regular numeric keypad or a full QWERTY setup. Instead, it places two letters to a key and uses the built-in SureType software to predict the words you’re typing based on a built-in dictionary and common words it learns from you over time. More on this later.

Call Quality & Reception

First, I’ll admit that I haven’t had a chance to do any traveling with the Pearl yet. All of my use so far has been limited to the Grand Forks/Thompson area. Having said that, the Pearl’s radio reception has been as good, if not better, than what I got with the Razr. The real test will be the next time we drive out west through rural North Dakota – there are a couple of notorious dead spots in the middle of the state that will give me a good idea of how this phone works in low signal areas.

As for call quality, this too seems to be better than the Motorola Razr. Voices on the other end are loud and very crisp.

Email and Text Messaging

Email is what originally put the BlackBerry on the map, and the Pearl doesn’t disappoint here either. You can set up to something like 10 different email accounts to be delivered to your phone via the BlackBerry Internet Service. Messages from most POP3 and IMAP email servers usually arrive within 10 to 15 minutes. In a very cool move, users of Gmail and Yahoo! Mail actually get their email pushed to them as soon as it arrives. Several times, I’ve had messages show up on my phone before seeing them in my Gmail inbox.

Text messaging works pretty much the way you would expect. One nice addition is the ability to view a history of the conversation below the text of new messages. This lets you quickly get the context of what’s being said.

It took me a couple of days to get used to typing with the assistance of the SureType software. At first, I did a lot of letter-by-letter correcting and backtracking, which is just about as slow as typing on a regular phone keypad. However, I quickly learned to trust the software to pick right word for me automatically. I’m still a little surprised at how well it works for typing.

Built-in Applications

The Pearl 8130 has a number of built-in applications besides email and phone:

Plenty of 3rd Party Applications

Because the Pearl is based on the BlackBerry OS and not Verizon’s normal/crappy custom interface, it is capable of running a number of Java applications designed to work on the platform. Installation is usually just a matter of visiting a webpage using the built-in browser and clicking a download/install button. Here are the 3rd party apps I currently have installed:

  • Opera Mini: An awesome mobile version of the Opera web browser that acts as a great companion to the built-in browser. Much like Safari on the iPhone, it offers a mode for viewing full size pages instead of the typical stripped-down mobile versions.
  • Gmail: Even though my Gmail gets pushed to my phone automatically, it’s nice to have this app when I need to do some inbox cleanup or mark a message as spam.
  • Google Maps: A mobile version of Google’s famous mapping software, complete with satellite view. Due to Verizon’s heavy hand though, the built-in GPS won’t work with it. More on this later.
  • Google Talk: Although I don’t use GTalk on a daily basis, it does come in handy on occasion.
  • Facebook: The Facebook application for BlackBerry gives you the ability to do common tasks while away from your computer.
  • TwitterBerry: A mobile client for Twitter.
  • MidpSSH Mobile SSH Client: This one is loaded on for the inevitable situation when I’m miles away from a computer, but absolutely need to log into one of my web servers to fix a problem.

I’m really hoping that Google will release some new applications to fill in a few gaps. For people like me who use a lot of web applications, there currently isn’t an easy way to sync my Gmail Address Book and Google Calendar to their BlackBerry equivalents. I’d rather not have to resort to a complicated hack to get this data synchronized.

A Great 2 Megapixel Camera

There is really no comparison between the Pearl’s 2 Megapixel camera and the 1.3 Megapixel one on the Razr. The higher pixel count helps, for sure, but RIM must be using a much higher quality lens than Motorola, because the quality is so much better. Here is a photo I took with my Pearl while driving down the interstate:

Snow coming?

The camera also features a 5x zoom that actually does a decent job:

5x zoom on my Pearl. Very good!

If you have a MicroSD card, you can also use the built-in camera to take videos. I believe their length is limited only by the amount of available space on the memory card. Video quality is decent, considering it’s not this devices primary function. Here’s an example I took on the Pearl and uploaded to Vimeo:

Crippled GPS & Bluetooth: You’re Killing Me, Verizon.

The BlackBerry Pearl is almost the perfect smartphone, but Verizon had to go and intentionally cripple a couple of its features, all in the name of money. While the built-in GPS could work with the BlackBerry Maps and Google Maps applications, Verizon has locked down that hardware so that it only functions with its $10/month VZ Navigator service.

