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.

Make no mistake: the design of the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip is significant news for RIM. The first iteration of the BlackBerry Pearl, the 8100, featured candy-bar styling - like the vast majority of RIM's devices before and since. Roughly a year later, RIM announced a CDMA version of the device for US customers, the Pearl 8130, with a slightly different design-most notably, a repositioned camera lens and an external memory card slot. Since then, various carriers have released the device in custom colours, but everything else about the Pearl has largely remained the same.

That all changes in a big way with the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip. The quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz) device with Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g) was initially unveiled in September at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment event in San Francisco.

RIM decided to stick with the Pearl name for its newest smartphone, as well as a similar-yet-larger SureType keyboard. But that's where the similarities end. The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip's new flip design features two high-resolution LCDs, one on the inside of the device when opened and another external display for when it's closed, which lets you receive notifications, see caller/sender ID information, as well as scroll through and preview new messages.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip runs on RIM's latest handheld operating system, BlackBerry OS v4.6, which offers a wide variety of great new features, including the ability to receive HTML email with images, create custom icon-screen folders for better organisation, and even put the device into Safe Mode, which can help to identify and eliminate problem applications. And this phone has double the amount of flash memory of previous Pearls with 128MB, though the processor speed remains the same at 312MHz.

NEXT PAGE: what we liked

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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.

What we liked

The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 is a great looking device; there's no two ways about it. When closed, the sleek smartphone is only 99mm long, 48mm wide and 18mm thick - easily small enough to fit comfortably in a shirt or trouser pocket. Its external display is 128 x 160 pixels. When opened, the flip Pearl is roughly 180mm long and a bit thinner. It weighs just 100g.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 also features a larger internal screen than previous Pearls; at 240 x 320 pixels, the Pearl 8220 display is exactly the same size as the screen on the BlackBerry Curve 83xx, but it's rotated 90 degrees. When closed, the Pearl 8220 is shorter than its predecessor Pearls, but it's also slightly thicker. Still, somehow it seems sleeker.

The device, designed to sit steadily in the palm of your hand when opened and comfortably cradle your face when in use, delivers on both accounts. The BlackBerry Pearl 8220's volume and mute buttons are located high up on the right and left sides of the device, respectively, and they're easy to access while the phone's in use via thumb and middle finger. We found the volume levels to be average compared with existing BlackBerry devices, and call quality over both EDGE and Wi-Fi is good, but not great.

The new BlackBerry Pearl 8220 also has an LED coverage/message indicator like all its elder BlackBerry brethren; however the device's clever design has a circular LED positioned externally alongside two similar-sized circles that are the camera lens and flash. All three sit just horizontally above the outer display when the device is closed.

One of the BlackBerry Pearl 8220's coolest and most innovative features: it lets you display and preview new messages and status information on the external screen when it's closed. This does away with the need to constantly open the phone to check for messages. It also reduces unnecessary wear-and-tear on the flip hinge.

The up/down volume buttons scroll through new messages when the Pearl is closed. And the programmable "convenience keys" on each side of the device work to light the external display when it fades so you can check the time or device status without ever having to open the Pearl. (Both buttons can be customised by the user to launch various applications when the device is open.)

NEXT PAGE: the new BlackBerry OS

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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.

Perhaps the most notable difference between the Pearl 8220 and the 81xx series-besides the flip form factor-is its OS: BlackBerry handheld OS v4.6.0.151. (Previous Pearls ran on various versions of BlackBerry OS v4.2 and 4.3.)

We could write an entire review based on the new features available in BlackBerry OS v4.6, but here we'll focus only on the highlights. First of all, you can now receive HTML email, which means no more messy code scattered throughout messages. It also means that images within mail can be displayed, although you must choose to manually download pictures for each message. (HTML email is available in BlackBerry OS V4.5.)

BlackBerry OS v4.6 also lets you create new folders on your home icon screens for enhanced organisation. For example, you can now choose to create separate folders for different kinds of applications, ie, one for games, one for search and navigation apps, and another for social networking programs. This helps to reduce clutter on the icon screen and makes applications easier to locate.

Previous versions of the BlackBerry OS provided one central folder into which all messages - email, SMS and MMS - were delivered, making it difficult to fish through piles of mail to find one specific text or multimedia message. BlackBerry OS 4.6 offers a separate SMS/MMS-dedicated mailbox.

The BlackBerry OS for the Pearl 8220 has a cool new feature called Safe Mode, as well, which can be activated by holding the device's Escape key while it's rebooting. Safe Mode is meant to help identify and remove problem applications that may be negatively affecting the health of the device.

DataViz's Documents to Go ships with the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip so users can download and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files - there are also tricks to make the free standard edition of Docs to Go create new documents. And an entirely new set of games comes along with the Pearl 8220, including Word Mole, Texas Hold'Em King 2, Sudoku, Klondike and Trooper Typing.

Much improved clock/alarm features let you customise the external time display-digital, analogue or flip-clock-style. With detailed alarm settings, you can disable the blinking LED coverage/message indicator during the evening and much more.

Instant messaging applications including BlackBerry Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ and AIM, all come preinstalled. A better - though still lacking - media player lets you manage music and playlists on the handset and not through a desktop-based application. The device features an external microSD memory slot that can accommodate media cards up to 16GB, and it ships with the new BlackBerry Media Sync software, which means you can sync non-DRM-protected iTunes tracks with the BlackBerry.

And the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip even has a lanyard hook for all you fans of silly smartphones accessories. That's a lot to like. But on the flip side...

NEXT PAGE: the down sides

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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...

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CIO.com

BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip: Specs

  • 1800MHz GSM/GPRS networks
  • 900MHz GSM/GPRS networks
  • EDGE networks
  • 312MHz processor
  • 128MB flash memory, support for microSD card
  • SureType QWERTY (keyboard)
  • 2 high-resolution LCDs: Internal display: High resolution 240 x 320 pixel color Transmissive TFT LCD, External Display: High resolution 128 x 160 pixel color Transmissive TFT LCD
  • 3.5mm Stereo Headset Capable
  • BlackBerry OS v4.6
  • quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz)
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
  • Bluetooth v2.0
  • 99x48x18mm
  • 100g
  • 1800MHz GSM/GPRS networks
  • 900MHz GSM/GPRS networks
  • EDGE networks
  • 312MHz processor
  • 128MB flash memory, support for microSD card
  • SureType QWERTY (keyboard)
  • 2 high-resolution LCDs: Internal display: High resolution 240 x 320 pixel color Transmissive TFT LCD, External Display: High resolution 128 x 160 pixel color Transmissive TFT LCD
  • 3.5mm Stereo Headset Capable
  • BlackBerry OS v4.6
  • quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz)
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)
  • Bluetooth v2.0
  • 99x48x18mm
  • 100g

OUR VERDICT

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.

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