BlackBerry maker RIM (Research In Motion) and mobile phone operator 02 have announced the launch of a brand-new Pearl smartphone handset. The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 goes onsale through 02.co.uk as from today.

BlackBerry's narrow and sleek Pearl, launched in autumn last year, caught on in a big way. As the first foray into the consumer market for a company that had made it name with a business handset that unexpectedly turned out to have fashion kudos, the Pearl may just have been the handset that convinced Apple of the viability of a design-focused smartphone handset.

BlackBerry Pearl 8120: exclusive review here.

It's not just the UK getting a new BlackBerry Pearl: in the US, a variation of the Pearl 8120, the 8130, is also set for launch. This will be a CDMA handset, whereas the UK handset is a GSM/GPRS/Edge model that offers WEP/WPA2 Wi-Fi.

The Pearl 8120 made its debut in Spain and Italy last month. Meanwhile Phones2udirect.co.uk appears to be gearing up to offer the Pearl 8120 on a Vodafone contract.

PC Advisor was lucky enough to get an exclusive first look at the new Pearl handset. It’s fair to say, we’re smitten.

This revised design has an improved 2Mp camera (its predecessor was a 1.3Mp model) with magnification of up to 5x selectable via the central rollerball navigator from which the handset takes its name. We were pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the flash that automatically kicked in when we tried to take a few shots at a party. The flash is far from discreet though.

Stick in a removable memory card slot and you'll be able to capture video to it. The Pearl 8120 has just 64MB of memory built in, so you’ll soon be making use of that microSD card’s memory. We used its voice-recording function at a recent press briefing where it lasted about 20 minutes which we didn’t think was too bad.

Our review handset came with a 1GB card (you don’t get this as part of the deal, unfortunately) and you can use cards with up to 2GB capacities.

We were impressed by the thought that has gone into some of the interface. Click on the Maps application in and, if you're already online, you are asked whether you want to turn on the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Mobile Network or turn on the lot in one go.

The wireless radio icon of previous BlackBerries now pops up to Manage All Connections – a great idea given the liberal scattering of feature shortcut icons to be scrolled through on the BlackBerry screen.

Zooming in by pushing lightly but firmly on the pearl rollerball, you can easily move around the screen. The relatively nippy Wi-Fi downlink makes accessing map data noticeably faster than on some handsets we’ve reviewed, but we still can’t see ourselves using this feature on the Pearl as a matter of course.

There’s plenty else we really like about the Pearl 8120, though. It runs on a 312MHz Xscale processor, it makes a proper attempt at both attachment handling on the business side and multimedia capture and playback on the fun side. Roxio’s Media Manager for BlackBerry can be used to search for files you’ve copied on to the device using the USB 2.0 connection.

PRICE COMPARISON:

Get the best price for BlackBerry products on PC Advisor's Shopping site

NEXT PAGE: hands on with the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 > >

You can also create playlists and tag tracks and photos – we found labelling photos we’d taken a little cumbersome. However, as with the SureType keypad setup, scrolling through character and symbol options and selecting them with a thumb press soon becomes an efficient enough process.

There are probably more features on this BlackBerry than you need, which is where the ability to select oft-used items and to promote and demote items from the shortcut menu comes in especially handy. The quick access menu itself pops up in response to a press of the BlackBerry icon to the left of the rollberball navigator.

The screen clutter is also kept to a minimum by mobile carrier 02 which minimises the glut of feature icons by grouping them and listing the main applications down the lefthand side. These are Messages, a secondary email inbox set up for this trial, a dual SMS and MMS alert, Calendar and Address Book.

With features running from fairly ineffectual voice dialling to its bread and butter email and web access, the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 is likely to repeat its forerunner’s trick of appealing to both the business user wanting a stylish phone and the gadget fan wanting a slew of communication options.

Its purplish-blue casing is attractive without being either flashy or too corporate (there's a silver-livery version if that's more to your taste). And as the original cool smartphone with both fashion-conscious phone fans and businesspeople long-established and loyal converts, it has nothing to prove.

Smart, attractive and functional with enough fun factors to balance its connectivity credentials, the ‘Pearl 2’ will be tough to beat.

Get the best price for BlackBerry products on PC Advisor's Shopping site

www.o2.co.uk/blackberry

NEXT PAGE: detailed specifications > >

Specifications

  • GSM/GPRS/Edge smartphone;
  • 312Mhz Intel Xscale processor;
  • Four-hour talktime;
  • 15-day standby;
  • 64MB flash memory;
  • 180x240-pixel colour display;
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi;
  • WPA and WPA2/WEP wireless encryption;
  • BlackBerry email;
  • webmail (up to 10 email accounts);
  • SMS, MMS, instant messaging;
  • BlackBerry Desktop Manager;
  • Roxio for Media Manager for BlackBerry;
  • BlackBerry Browser;
  • BlackBerry Maps;
  • voice recorder;
  • voice-activated Bluetooth handsfree;
  • 2Mp camera;
  • 5x zoom;
  • video capture;
  • microSD/SDHC card slot;
  • 3.5mm headphone jack;
  • USB 2.0 interface;
  • Bluetooth 2.0;
  • 55x14x107mm;
  • 91g

Get the best price for BlackBerry products on PC Advisor's Shopping site