It’s really Matt‘s fault: we went out for dinner at the Blog Business Summit and he let me play with his Blackberry Pearl phone. Having a Motorola RAZR v3c and thinking it was cool, I was spontaneously overtaken with a burst of gadget envy and suddenly felt my phone was passé and too old-tech for me.
But a few months passed until I really decided to leave the hated Verizon and trash my phone — and my wife’s — to switch to Cingular so I could get a Pearl of my own. This week, I did!
I’ve now spent far too many hours in the last few days playing with the phone, configuring it, configuring additional services, getting new applications, admiring its extraordinary engineering and design, and seeing just how many shortcomings and faults it — and the entire smartphone industry — still have. Let me list just a few…
First off, the Blackberry Pearl is theoretically not considered a “smartphone” by some folk because it’s not running a full operating system like Microsoft Windows for Mobile. Whatever. Compared to all the other phones I’ve seen on the market, the Pearl is darn capable, with its ability to run arbitrary Java apps, manage media, etc. Seems pretty smart to me. 🙂
Having figured out how to use apps like the open source utility Bitpim to interact with my phone book on previous cellphones, I figured that the modern, high-priced Pearl would have a far, far superior solution. After all, its ability to sync with your computer is one of the selling points of the device.
I was wrong.
I tried the sync applications on both the Mac and PC and am astonished at how poor they were. The Mac app, PocketMac, might now be distributed free from Research In Motion [makers of the Blackberry series], but it’s a crummy, quirky program that took me hours to get working even once. (tip: start the app, then plug in your phone to your Mac, then sync. Then quit the program as it won’t sync more than once in a row).
The PC application is a bit more reliable with synchronization, but you can’t actually do anything with the data once you get it on your computer unless you happen to have purchased an expensive contact manager. The entire featureset I got from the Windows program is the ability to backup the user data set en masse. I think. But can I open up a rudimentary window and edit my phone book? Amazingly, no.
Setting up Blackberry mail notification was a breeze, and the predictive typing that the Pearl uses so you can deal with the two-letters-per-key configuration is nothing short of amazing. Really, it’s dead on for just about every word I type and I can see that it won’t take long for me to be zipping along entering data.
Getting Google’s Gmail mobile app (available for free along with a pile of other apps at mobile.google.com) was a bit more complicated because of some security configuration issues. I document the problem and solution on my tech support blog: Google Gmail and the Blackberry Pearl. Not a great app, but it’s functional.
Google Calendar, however, is completely incompatible with the Pearl and any other mobile device. Google, this is braindead. It’s such a must-have feature for a Web-based calendar system that I’m still amazed Google hasn’t gotten this out the door. Even a read-only calendar review capability would be a good first step, but I’m completely shut out of my own calendar on the Pearl and the rumored third-party calendar sync apps aren’t yet shipping.
Google Maps is darn cool, but I can’t help wonder about the GPS geolocation that is built in to the phone (all cellphones report their position to the network). If Google Maps could just tap into that then you could automatically have it show you where you are every time you launch the app. That’d be trés cool!!
Finally, my friends at NewsGator let me sneak into the beta of their NewsGator Go! application, and y’know what? It’s pretty darn nice. A very intuitive and functional approach to keeping up on your RSS feeds while on the go, particularly given the constraints of the small screen and slow connectivity. When this is released, I’ll upgrade to a full commercial application.
One capability that I haven’t yet tested is whether I can use the Blackberry Pearl as an untethered Bluetooth modem with my Apple PowerBook. The Pearl uses the EDGE network, not the faster 3G network that Cingular’s rolling out in 2007, but if I’m just checking my email, I don’t feel like it’s that big a deal anyway. I have some scripts I’ve downloaded, but I haven’t actually done it for myself yet…
All in all, I’m delighted with the Pearl. It’s tiny, has a great screen, is quite capable of displaying video, playing music, surfing the Web, letting me keep up with my email, and much more, all at the same basic price as a regular cellphone (albeit with a considerably higher monthly charge: I’m paying about $80/month for the full Internet / Blackberry Internet package from Cingular).
I also really like that it’s bluetooth and also has a standard headphone jack, so I could actually use it with my Apple earbuds or even my Sennheiser noise-reducing headphones. iPod? Who needs one of those any more?
When Apple releases the iPhone will I consider replacing the Pearl with one? You bet. Or maybe I’ll just have two cellphones… 🙂