Review: BlackBerry - Pearl 8120 & Pearl 8110

From the outside, the new BlackBerry Pearl 8120 and 8110 (see top image) from Research in Motion (RIM) appear nearly identical. What their outsides have in common is what distinguishes them from their predecessor, the 8100.

Unlike the 8100, the new ones have microSD slots on the left side, easily accessible by the fragile slide-out trapdoor. They also have a few more pictures on the keypad, making more obvious features that did exist on the original.

For example, the "sym" key, which is also the * key, now sports a tiny padlock symbol. Press and hold the key and the phone enters locked mode. (To unlock, press any key and follow the instructions that come up.) Similarly, a new icon on the shift key, which is also the # key, hints at its additional function: two wavy lines. They indicate vibrate mode-press and hold the key to toggle between a vibrate profile and a normal profile.

As with the 8100, the O-P and "." key has a picture of a speaker, indicating that when in phone mode pressing that key will turn on speakerphone.

Unfortunately, when you put the 8120 into vibrate mode, the visual cue on the screen is only wavy lines around the Profiles icon, whereas in the old Pearl 8100 you got hose wave lines up top near the battery life icon. If your Profiles icon isn't showing on your home screen, you'll have to scroll to it to verify that you're in vibrate mode.

Both new devices continue the Pearl's history of Bluetooth connectivity, allowing for easy pairing with a computer, GPS or other external device. But the 8120 also allows for Wi-Fi connections, increasing internet access in places where service over the phone is compromised, such as inside a concrete building. The ability to connect over Wi-Fi in such a setting means less downtime.

The 8110 doesn't have Wi-Fi but it offers a built-in GPS, which for users often on the road may trump the Wi-Fi connectivity when it comes to utility. Though there are third-party packages such as MapQuest Navigator that let you connect your Pearl via Bluetooth to an external GPS, that's more cumbersome than having one built right in.

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

A video camera not available on the original Pearl makes the new ones stand out, though because video files are large you must have a memory card installed to use the video camera. Still, the video camera is as easy to use as the still camera and similarly fun but not a replacement for a stand-alone digital-video camera (nor does it purport to be, of course).

The video camera shoots in two resolutions, 240 x 180 or 176 x 144, with the smaller one recommended for sharing via MMS.

RIM is promoting improvements to its SureType keyboard system and in fact we did find that the new devices seemed somewhat better at anticipating what we wanted to type, and more user-friendly when it comes to selecting from the list of word suggestions. As far as we could tell, though, there is still no automatic memory for frequently-typed email addresses, which would be an excellent addition.

E-mail set-up on the new phones allows for either Internet or Exchange server accounts, as is expected with BlackBerrys. Set-up requires first establishing a BlackBerry email account, which you can do from your computer. Then, using that address to login and access your account, you can add additional email addresses either from your computer or from the Pearl itself. Once we figured out that setup required logging into the BlackBerry account, we found the process quick and simple.

BlackBerry Pearl 8110

One real flaw with the Pearls we tested, from AT&T, is how the SIM cards insert. The tiny bit of metal that locks them into place is incredibly difficult to manage. The Getting Started guide doesn't have instructions for inserting or removing a SIM so we were left to our own devices (read: fingernails). Of course, if you're using your BlackBerry with a carrier that uses CDMA technology, you don't have to worry about this at all.

In the United States, only AT&T offers the 8110 (in titanium or red for $200 with a $50 rebate). The 8120 is available from AT&T (in blue, $200), but only for business customers. T-Mobile offers the 8120 (in titanium, $200 with a $50 rebate).

All the Pearls are the same size: 4.2 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches and weigh about 3.2 oz.

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

If you're happily using an older Pearl, the only reasons to upgrade would be if you really need Wi-Fi connectivity (get the 8120) or you don't have a GPS, you want one, and you can't bear toting around yet another separate device (get the 8110). If you've got a full-size BlackBerry, the Pearl is a lovely alternative, but you'll have to modify your typing to the smaller keypad.

As for whether to make the move from Windows Mobile to a BlackBerry-we don't feel either platform makes a strong enough case to lure users from one to the other. The myriad differences will still attract different people to each.


Blackberry, AT&T, T-Mobile, BlackBerry Pearl