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By Andrew Gould 21 November 2008

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When the original Blackberry Pearl was first released in 2006, it represented a radical departure from the existing Blackberry line.

Blackberry pioneered the concept of “push” email, which allows mobile users to instantly receive email without having to manually check their inbox. Push email soon became an indispensable business tool, and the ubiquitous Blackberry became an icon of American corporate culture. But the Blackberry range was still far too utilitarian for ordinary consumers. The software was complex and mostly text-driven, and the hardware lacked amenities such as cameras and media players.

The Pearl was designed to bridge that gap, by combining Blackberry’s traditional business-centric features with a consumer-friendly mobile phone. The resulting phone was a hit: it had a 1.3MP camera, expandable memory, and a media player with a standard headphone jack, all controlled by a slick trackball from which the Pearl derived its name. It looked like a mobile phone, not a giant pager. Best of all, the Pearl didn’t compromise at all on the core Blackberry functionality. It still had push email, a functional web browser, PIM synchronisation and a decent suite of office applications. The Pearl suffered from a few awkward design decisions – the keypad was a weird mix between a standard cellphone keypad and a full QWERTY layout – but overall, it came close to being a perfect no-compromise phone, with enough features to please businessmen and consumers alike.

Now the Pearl’s successor has arrived: the Blackberry Pearl 8110. The new Pearl has an integrated GPS system, a 2MP camera, and several other small improvements. But the cellphone industry has changed a great deal in the past two years. New-generation mobile phones like the iPhone and the G1 “Googlephone” have capacitive touchscreens and revolutionary new user interfaces. Even Windows Mobile, not exactly known for its user-friendliness, has advanced in leaps and bounds. The Pearl’s interface, which seemed perfectly sufficient two years ago, now feels hopelessly out of date. Push email remains a life-changing feature – once you’ve tried, you’ll find it hard to live without it – but also one that has been widely imitated by Blackberry’s competitors. The Pearl’s 240x260 screen seems cramped by current standards; its EDGE data connection obsolete in a world of HSDPA. This is no longer good enough in a modern smartphone – even one with GPS.

PROS
It is easy to set-up and customise, mobile email is great, and it has built-in GPS.
CONS
The Keyboard is strange and might not appeal to some and the web browser renders messy pages.
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