RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip Phone: The Next Great Consumer Smartphone?

Al Sacco has laid his hands on the newest BlackBerry mobile device, meant for non-business cell phone users. The problem isn't the phone, he says; it's the phone companies who need to get their pricing act together.

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Wed, September 10, 2008

CIO — It's no secret that BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) has tried to expand its traditional customer base beyond the enterprise in recent days. But the company's BlackBerry Pearl 8220 flip phone (formerly dubbed "KickStart") is the first RIM device aimed specifically at the vast low-end consumer market. And it just might be exactly what RIM needs to secure for itself a dominant stake in the space—assuming carriers are willing to hit the necessary price points.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 is the first RIM device to feature the common flip-phone form factor, popularized by Motorola's RAZR flip phone, and it was unveiled by RIM Wednesday at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show in San Francisco—though images of such a smartphone and even an in-depth review have been floating around the Web for weeks.

I was lucky enough to get some hands-on time with the Pearl 8220 at CTIA, and after a few weeks of pondering its potential impact on the smartphone world, I thought it was time to offer my "official" take on the device.

BlackBerry Pearl 8220 next to the BlackBerry Bold 9000
Pearl 8220 and Bold 9000 at CTIA

The idea to offer a BlackBerry flip phone is nothing short of brilliant on RIM's part. The average technology layman is probably aware of BlackBerry at this point—though I'd bet few know the name RIM—but consumers are much more likely to use, and therefore to feel comfortable with, some form of flip device from Motorola, LG, Samsung or Nokia. Nearly all of the leading cell phone and smartphone manufacturers offer flip phones. Just as many device makers are attempting to mimic Apple's iPhone popularity with touch-screen-devices of their own, so too did cell phone leaders try to duplicate Motorola's success with the RAZR.

But what's the best way to really grab consumers' attention? Take aim at their wallets, of course! In my opinion, RIM and its carrier partners have to both undercut its main smartphone market rivals and vanquish its competitors in the entire cell phone space. After all, those are the companies RIM's pitting itself against by wading into consumer waters.

Canadian carrier Rogers was the first to announce it would offer the BlackBerry Pearl 8220, though it's still unclear when exactly the new flip phone will become available. Rogers pricing details have been released; however, the company plans to sell the RIM flip phone for $150 with a three-year contract. Canadian carriers have traditionally priced BlackBerry device a bit higher than their American counterparts...but still! In my opinion, that price—along with a three-year contract—is asinine, and I suspect Rogers will suffer because of it.

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