capsule review

RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8130 Cell Phone

At a Glance
  • BlackBerry Pearl 8130

    PCWorld Rating

    Version two of this consumer/business hybrid phone works for moderate amounts of e-mail and Internet text input.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8130 (aka the Pearl 2) is the second version of the popular phone that fits a modified QWERTY keyboard into a standard candy-bar design. Available for Sprint and Verizon CDMA networks, the 8130 adds built-in GPS, a video camera, and support for high-speed data networks. This cute device surfs the Web quickly and provides basic multimedia features, but it's no substitute for a heavy-duty smart phone.

BlackBerry units are known for their e-mail capabilities, and the 8130 is no exception. You can configure up to ten Web, POP3, and IMAP e-mail accounts, and you can download a crudely designed mobile IM client to instant-message via AIM, Yahoo Messenger, or Windows Live Messenger. Our silver Verizon test unit is $250 with a two-year contract (as of 12/20/07), but don't forget to factor in the extra fees for data. An unlimited e-mail and messaging plan with 450 voice minutes will cost you $100 per month. That's not cheap--especially for a phone that doesn't make e-mail and IM composition particularly easy.

As with the original Pearl, the main draw of the 8130 is the SureType keyboard, which combines letters in the QWERTY layout onto 20 keys that fit onto a slim cell phone. But the keyboard isn't that simple to use. The predictive text feature is very good at guessing dictionary-defined words, but using the white trackball (rather than a four-way keypad) to select words from a long list of options can be frustrating--often I overshot my choice. When typing in e-mail addresses and passwords that predictive text can't recognize, you'll need a careful combination of double-tapping, trackball rolling, and Alt-key pressing (to access numbers) to get the alphanumeric combination you want. It's a pain.

On the other hand, I loved the fast-moving ball for scrolling through Web pages, which loaded really quickly on Verizon's EvDO network. It makes up for the fact that you're viewing the Web pages on a relatively small 2.25-inch, 240-by-260-pixel screen, which is otherwise bright, sharp, colorful, and easy to read. Video clips look great.

Call quality was good. The call recipients and I could hear each other loudly and clearly even when I used the speakerphone. In PC World lab tests, battery life during talk time lasted 5 hours, 42 minutes, average among our current batch of standard-size cell phones but well below average for a smart phone.

The 8130's 2-megapixel camera with 5X zoom and flash did okay with snapshots and landscapes but had difficulty focusing sharply on objects at close range. I found pictures a little dark, too. The 8130 also takes video at the 240 by 180 and 176 by 144 resolutions; you'll need a microSD card (not included with our test unit) to shoot and store clips. To take a picture you must go into the camera application and press the trackball, since the device has no dedicated shutter button.

The same goes for music-playback controls--the 8130 is no iPhone. It does, however, support standard 3.5mm headphones and major audio formats. As it has only 32MB of internal memory, you'll want that microSD card to store a significant amount of music. Fortunately, RIM has moved the microSD card slot to an easy-access location on the side of the phone. (It used to be behind the battery.)

I had to dig into the phone's advanced options to enable the built-in GPS for more than just 911 purposes. To take advantage of it, though, you must pay a monthly $10 fee for Verizon's VZ Navigator service, which provides turn-by-turn voice directions and locations for 14 million points of interest in the United States. I did not try this service.

The 8130 is great for anyone who wants to do some light e-mail communication and Web surfing on a phone that won't feel bulky in a pocket. But if you're a heavy keyboard user, you're better off with a full-size smart phone.

--Narasu Rebbapragada

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Version two of this consumer/business hybrid phone works for moderate amounts of e-mail and Internet text input.

    Pros

    • Unique standard- and smart-phone hybrid
    • Great for e-mail and Web surfing

    Cons

    • Keyboard can be frustrating
    • Keyboard can be awkward
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