10 Best Smart Phones: BlackBerry Pearl Still Rules

Today's best phones do a lot more than make calls. Have a look at our picks for the 10 best smart phones available today.

RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120

T-Mobile isn't the first U.S. carrier to offer the Wi-Fi-equipped BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T Wireless launched its 8120 earlier this year), but its version has a decidedly consumer spin. Thanks to T-Mobile's innovative HotSpot@Home technology, this Pearl lets you make VoIP calls over Wi-Fi. The voice-over-Wi-Fi feature improves reception in locations where cell signals are weak--and in our tests, the technology worked very well.

Other impressive features include a sharp 2.0-megapixel camera, an excellent multimedia player, and RIM's SureType predictive text-entry system for typing on a 20-key keyboard. Both voice quality and talk-time battery life were excellent: In our battery tests, the T-Mobile 8120 was still going strong after 10 hours--the maximum length of time we test for.

Motorola Motozine ZN5

The Motorola Motozine ZN5 is part cell phone and part digital camera. The brainchild of a partnership between Motorola and Kodak, it boasts a 5-megapixel camera that carries a bevy of impressive settings and features. Unfortunately, Motorola put so much effort into the camera component that it compromised on other aspects of the phone, such as design and 3G support.

The camera, at least, is super: It has automatic zoom, a low-light setting, three focus settings (auto, landscape, and macro), five white-balance settings, panoramic and multishot modes, an automatic timer, and six shutter sounds. You can even edit your photos on the camera.

On the phone side, call quality was very good, and the battery hadn't expired after 10 hours--the ceiling in our lab tests. The Motozine ZN5 would benefit from a 3G data connection, but you do get support for Wi-Fi and for T-Mobile's EDGE quad-band network.

Samsung Omnia

The sophisticated Samsung Omnia has almost everything you could want in a smart phone. Its assets include an elegant design (including a chrome finish and a black matte plastic back), a beautiful 3.2-inch touch screen, very good call quality, support for Verizon's 3G network, and a good selection of software (notably, the mobile version of Microsoft's Office suite).

Still, it's not perfect. For starters, the Omnia lacks a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack and a physical QWERTY keyboard--the latter omission exacerbated b a mediocre predictive text entry system. In addition, Samsung's TouchWiz interface performed a bit sluggishly. Despite these flaws, though, the Samsung Omnia is a high-quality handset that delivers a generous array of features.

RIM BlackBerry Curve 8320

The BlackBerry Curve 8320 takes the consumer-friendly appeal of RIM's original BlackBerry Curve 8300 smart phone and adds the ability to make voice calls over Wi-Fi. Like the BlackBerry Pearl 8120, the Curve 8320 supports T-Mobile's innovative HotSpot@Home technology, which enables users to make calls in locations where cell signals are weak. In our tests the technology worked very well.

Other features include a thin-and-light design, a small but very usable QWERTY keyboard, a 2-megapixel camera, and a 320-by-240-resolution display. And like all BlackBerrys, the Curve 8320 is a stellar e-mail device, with support for ten accounts.

T-Mobile G1

At first glance, the T-Mobile G1 ($179 with a two-year service contract) looks like just another bland, HTC-manufactured phone. But spend 5 minutes using the G1--the first phone to run Google's Android operating system--and you'll start to see why it's one of the best-designed phones you can buy.

The phone has a candybar design, with a 3.2-inch capacitive touch-screen display and a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from beneath the display. But the real test of the hardware is how well it integrates with the Android software, and here both the phone and Android shine. Thanks to its trackball and its slide-and-glide gesture-responsive touch screen, the G1 has particularly intuitive and smooth ergonomics.

T-Mobile's Android-based G1 isn't especially sexy or eye-catching, but it does a lot of things right. Android's ease of use raises this phone above most Windows Mobile- and BlackBerry-based devices.

Apple iPhone 3G

The Apple iPhone 3G is a classy device that continues to be a strong contender among smart phones. And while it's not a must-have upgrade from the original Apple iPhone, the iPhone 3G offers some excellent features.

The iPhone 2.0 software supports, among other things, a multitude of free and low-cost apps available from the iPhone App Store. A speedy wireless radio loads Web pages up to three times faster than the original iPhone did. But the list of details that remain overlooked or omitted is sizable--no removable media, no Java or Flash support in Safari, no cut-and-paste.

