Touchscreens and Qwerty keyboards are the flavour of the moment when it comes to smart phones, and it's no wonder -- they give you big screens to surf on, and make it easy to bash out Twitter and Facebook messages. But RIM is bucking the trend with the BlackBerry Pearl 3G 9105, its first phone with a traditional alphanumeric keypad.
Prices for the Pearl 3G have yet to be announced, but we expect it will be free on a £20-per-month, 24-month contract.
Previous BlackBerry Pearl phones had a unique, compact Qwerty keyboard with two letters on each button. This will still be the case in the US, but, in the UK, the Pearl 3G has only an alphanumeric keypad, like you'd find on any typical candybar phone. The keys sit in a wavy configuration, but they're well spaced out and easy to press. Overall, the Pearl 3G's keypad is fine.
Whereas most feature phones use the T9 predictive-text system, the Pearl 3G uses RIM's own SureType algorithm. We don't think you'll notice much of a difference between T9 and SureType.
If you're an insanely good texter, and don't want to switch to a Qwerty phone, the Pearl 3G could be what you're looking for. But, if you want to take advantage of the emailing power that BlackBerry devices are famous for, the full Qwerty keyboard on a phone like the top-of-the-range BlackBerry Bold 9700 just can't be beat.
That's not to say that the Pearl 3G is lacking in other departments compared to the 9700. It has every wireless waveform you could ask for, including the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. It also has 3G connectivity, which less expensive BlackBerry handsets, like the Curve 8520, lack. There's Bluetooth on-board too, and GPS for use with Google Maps and location-aware apps.
The Pearl 3G takes full advantage of all that connectivity, with an all-in-one inbox that pulls in up to ten email accounts, your Facebook updates and your tweets. There are also separate Facebook and Twitter apps, as well as plenty of others, and we found that they made good use of the limited real estate on the Pearl 3G's 57mm (2.24-inch) screen.
You won't find as many apps in the BlackBerry App World as you will in the iPhone or Android app stores, and paid apps tend to be more expensive, but at least what's in there is usually well designed. The BlackBerry store also has an odd quirk -- it displays prices in dollars until you've logged into your UK PayPal account for the first time, and the prices in sterling are based on the US prices, so they'll fluctuate with the exchange rate. That's just not cricket.