[Our man the Boy Genius hit us up with a few thoughts on having used the Pearl for a few weeks. Here's a bit about what you can expect. -Ed.]
It's pretty apparent that the BlackBerry 8100 is RIM's first real stab at a mass market consumer device, and to be honest, it didn't come out all that bad. But once you get away from the "oh my god there is a camera, mp3, and videoplayer" knee-jerk, it is simply a long overdue update to the 7100 line. Don't get me wrong, I am a BlackBerry fanatic for life. I would get any BlackBerry that RIM releases no matter the features, regardless of whether I have 2 or 10 cellphones and PDAs; you will always catch a BlackBerry on my hip. I just think that for the people RIM is targeting with this device, they won't see results like RIM hopes (at least without a better AIM client, anyway). In fact, I'd wager the only people they will get to transition are die-hard push email fans. The way the Pearl is designed and works, it's much more like a featurephone -- which is a huge improvement -- but people can get plenty of devices that outshine the 8100 in features. Read on for more.
Of course, the push email is what's really at; that is and always will be RIM's bread and butter, and why shouldn't it be? But they're definitely trying to drum up excitement about things other than the email experience. There is now a trackball (think: SK3) dead center on the device, instead of the once exclusive scroll wheel. (The trackball works well, but to me is not the same as having the scroll wheel and escape button right there on the side. It will be missed.) The actual device performs great: very fast, responsive. and stable. The 4.2 OS adds a lot of functionality like memory card support, the ability to send and receive files via Bluetooth, play .wav attachments in emails, and also attach your newly taken picture directly to your email (corporate or personal). The browser has been improved on the data side, and sites load around 25% faster than an 8700. RIM also adds voice dialing and voice commands which is long overdue. You can play videos, you can play MP3s, you can use them as ringtones, and have caller ID pictures -- but if you have a SideKick (or even just want one), and don't need corporate email, you probably won't be switching soon. Then again, that $199 price tag is awfully tempting for BlackBerry newcomers, so purists beware, you may soon see teenagers having a CrackBerry push email moment on the streets of a city near you.