Review of the Blackberry Pearl Flip


The Pearl Flip is a variation on the popular Blackberry Pearl line (so named because of its use of a pearlescent thumb wheel for navigation). Unlike most Blackberries, which are candy bar style, this is a flip model. This is only a 2G GSM phone, and so it doesnít support UMTS voice, nor does it support 3G data. It does support EDGE, but if email is your primary use of data, then the speed of EDGE shouldnít be a major issue.

 

Available at Rogers.

Last Updated: 30-Aug-2009

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

RF Sensitivity: (A+) This is one category in which the Pearl shines (pun intended). The Pearl can pick up 2G signals as well as, if not better, than just about any 2G phone Iíve tested. I compared the Pearl against my old Nokia 6310i, which for quite some time was among the most sensitive GSM phones on the market prior to the introduction of 3G. The Pearl doesnít exactly put the 6310i to shame, but it certainly out-performs it. If thereís even a hint of a 2G signal, the Pearl will pull it in.

Over-the-road Performance: (A+) As a 2G phone the Pearl must deal with the dreaded hard handoff. When a hard handoff occurs on the old 2G GSM network the call must be moved to a different physical channel, which always results in some type of interruption in the audio stream. Iíve tested phones that do a very poor job of this, and Iíve also tested phones that have very tame handoffs (the most recent being the Motorola W233). However, absolutely none of them compare to the Pearl for the sheer smoothness and unobtrusiveness of its handoffs. The Pearl may very well have the best over-the-road performance of any 2G GSM phone Iíve ever tested.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

Tonal Balance: (C+) Iíd rather expected this aspect of the phone to very good to excellent, based on my experiences with Blackberries in the past. However, the tonal balance of this phone is only average. That is to say itís good, but nothing to write home about. It doesnít sound overly harsh or muddy, but one would hardly describe it as crisp either.

Sound Reproduction: (D) Now we get to the bad news. Itís been quite some time since Iíve tested a phone with such an obvious distortion problem. As is always the case, the phone might have been faulty, but with only one example of the Pearl to base my comments on, I have to assume this one is representative of the line. Surprisingly I got a chance to quickly try out a second Pearl Flip during the test period and it was sadly very similar in this regard.

The distortion is mostly dependent upon earpiece volume, because the louder it gets, the worse the distortion sounds. Voices are still distinct enough that you wonít find yourself asking your callers to repeat themselves, but sound reproduction is just not that good on the Pearl Flip.

Earpiece Volume: (B) The phone can generate a generous amount of earpiece volume, and in this respect it gets good marks. However, volume comes at a price, as I noted above. The louder the earpiece volume, the more pronounced the distortion.

Outgoing Audio: (B-) Because this is a flip model, I expected it to do a better-than-average job of blanking out the background noise in harsh environments (such as the crowded food court over at Square One). It did block the background noise well, but it takes its toll on the outgoing voice quality. As the background noise increases, the voice quality becomes decidedly nasal. Whatever noise-cancellation technology RIM is using in this phone damages the wanted audio in the process. I decided to give it a B- grade because the audio quality is actually quite good when the phone is used in a quiet environment.

Speakerphone: (C-) The volume of the speakerphone is acceptable, but the overall quality of the sound is rather poor. Itís excessively tinny and somewhat distorted. You could certainly use this speakerphone to carry on a normal conversation, but chances are youíll probably prefer not to. This is a very disappointing speakerphone implementation.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: (B+) I was unable to upload my Loud Ring.mp file to the Pearl because the Mass Storage feature didnít work correctly without the installation of driver software (which I didnít have). I therefore tested the ringer volume using the ringers available on the phone natively. Surprisingly they were quite loud, though not as loud as other phones Iíve tested. They were however loud enough to warrant a B+ grade for this aspect of performance.

Keypad Design: (B) I simultaneously liked and disliked this keypad design. On one hand it has a wonder feel and excellent tactile feedback. On the other hand it has flush keys, which Iíve complained about often in other reviews. The problem with flush keys is that you simply cannot operate the keypad effectively without looking at. Some of this problem is mitigated by the large size of the keys. So long as I looked at it however, key-press accuracy was excellent.

Display: (A-) The 2.6-inch 320 x 240 display on the Pearl produces excellent images, but itís limited to 65,000 colors. This is really only important for displaying pictures, and so for most people the colors limitation is irrelevant. The screen is quite bright and can be seen in direct sunlight (though not especially well).

Icing on the Cake

Camera:
(C+) The camera is a 2 megapixel unit that provides below-average picture quality, especially in low-light conditions. You could use this to take real photos, but it seems to exist mostly to take low-res shows to send to others via email or MMS.

Navigation: (B+) The feature that gives this phone its name is the pearl-colored ball that acts like a tiny trackball. Unlike the large pool-ball-sized trackballs used on computers however, this one is small and is moved with your thumb. I found that it did its job exceptionally well, though it seemed to be a bit fast. Possibly there are ways to adjust the response speed of the ball, but I didnít delve deeply enough into the operating system to find out if that was the case. Even if there isnít, the execution is still quite good.

Response Speed: (F) This is a category Iíve never included in a review before, because Iíve never encountered a phone where it was even necessary. The Pearl Flip can only be described as extremely sluggish. It is so sluggish in fact that I thought there was something wrong with it. I therefore looked at other reviews of the phone and I found this to be a commonly-mentioned issue.

When keys are pressed to dial a phone number for example, you can practically dial the next 2 or 3 digits before the first one even appears on the screen. If you press keys to send touchtones you can literally feel time drag as you wait for the tone to come out of the earpiece or speaker. In addition to that, just about everything else in the phone seems slow too. Loading pictures that you took with the camera is excruciatingly slow, as is any attempt to scroll the picture if you are foolhardy enough to zoom in on in.

Quite honestly the extremely slow speed of this phone is a real shock. Iíve tested all manner of low-end phones and none have ever been sluggish enough to be really annoyed by. This one aspect alone put me off the phone completely, and so I strongly recommend that if you plan to buy one that you check this out for yourself before you put down your money.

RIM clearly understood this, because when you turn off the phone, youíd donít really turn it off. Instead you put it into a kinds sleep mode that allows it to spring back to life almost instantly when you turn the phone on again. However, heaven help you if you pull the battery. It takes almost 3 to 4 minutes for the phone to do whatever it does to perform a cold start. I was rather shocked by the length of time, and it made testing the phone (where I needed to frequently pull the battery to get my SIM out so I could put it in other phones) very difficult.

Conclusions

In a few limited respects, such as the excellent RF performance (which is virtually without peer) and excellent screen the Pearl might seem like a good choice. However, it is mediocre or poor in just too many ways. The distortion of the incoming the audio, the mind-numbing slowness of the operating system, the below-average outgoing audio (when thereís background noise present), the so-so speakerphone implementation, and the poor camera quality make for a rather disappointing phone. I can only assume that this model sells almost purely on the Blackberry reputation, because I couldnít personally see anyone seriously accepting such debilitating limitations if they knew about them going in.

I was very surprised when I discovered these weaknesses, because my experience with Blackberries in the past has been so positive. I donít know what possessed RIM to release a phone like this, but do yourself a favor and steer clear. If you must have a Blackberry, buy a different model, though the only other one of recent vintage that I can personally attest to is the Bold, to which I gave a fairly good review. However, the Bold is in a complete different price class and it wouldnít be a suitable substitute for someone interested in the Pearl Flip. If itís the flip you want the phone for, RIM offers no real alternative to you.

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