The Pearl, the best smartphone out there?

By: t-marco June 24th, 2009


The main thing the PC World folks liked about the Pearl 8120 is T-Mobile’s Hotspot @Home service, which allows customers to place home calls over a Wi-Fi connection. Yes, they’re free, and they even work at other T-Mobile hotspots. Plus, the 2 megapixel camera, SureType keyboard, and multimedia features didn’t hurt.

Here is the ranking.

RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (Rating : 89 – very Good)

T-Mobile isn’t the first U.S. carrier to offer the Wi-Fi-equipped BlackBerry Pearl 8120 (AT&T Wireless launched its 8120 earlier this year), but its version has a decidedly consumer spin. Thanks to T-Mobile’s innovative HotSpot@Home technology, this Pearl lets you make VoIP calls over Wi-Fi. The voice-over-Wi-Fi feature improves reception in locations where cell signals are weak — and in our tests, the technology worked very well.

Other impressive features include a sharp 2.0-megapixel camera, an excellent multimedia player, and RIM’s SureType predictive text-entry system for typing on a 20-key keyboard. Both voice quality and talk-time battery life were excellent: In our battery tests, the T-Mobile 8120 was still going strong after 10 hours — the maximum length of time we test for.

Motorola Motozine ZN5 (Rating : 86 Very Good)

The Motorola Motozine ZN5 is part cell phone and part digital camera. The brainchild of a partnership between Motorola and Kodak, it boasts a 5-megapixel camera that carries a bevy of impressive settings and features. Unfortunately, Motorola put so much effort into the camera component that it compromised on other aspects of the phone, such as design and 3G support.

The camera, at least, is super: It has automatic zoom, a low-light setting, three focus settings (auto, landscape and macro), five white-balance settings, panoramic and multishot modes, an automatic timer, and six shutter sounds. You can even edit your photos on the camera.

On the phone side, call quality was very good, and the battery hadn’t expired after 10 hours — the ceiling in our lab tests. The Motozine ZN5 would benefit from a 3G data connection, but you do get support for Wi-Fi and for T-Mobile’s EDGE quad-band network.

Samsung Omnia (Rating : 85 Very Good)

The sophisticated Samsung Omnia has almost everything you could want in a smart phone. Its assets include an elegant design (including a chrome finish and a black matte plastic back), a beautiful 3.2-inch touch screen, very good call quality, support for Verizon’s 3G network, and a good selection of software (notably, the mobile version of Microsoft’s Office suite).

Still, it’s not perfect. For starters, the Omnia lacks a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack and a physical QWERTY keyboard — the latter omission exacerbated by a mediocre predictive text entry system. In addition, Samsung’s TouchWiz interface performed a bit sluggishly. Despite these flaws, though, the Samsung Omnia is a high-quality handset that delivers a generous array of features

RIM BlackBerry Curve 8320 (Rating : 84 Very Good)

The BlackBerry Curve 8320 takes the consumer-friendly appeal of RIM’s original BlackBerry Curve 8300 smart phone and adds the ability to make voice calls over Wi-Fi. Like the BlackBerry Pearl 8120, the Curve 8320 supports T-Mobile’s innovative HotSpot@Home technology, which enables users to make calls in locations where cell signals are weak. In our tests the technology worked very well.

Other features include a thin-and-light design, a small but very usable QWERTY keyboard, a 2-megapixel camera, and a 320-by-240-resolution display. And like all BlackBerrys, the Curve 8320 is a stellar e-mail device, with support for 10 accounts.

T-Mobile G1 (Rating : 84 Very Good)

At first glance, the T-Mobile G1 ($179 with a two-year service contract) looks like just another bland, HTC-manufactured phone. But spend five minutes using the G1 — the first phone to run Google’s Android operating system — and you’ll start to see why it’s one of the best-designed phones you can buy.

The phone has a candy bar design, with a 3.2-inch capacitive touch-screen display and a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out from beneath the display. But the real test of the hardware is how well it integrates with the Android software, and here both the phone and Android shine. Thanks to its trackball and its slide-and-glide gesture-responsive touch screen, the G1 has particularly intuitive and smooth ergonomics.

T-Mobile’s Android-based G1 isn’t especially sexy or eye-catching, but it does a lot of things right. Android’s ease of use raises this phone above most Windows Mobile- and BlackBerry-based devices.

Apple iPhone 3G (Rating : 82 Very Good)

The Apple iPhone 3G is a classy device that continues to be a strong contender among smart phones. And while it’s not a must-have upgrade from the original Apple iPhone, the iPhone 3G offers some excellent features.

The iPhone’s 2.0 software supports, among other things, a multitude of free and low-cost apps available from the iPhone App Store. A speedy wireless radio loads Web pages up to three times faster than the original iPhone did. But the list of details overlooked or omitted is sizable: no removable media, no Java or Flash support in Safari, no cut-and-paste.

Talk quality, on the other hand, is vastly improved, with excellent audio quality and clarity. In our lab tests of its battery life, however, the iPhone 3G managed only 5 hours, 38 minutes of talk time on a single charge.

With its reasonable price, 3G radio, GPS, and business-friendly security features, Apple’s iPhone 3G cements Apple’s position as a defining force in the cell phone industry.

