Earlier this month I asked for advice regarding phones that can send and receieve email. Only two people in the comments mentioned the BlackBerry Pearl, but that’s what I ended up purchasing and have had it now for about 24 hours. What follows is a mini review of the device, this coming from someone who is new to the BlackBerry, new to the mobile web, and new to sending and receiving email using tiny keys. The short version: loving it so far.

BlackBerry PearlThere’s several reasons I ended going with the Pearl, rather than the other great suggestions (like the Palm Treo, or Nokia e62, for example).

  • I realized I needed to stay with T-Mobile as a provider. I have a pretty great, grandfather’d plan that was too good to give up going somewhere else. Isn’t a shame that devices and providers are so locked together?
  • T-Mobile’s unlimited web and email BlackBerry plans are cheaper than their normal internet plans. You don’t get access to HotSpots, but I figure as long as there’s carrier service, that won’t be difficult to miss.
  • The Pearl is _tiny_ for a phone that packs a decent screen and 1.3 MP camera. I knew if it was bulky, I wouldn’t enjoy using it as often. It had to fit in a pocket.
  • I’m left-handed, so the normal-sized BlackBerry’s would’ve probably been awkward to navigate with the scroll wheel on the right side. The Pearl’s trackball works great, and it’s in the middle for either thumb.
  • My mobile phone is my business phone, so the call quality has to be good. It’s been fine so far — in fact audio coming in has been clearer and louder than previous phones I’ve owned. I’m not sure how I sound on the other end. I’ll have to call myself (wow, what should I say?!).

It took me a bit to get used to how Push email works. I have my main IMAP account set up and assumed I’d see everything in my inbox. Instead, it’ll push emails to the BlackBerry, where they’ll be until you delete them. You have the option of the delete also removing them from your mail account. But there’s a cool feature that lets you “Delete Prior” messages from your inbox. It’ll make them disappear from your BlackBerry but not your main IMAP account. Handy if you want a clean slate, and want to only see new incoming messages when you’re away from your desk.

As far as the keyboard on the Pearl goes, well that’s the tradeoff for the tiny, candybar form factor. It has what BlackBerry calls a “SureType” keyboard setup. There’s two letters per key, but they’re set up in a QWERTY formation. It really works quite a bit better than I thought it would. If you ignore what’s happening on screen while you type, it’ll get the right word nearly every time based on the letter combinations. I’m impressed. It’s not like typing on a normal keyboard, of course. But short replies will be no problem — something I’d never attempt on a normal phone keypad.

Finally having a decent web-enabled phone to really play with has been eye-opening. Seeing what sites have a @media=”handheld”@ stylesheet, or which sites sniff and serve a mobile-friendly version of their site automatically. From my limited time playing with it, it’s clear that there’s so many different methods for handling mobile content. One thing’s for sure, lean, unstyled markup sure is helpful, even when there’s not specifically a mobile version of the same site. We really need Cameron’s book.

So all in all, I’m quite pleased with the Pearl. It’ll take some getting used to, but it’s certainly a helpful improvement. And will hopefully help me work less, stay away longer, etc.

During my tenure at a failed dot com in early 2000, in between margarita parties, all the VPs where saying “the mobile web is going to change the world!”. This was 6 years ago. Everyone believed them of course, and dumped millions into mobile products that weren’t ready for primetime. But now (and I’m admitedly late to the game) it really feels like there’s momentum here — real stuff happening, “affordable” access, etc. Interesting times.


  1. Sounds like an awesome phone. I’ve in the past used many Sony Ericsson phones, and they just aren’t doing it for me anymore. I wish I could get the Blackberry Pearl on Cingular and get it with a reasonable plan (Cingular data plans are not very good).

  2. Natalie Jost says:

    I missed your previous post, but will go bookmark it now. My groom and I are set to get new phones in the spring as soon as we can get out of our Verizon shackles, and Pearly seems like a viable option, provided TMobile has access in the boonies. :)

  3. Jorge says:

    I actually considered upgrading to the Pearl and away from the Sidekick but I finally decided to opt for the T-Mobile Dash. Sweet phone!