Separately, Verizon has also severely locked-down the available Bluetooth profiles (PDF), for no apparent reason. I at least understand their reason for doing this on their regular handsets, where they want you to purchase ringtones, songs, and wallpaper. But on a smartphone that doesn’t tie into any of these Verizon services? There’s no reason they can’t allow full desktop syncing and file transfer.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Jason, I have a Curve and tried earlier versions of gcalsync to get my Google Calendar without success. The latest version, available at http://www.gcalsync.mobi/ seems to work pretty well for me though. I haven’t run in to the time zone issues with this one. I can selectively choose which events I want to sync and it works ok — still not perfect, but a lot better.

  2. i am looking at getting this phone tomorrow. I would like to know if I will be able to download my Outlook Calendar to the phone. I am not going to sign up for email or any data packages but I need to have my work schedule with me all the time. Do you know if I will be able to sync up my outlook to this phone? Thanks for your time. Todd T

  3. Todd:

    You shouldn’t have any problem syncing the Pearl with Outlook. In fact, that’s probably the easiest way to go if you use the included BlackBerry Desktop Software.

    I don’t think you’re going to have any luck getting a Pearl without a data plan, however. Verizon, and all the other carriers, as far as I know, require a data plan when purchasing the phone. There’s really no way around it.

  4. Burt:
    Thanks for the link to the beta of GcalSync 2.0. I hadn’t seen that version before. I was concerned that the other, older version, is over a year and a half old, so I didn’t bother trying it. I’ll definitely take a look at this one though.

    Cheers,

    Jason

  5. That VZW/Bluetooth chart you referenced is not exactly accurate. The 8130 does allow PIM sync (for Outlook calendar/phonebook/tasks/notes) over Bluetooth. File transfers and app loading do not work over BT however.

  6. Luke:

    Thanks for the info. I have been able to move over audio files from my laptop using Bluetooth. It also sounds like it’s RIM, and not Verizon, who locks down OBEX on these devices – apparently for security reasons.

    Cheers,

    Jason B.

  7. hi, i want to get this phone and i was wondering how many text messages can youhold in the inbox until it says “memory full”. In my Razor i had over 300 and it never once said memory full, but with my Krazor, after 109, it was full and I had to delete everything in there. Just wondering please let me know, thanks=)

  8. I’m having a hard time finding games (Omaha and Texas Hold’em) specifically for the BlackBerry Pearl 8130.

    Every time I think I had it, the RIM App Loader wouldn’t recognize the app for my phone.

    Any help?

  9. just got a pearl 8130. How do you copy address info from a palm vx to the blackberry pearl using desktop device manager. Do you need to save the address book that is on palm vx to outlook and then sync to blackberry pearl?

  10. Susan:

    I don’t have any first hand experience in doing what you want to do, but if I were in your shoes, I’d take a look at a program called PocketCopy. It easily moves your Palm Desktop address book, date book, memo pad and to-do list into Microsoft Outlook. Once your data is in Outlook, your BlackBerry should pick it up without a problem.

    PocketCopy is about $25, but that’s probably well worth it compared to the time and work you’ll save.

    Cheers,

    Jason

  11. i was lookin into buying it and i was wandering if you could get it without having to pay for intrernet, so have it without internet

  12. Ed:

    Sorry, you won’t be able to get it anywhere without also getting paying for the data plan. I believe this is because RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry, contractually requires all carriers to do this.

    I guess the bigger question, is why would you want to do get a BlackBerry that didn’t have email and internet connectivity? That’s sort of the whole idea of the device, and while it would certainly be a decent phone, you’d really be missing out on the power and convenience of getting messages anywhere and having a web browser with you all the time.

    Cheers,

    Jason

  13. Any suggestions how to download decent ringtones for this model?

  14. It uses plain-old MP3s, so you can get them anywhere or make your own easily enough. The key is using the included desktop software to move them over to your BlackBerry. I don’t know of an over-the-air method of downloading them directly to the phone, although it _might_ be able to get them from an email attachment (I’ve never tried it myself).

  15. Actually, only Verizon requires you to add the data plan when getting this phone. All other carriers don’t require this. It’s because Verizon uses a different system then say T-Mobile, so in order for the phone to work on Verizon you have to add the data plan. Lame.

  16. i have a pearl, love it. my wife is using a palm, i want to be able to sync up her calender into outlook so i can pick up the info on the blackberry. i cant seem to be able to find away. i dont want to mess her up in her normal process. any ideas?

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