RIM BlackBerry Bold 9000 (Rating : 82 Very Good)

The BlackBerry Bold 9000, Research in Motion’s formidable contender in the 3G market, boasts a sleek design, a sharp display, and high-speed connectivity.

The Bold is the most stylish BlackBerry yet, and its features include a terrific keyboard and the BlackBerry platform’s various corporate e-mail and infrastructure-friendly characteristics. The Bold has superior battery life, too: 7 hours, 56 minutes of talk time in our lab tests. But the Bold’s call quality disappointed us, as calls consistently suffered from background hiss.

The BlackBerry Bold delivers high-speed browsing and powerful messaging capabilities, and it represents a major step up in form and function over existing BlackBerry models. But faults such as mediocre call quality and an unimpressive camera impede its potential to compete with the Apple iPhone 3G and the Android-based T-Mobile G1.

T-Mobile Shadow (Rating : 82 Very Good)

The updated T-Mobile Shadow incorporates a handful of feature upgrades and new colors (drab sage green gives way to white mint and black burgundy) as it supplants its year-old predecessor, the original Shadow.

The most notable new feature is support for the T-Mobile Unlimited HotSpot Calling service via the phone’s built-in Wi-Fi service. Unfortunately, calls made over the cellular radio did not sound as good: We heard a distinct hissing noise.

This slider-style phone has a 20-button keypad — with shared character keys and predictive text for typing, like Research in Motion’s design for the BlackBerry Pearl 8120) — that lies hidden beneath the 2.2-inch QVGA (320-by-240-pixel) display. Other features include a 2.0-megapixel camera and a full complement of Windows Mobile 6.1 software.

RIM BlackBerry Storm (Rating : 81 Very Good)

BlackBerry fans who’ve been yearning for a touch-based handset à la iPhone now have one, but the BlackBerry Storm might not be the smart phone of their dreams. We found the Storm awkward to use for everyday data-entry tasks, and its clickable touch screen made typing feel like a lot of work in a way that typing on a hardware keyboard (or on the iPhone’s software keyboard, for that matter) never did.

It’s too bad, because the Storm has some nice features and makes a great first impression. Encased in shiny black with silvery accents on the front and a removable matte metal cover in the back, the Storm is shorter, slightly narrower, and somewhat thicker than the iPhone. It packs support for Verizon Wireless’s fastest network (EvDO Rev. A), and has a GPS receiver and Bluetooth, but no Wi-Fi.

Phone call quality was solid, and we were very impressed by the audio quality of MP3 files heard through the bundled earbuds. The Storm’s 3.2-megapixel camera outshines the iPhone’s, too, not only in megapixel count, but with regard to its autofocus and flash.

But people who were hoping for a credible iPhone alternative fortified with BlackBerry’s traditional strengths as a mobile tool for corporate travelers will likely find the Storm a letdown. When it comes to touch interfaces, Apple still has no peer.

RIM Blackberry Pearl Flip 8220 (Rating : 81 Very Good)

Battery life : 8:12 hours. The first Blackberry Clamshell is stylish but its keyboard and other features fall short.

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31 Responses to “The Pearl, the best smartphone out there?”

  1. WhoSayWhatWhen - The Pearl, the best smartphone out there? - T Mobile News & Phone … on June 24th, 2009 8:26 pm

    [...] The Pearl, the best smartphone out there? – T Mobile News & Phone …ider-style phone has a 20-button keypad — with shared character keys and predictive text for typing, like Research in Motion’s design for the BlackBerry Pearl 8120) — that lies hidden beneath the 2.2-inch QVGA (320-by-240-pixel) … T Mobile [...]

  2. xboxundone on June 25th, 2009 10:45 am

    i cant believe the iphone ranked so low.

  3. kdAlise on June 26th, 2009 10:34 am

    I can see why it ranked low. I love it, it does almost everything I want it to do, but definitely some other phones have some functionality that the iPhone doesn’t.

  4. johnm on June 26th, 2009 10:36 am

    A true smartphone should at least have a QWERTY keyboard…

  5. skyhawk133 on June 26th, 2009 10:38 am

    Haha, my wife gave up her Pearl for an iPhone. I hated the iPhone personally, love my blackberry!

  6. t-marco on June 28th, 2009 12:57 pm

    i have both but the email part is much better and faster on the bb then the iphone, specially after the upgrade to 3.0

  7. Michael on July 9th, 2009 10:55 am

    I just purchased the Blackberry 8330 from Verizon. The absolute worst signal. This signal strenth takes me back 8 years to a nokia flip phone, it had aboy the same signal strenth. Their remedy is to purchase their network extender for $249 which will cover maybe 5000 sq feet. If it works it would help in the house. They just always want more.

  8. michael ross on July 28th, 2009 11:24 pm

    i personally hate the iphone, its touch screen makes typing an email or im seem like a intensive labor feat.
    i have the pearl and after a week i found it to be the best smart phone i ever used. the video quality is stellar, the speaker phone is incredible.
    the built in speaker for mp3s is crisp and clear, with great volume. the screen could be a little bigger, but otherwise it just out performs all others.

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