  4. Joshua says:

    You didn’t mention anything about how nicely it plays with your Mac? Does it sync well? Did it require extra software, etc…?
    Also, I don’t understand how the Blackberry keyboard is different than any other phone keyboard, except that it has 2 letters on each one instead of 3. I type stuff on my Nokia 8801 all the time using it’s “smart type” feature and it works just the same, gets the word right almost every time. And it would almost seem easier since there’s less keys.
    And to Natalie,
    I wouldn’t consider Verizon shackles. I used to be a Verizon customer and switched to T-Mobile, and let me tell you, the grass is not always greener on the other side. They both have their advantages. The big thing Verizon has going for it over T-Mobile right now is the fact that they have a wireless broadband network, so you can use your phone as a modem with your laptop and get DSL speeds as well as their far superior coverage.
    The only thing that really keeps me with TM is the fact that they can do GSM phones. I have a Nokia 8801 that you would have to pry out of my dead hands. Stainless steel, sapphire crystal, mechanical slide, it’s like the Porsche of phones, on every level. If they had a CDMA version of it I’d be back to Verizon or go to Sprint in a heartbeat.

  5. Keith says:

    So you’re a lefty.
    Me thinks lefties are more creative (I am too, btw) :-)

  6. Jason Long says:

    Great choice, Dan. I read your original post, but didn’t post a comment. I just got the Pearl a couple of weeks ago and I’m loving it. I got the black skin and screen protector from Seido – I like the added protection and better grip.
    @Joshua: Mac’s are still a second class citizen in BlackberryLand, but they supply a free app called PocketMac (used to be non-free) that works surprisingly well.

  7. gb says:

    Ah, I’m glad I said something, then. I still love my pearl, and using, I can get my gcal info synced to my phone over the wireless connection. Google Maps application is amazingly useful, too.
    Using your Pearl as a bluetooth broadband(ish) connection is really awesome, too.
    Only gripes I have so far: the trackball can get a bit gummed up every now and then, making scrolling up hard…. but i’ve found scrolling the wheel like mad with a bit of cloth usually cleans it out. Also, being able to use the PocketMac software over the bluetooth would be awesome.
    I need to do a right up of some of the tricks and tips i have for mac + pearl people… maybe once I finish my site redo.

  8. Natalie Jost says:

    Joshua – thanks so much for the advice. By shackles I only meant the contract, which of course is standard with any phone, huh. Can’t get away from that. Verizon has just nailed us on so many wild charges we just can’t afford to keep them. We’ve stuck it out because of the V2V network (most my friends and family are on it), but it’s just not worth it anymore. Not looking for greener grass, just grass that won’t kill my wallet. :)

  9. farmer ted says:

    enjoy your blackberry.
    blackberry owners share the same religious fervour as macintosh owners.
    creepy really… i can’t get enough.

  10. Rocketeer says:

    I imagine T-Mobile is like Vodacom here in SA? (the least hassle :p). DO you have to sync your phone with your mail client to determine whats been read or are you using gmail?

  11. Bichufo says:

    Looks very much like a Sony Ericsson but the W810i does most of what the Pearl does(if not all) plus it has a 2 megapixel camera (vs. the 1.3Mp on the Pearl). And it syncs with the Mac both via the provided USB cable or BlueTooth. An it’s a Walkman! I can even sync it with iTunes.

  12. Harry says:

    I got the Pearl a week or so ago, used to have a Treo 650, and I love it. Packs a serious punch for something so small and the call quality beats the Treo. Also I’ve not got Jajay VOIP calls qorking with BBCalls installed, google chat, gmail and lots more.

  13. Ed Mullin says:

    Good choice – Can I say I told you so?
    The browser can get goofy at times, I’ve had to turn off style sheets to view some sites – online forums mainly. Other than that it’s a great little unit.

  14. R Walker says:

    “It took me a bit to get used to how Push email works. I have my main IMAP account set up and assumed I’d see everyting in my inbox”
    ‘everyting’ – this is the first time I’ve seen a typo on your normally perfect articles. Keep it up!

  15. Jon Hohle says:

    I’m surprised to see positive comments concerning PocketMac, as its fairly notorious for giving people headaches.
    My wife and I just got Pearls this week (our numbers should finally be ported tomorrow), and I set up PocketMac for both of us. My wife didn’t want all of her contacts on her phone (and neither did I), so I tried creating a “Cell” group, and just syncing that. Any attempts to sync contacts resulted in an “Invalid group length” error, which could only be resolved by including all contact groups. This was repeated when setting up my wife’s account.
    Also, stickies of a certain length will kill your sync. I haven’t found out what that length is (I only know I’ve exceeded it).
    I’m still confused as to why PocketMac isn’t implemented as an iSync conduit. I would like to see Apple start supporting BlackBerries sooner than later. I would like to hear your thoughts (if you’ve used it).