Talk quality, on the other hand, is vastly improved, with excellent audio quality and clarity. In our lab tests of its battery life, however, the iPhone 3G managed only 5 hours, 38 minutes of talk time on a single charge.

With its reasonable price, 3G radio, GPS, and business-friendly security features, Apple's iPhone 3G cements Apple's position as a defining force in the cell phone industry.

RIM BlackBerry Bold 9000

The BlackBerry Bold 9000, Research in Motion's formidable contender in the 3G market, boasts a sleek design, a sharp display, and high-speed connectivity.

The Bold is the most stylish BlackBerry yet, and its features include a terrific keyboard and the BlackBerry platform's various corporate e-mail and infrastructure-friendly characteristics. The Bold has superior battery life, too. In our lab tests--7 hours, 56 minutes of talk time in our lab tests. But the Bold's call quality disappointed us, as calls consistently suffered from background hiss.

The BlackBerry Bold delivers high-speed browsing and powerful messaging capabilities, and it represents a major step up in form and function over existing BlackBerry models. But faults such as mediocre call quality and an unimpressive camera impede its potential to compete with the Apple iPhone 3G and the Android-based T-Mobile G1.

T-Mobile Shadow

The updated T-Mobile Shadow incorporates a handful of feature upgrades and new colors (drab sage green gives way to white mint and black burgundy) as it supplants its year-old predecessor, the original Shadow.

The most notable new feature is support for the T-Mobile Unlimited HotSpot Calling service via the phone's built-in Wi-Fi service. Unfortunately, calls made over the cellular radio did not sound as good: We heard a distinct and audible hissing noise.

This slider-style phone has a slider design, and a 20-button keypad (with shared character keys and predictive text for typing, like Research in Motion's design for the BlackBerry Pearl 8120) lies hidden beneath the 2.2-inch QVGA (320-by-240-pixel) display. Other features include a 2.0-megapixel camera and a full complement of Windows Mobile 6.1 software.

T-Mobile Sidekick 2008

The T-Mobile Sidekick 2008 has the best cell-phone keyboard we've ever used, and its trackball lets you whip through messages at lightning speed. Audio sounded good though slightly muffled in our test calls. And in our battery tests, the Sidekick held out for 9 hours before needing a recharge.

Other features include Bluetooth support for stereo headsets (alternatively you can plug the headphones of your choice into the standard 3.5mm jack); an audio/video player that supports WAV, WMA, MP3, AAC audio formats, and 3GP and simple-profile MP4 video formats; and a 2-megapixel camera.

Unfortunately, the Sidekick's Danger OS can't read Microsoft Word documents, and you won't find much in the way of productivity apps for it. Another drawback is the T-Mobile EDGE data network, which crawled along at intolerably slow speeds. The Sidekick 2008 isn't a bad phone--not at all. But disappointingly, after multiple generations on the market, it has been relegated to fashionista status.

RIM BlackBerry Storm

BlackBerry fans who've been yearning for a touch-based handset à la iPhone now have one, but the BlackBerry Storm might not be the smart phone of their dreams. We found the Storm awkward to use for everyday data-entry tasks, and its clickable touch screen made typing feel like a lot of work in a way that typing on a hardware keyboard (or on the iPhone's software keyboard, for that matter) never did.

It's too bad, because the Storm has some nice features and makes a great first impression. Encased in shiny black with silvery accents on the front and a removable matte metal cover in the back, the Storm is shorter, slightly narrower, and somewhat thicker than the iPhone. It packs support for Verizon Wireless's fastest network (EvDO Rev. A), and has a GPS receiver and Bluetooth, but no Wi-Fi.

Phone call quality was solid, and we were very impressed by the audio quality of MP3 files heard through the bundled earbuds. The Storm's 3.2-megapixel camera outshines the iPhone's, too, not only in megapixel count, but with regard to its autofocus and flash.

But people who were hoping for a credible iPhone alternative fortified with BlackBerry's traditional strengths as a mobile tool for corporate travelers will likely find the Storm a letdown. When it comes to touch interfaces, Apple still has no peer.

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