RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip Hands-On Review: The Pearl, Reborn

RIM today debuts its first clamshell BlackBerry, the Pearl 8220 Flip, and we've got a hands-on review. This sexy-looking Pearl is aimed at the consumer market—and it shows. As a great entry-level device the Pearl could also cater to businesspeople. But it's not ideal for power users.

Sun, October 12, 2008


A New Era for the Pearl

Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Pearl smartphone isn't new, but the flip, or clamshell, design of its BlackBerry Pearl 8220 from T-Mobile certainly represents a big change for the leading business smartphone maker, RIM. Today, T-Mobile becomes the first U.S. carrier to sell the BlackBerry Pearl 8220 Flip, a consumer-minded phone that left me impressed with its design but displeased with a few durability issues, after a weekend of use for this hands-on review.

BlackBerry Pearl 8130 and Pearl 8220 side by side
BlackBerry Pearl 8130 and Pearl 8220 side by side

Make no mistake: The design of the new Pearl is significant news for RIM. The first iteration of the BlackBerry Pearl, the 8100, initially introduced in the United States by RIM and T-Mobile in September of 2006, featured candy-bar styling— like the vast majority of RIM's devices before and since. Roughly a year later, RIM and Verizon Wireless announced a CDMA version of the device for U.S. 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 colors, but everything else about the Pearl has largely remained the same. (A feature comparison between the entire Pearl lineup is available on RIM's site.)

That all changes in a big way today 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, but it should go on sale through T-Mobile on October 13. (The black version should be available immediately, but if you want a red Pearl flip, you'll have to wait an extra week.)

RIM decided to stick with the Pearl name for its newest smartphone—I'm still not exactly sure why—as well as a similar-yet-larger SureType keyboard. But that's where the similarities end. The 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 device 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 e-mail with images, create custom icon-screen folders for better organization, 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.

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