  16. Dasu says:


  17. How creepy! I just bought the Pearl a week ago, it’s my first “smart phone” and I stayed with T-Mobile because of a legacy plan, I’m left handed and I use a mac. Dan, you told my story :).
    The Pearl is a great phone, I love almost everything about it. The only problem I’ve had so far is that I accidentally called a client from my pocket twice today even though it was in the leather holster with the magnetic closure!
    Another little annoyance is that I get messages from both my Yahoo and GMAIL accounts when I send a message, and that I cannot delete emails on either one of those services from the Messages window on the phone.
    I’m a great fan of the site and your fantastic books. Thanks.

  18. Milo says:

    We are waiting for the Tic-Tac Gray Template!!!!

  19. Javan says:

    Wow, you actually get good service from T-mobile? I’m getting ready to leave them after years of crappy service in both Oregon and California.

  20. Carmen says:

    Is it locked? Can you take it international? A fellow lefty

  21. Ed says:

    I think the Pearl’s great. It’s so easy to send emails and text messages, knowing what you’re trying to type. The ability of it to learn new words is also very impressive.
    I love how easy you can customize everything too. I can turn Bluetooth on and off with the quick hit on the right quick key button on the side of the phone (very convenient when you use bluetooth in the car and as a separate headset).
    I’ve looked at the Dash also, but I’m not sure if it would be better or worse. I definitely like the size of the Pearl. Overall, it’s a great phone.
    And BTW, T-Mobile has a higher speed service (the EDGE you see on the top right corner) that makes web surfing even faster than it was before on my Razr. It’s still dial up speed, but it’s a noticeable improvement from my end.

  22. Jeff Croft says:

    I played with a friend’s new Pearl recently and was *very* impressed with it. I’d hesitate to buy one until proper Mac support is there, but the hardware itself is killer. I loved it. That QWERTY two-letters-per-key things kicks T9s ass and saves a lot of space over the regular QWERTY (such as on the Moto Q).
    I really liked it a lot. Just wish it had better Mac support.

  23. HRJamie says:

    I’m waiting for Cingular to offer the Pearl. Looks like a great phone that still fits in a pocket. Now if only it were a flip-phone…

  24. xakep says:

    Sounds like an awesome phone.

  25. John says:

    a world of advice, don’t touch the Motorola i850. The phone is junk. It likes to do this crazy, I’ll be scrolling thru my phone book and the phone reboots itself. It’s a brand new phone…actually brand new phone number two and both of them do it. something to do with the chipset being faulty….but on 2 phones? c’mon

  26. David Storey says:

    Good to see you are enjoying your experiences with the mobile web. The Perl looks like a nice phone. I use a Sony Ericsson M600i, which has a similar input method, and it is great. It takes a few days to get used to, then typing URL’s and in text feels is fairly quick.
    Have you tried Opera Mini on the Perl? It is Java, so doesn’t feel like a native Blackberry app, but it is a very nice browser (I guess I would say that). Now you’re using the web on your phone, is there any chance of throwing together a handheld stylesheet? You can use Opera in Small-Screen mode (View -> Small Screen) to test out your design. Without a handheld stylesheet, you can see how Opera automatically reformats the page using this view.

  27. k says:

    Can you use a pearl for texting and internet usage without having a blackberry plan? i havea nokia e62 that i want to give up

  28. Kevin says:

    Hey Dan,
    Have you found that the Pearl syncs well ( or at all) with iCal’s to-do list(s)?

  29. I imagine T-Mobile is like Vodacom here in SA? (the least hassle :p). DO you have to sync your phone with your mail client to determine whats been read or are you using gmail?
    Keep up the good work. Greetings from Poland

  30. Matt says:

    Good tip on the “Delete Prior” feature. I was just googling for this and your site came up.

  31. christine says:

    i picked up the pearl yesterday after heading into the cingular store, thinking i was getting the blackjack. they told me i could try for 30 days and exchange ONCE if i wasnt happy with the blackberry. this is my first one and i LOVE it. forget the blackjack, push email and style kicks it in the butt.

  32. Lori says:

    Well guys, yes its a beautiful phone with lots of bells and whistles but the bottom line with the Pearl and Mac is that Pocketmac DOES NOT FUNCTION with this sleeker model of the Blackberry line. And, if like me, you live in a country other than the US, Canada or the UK – you are out of luck for any real help. I’m in France and i can tell you that the people from Orange /France Telecom know NOTHING about the Pearl and even LESS about Mac. Its irritating because I know that this is an amazing smartphone but what’s the point if I can’t transfer my address book to it? Right now I am carrying around my Palm Zire 72 and my Pearl – one has all my phone numbers and email addresses and the other is my phone!!
    If anyone has any great idea for how to solve the sync problem, I am all ears!!

  33. Fred Ake says:

    Got a Perl on my Cingular plan a couple of weeks ago.
    Quite happy with it.