The BlackBerry Pearl was a big hit when it came out towards the end of 2006. Building on the buzz around smartphones that maker RIM had built up with its solid email access devices, the consumer-focused Pearl fulfilled many tech fans expectations. Some people were disappointed at the mere nod to cameraphones with just a 1.3Mp sensor but, in general, the delighted Pearl most who encountered it.

A year on and RIM’s sleek-looking BlackBerry Pearl has been given a makeover, with a new purply-blue handset for those who like to ring the changes (a black version is still available). More importantly, our tests prove that the refinements to the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 aren’t just cosmetic.

For a start, you now get Wi-Fi as well as GPRS and GPRS/Edge connectivity. Out and about in mid-Kent, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 quickly found two or three Wi-Fi networks that we could log on to if we chose, helped by the fact that 02 has hitched itself to The Cloud.

02 minimises the standard BlackBerry screen clutter by reducing the BlackBerry Pearl 8120's main screen to a selection of five main applications – Messages, the secondary email inbox set up for this trial, a dual SMS and MMS alert, Calendar and Address Book. Below this is the standard BlackBerry icon which you click on to access the more familiar BlackBerry screen.

As before, it’s a breeze to get online and to send and retrieve email. Prompts appear when needed – and only then. Most helpfully, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120's wireless radio icon now pops up to Manage All Connections. You’re asked whether you want to turn on the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Mobile Network or turn on the lot in one go.

We took the 8120 out and about in mid-Kent, where it quickly found two or three Wi-Fi networks that we could log on to if we chose. 02 has hitched itself to The Cloud for iPhone purposes and introduced flatrate monthly internet access rates for other contract handsets, so this is a good option if you need to get online regularly.

For times when you need to get a handle on where you are, the Pearl has Maps built in. While no match for the detailed and more localised Vodafone Maps of the latest BlackBerry Curve, it's nonetheless a useful inclusion for anyone travelling long-distance and needing to get a fix on where they are.

This BlackBerry Pearl 8120 does multimedia far better too: the 2Mp camera (with 5x zoom selectable via the central rollerball navigator and automatic flash) produced some surprisingly good snaps, even in low light. The memory is now expandable too, via microSD card. Slot one in and you'll be able to capture video to it (you still only get 64MB flash memory onboard).


The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 updates last year’s model in all the right ways and offers more than enough wow without being too flash.