The BlackBerry Pearl smartphone isn't new, but the flip, or clamshell, design of the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip certainly represents a big change for the leading business smartphone maker, RIM.
BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip cons
Immediately after we picked up the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 for the first time at CTIA, we couldn't help but notice how light and delicate it felt. Lightweight is a good thing. Flimsy? Not so much. Unfortunately, the BlackBerry Pearl Flip falls into both of these categories. RIM's first clamshell phone is gorgeous, but may not be built to last.
After just a few days with the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip, its external display is noticeably scratched from hitching rides in pockets along with keys, coins and various other bits of debris. The scratches aren't so significant as to be noticed while the outer display is illuminated, but if you hold up the device to the light, they're clear as day and won't just wipe away.
A case or holster would've at least reduced the damage, but the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip ships naked. This is uncommon, as most RIM devices, including previous versions of the Pearl, shipped with some form of leather carrying case from RIM.
The rear battery door is also loose, the colour slightly wearing off around the edge, after only a couple of days of use. Unlike previous Pearls and other RIM smartphones, the new BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip has a small metal latch at the base of the battery door that can be pulled down to release the cover. The latch itself makes it easy to access the battery, but it doesn't stop the battery door from sliding side to side slightly.
Granted, we removed and replaced the battery upwards of 20 times during the review period, so users who rarely tinker with their batteries may not experience the same issue. Still, most BlackBerry users know that hard resets are often necessary, and that means pulling the battery.
Speaking of batteries, the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip had roughly seven hours of talk time in our tests. That's not bad, but considering the fact that the original Pearl 8100 had about eight and half hours of talk time, and both devices access 2.5G EDGE networks, the Pearl 8220's battery life does not particularly impress.
On the subject of wireless network speed, remember that the BlackBerry Flip isn't a 3G device.
Another down side: the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip doesn't have GPS. Whether or not satellite positioning functionality is a necessity largely depends on the individual user, but we suspect the lack of GPS will turn some folks away from the Pearl 8220.
The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip's two LCD displays also don't look as vibrant or sharp as some of the screens found on its BlackBerry counterparts, including the high-end Bold 9000, or even the Curve 83xx and Pearl 81xx series. The external display looks particularly pixilated.
Although the keyboard on the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip is much improved over the earlier Pearl keyboards due to its significantly larger size - each button is literally twice as big as the earlier buttons - it's still not a full qwerty keyboard.
That means there are multiple characters on each key. Despite the use of RIM's SureType technology, which makes typing on such a keyboard simpler and more efficient, we've never been able to type as fast or without as many errors on a Pearl keyboard as we can with a full qwerty. That hasn't changed with the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip.
The new guitar-fret-inspired plastic spacers between rows of keys do help to guide users' fingers, and the slightly indented numeral keys make it easy to dial phone numbers without paying much attention to the buttons, but power users will want to stick with a full qwerty device.
Another complaint: the browser still needs work. Experienced BlackBerry users have long complained about the default BlackBerry browser, and though the browser that ships along with BlackBerry handheld OS 4.6 is much improved over previous versions-zooming in and out is easier and more intuitive, for example-the application's still not up to snuff when compared to other mobile browsers on the market; in particular, the iPhone's Safari browser.
Our final gripe relates to the new micro USB port that's used for charging and syncing data on the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip. All of the additional 8000 series BlackBerrys have slightly larger mini USB ports. When we asked a RIM representative at CTIA why the company switched from mini to micro USB for the Pearl 8220 - and the as-of-yet unannounced Curve 8900 - he replied, "For form factor". In other words, so it could make the device thinner.
That's all fine and good, expect for the fact that the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip isn't too thin for a mini USB port; we've held it up to a number of other devices with mini USB to check. We understand that the "guts" inside the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip might make it simpler to use a smaller USB port, but we have a number of spare mini USB sync cables and chargers from our various devices, and we don't have a single mini USB accessory. That means we'd have to go out and buy an extra charger or sync cable for the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip, even though we've got plenty of mini USB cables lying around. We suppose we could just pick up an adaptor, but still...
The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip is a truly sexy smartphone. Its modern, minimalist design is sure to draw stares - from men and women alike. But it also feels light and flimsy and the shiny black external display panel, the real focal point of its design, scratches easily. The Pearl Flip also features a larger version of the SureType keyboard found on existing BlackBerry Pearl devices, and while the keyboard is admittedly better than those on older Pearls, it's still not as efficient as many of the full qwerty keyboards found on RIM devices such as the Curve 83xx and Bold 9000. Many tried and true shortcuts for BlackBerrys with full qwertys also don't work on the Pearl. And the lack of a full keyboard and questionable durability mean the Pearl 8220's not an ideal smartphone for demanding businesspeople or power users. But that's okay, because RIM has clearly shifted its enterprise-specific focus toward consumers over the past couple of years, and the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip is the company's latest attempt to woo the non-business-oriented masses. And it's a valiant effort. So, while the most demanding businesspeople and advanced users won't likely want to rush to the shop to pick up RIM's latest gadget, you can bet lots of feature-phone-users looking to make the transition to a smartphone will. The flashy device might even steal away some would-be iPhone buyers.