Review: BlackBerry 9105 (part 2)

Digging deeper.

In this part, we’re talking about what lies under the hood.

OS and user interface

This unit runs OS 5 (5.0.0.689, to be precise). Let’s start the dig from the homescreen.

Pearl 3G has single homescreen only with no widget available to put onto. The left top shows battery level, the center top gives information about your network, time and date. The right top shows coverage and also serves as shortcut to connection manager (from here, you can turn on/off mobile network, WiFi and Bluetooth, and do some connection setting). Below the battery info, there is a shortcut to sound profile. There are some profiles to choose from; normal, loud, silent, etc. Notification bar, located right under the date info, gives informations of new events in tiny icons, e.g. new sms, emails, BBMs, notifications by third-party apps (Twitter, Facebook, for examples). The bottom part of homescreen is a tray housing five shortcuts (don’t worry, you can arrange these ones). The homescreen is minimalistic yet functional. Everything you need is there. Two things I seriously miss: active widgets and support for multiple homescreens like those of other operating systems. RIM, please take notes.

There are two homescreen layouts you can choose from: Zen and Today. Zen layout is explained right before this image. Today layout is rather business-centric, it shows important events from messages, phones (e.g., missed calls to follow up) and calendar (birthday and appoinment reminder). They serve as shortcut to the apps, respectively.
 
 The default main menu is a 5×4 grid view, with simple icons and no animation or other eye candy. Other options include grid of 4×4, 3×3, 2×2 and single icon. The odd thing is, the icons do not resize themselves following the grid we choose. As I said earlier, it’s functional and very familiar to those who come from another BlackBerry handsets. You can rearrange icons, place them in folders or even hide them.

Lack of animation and eye candy makes the user interface looks a bit boring. OS 6 offers some little things to counter this issue, anyway. You can download some themes from AppWorld, just in case the default one bores you.

  
To control the main menu, Pearl 3G relies heavily on single contextual menu key (BlackBerry icon, that is). The submenu is all-text only, and sometimes I find long list of submenu which requires scrolling down. Function first, your eye pleasure comes second.

Another good news. You can customize the whole interface of Pearl 3G with some preloaded fonts to choose from. Font size and style options are available too. A very good feature for a wide range of customers, I’d say.

Phonebook and telephone function

Contacts are listed alphabetically by first name, but the surname and company name are also showed. This is very different from feature phones I previously own where the phonebook shows name and one main phone number. You know, Pearl 3G does not forget its enterprise-centric DNA.

Single click on highlighted contact will pop up more informations; name, emails, phone numbers, BlackBerry PIN (if any), up to social network account (once we sync the contacts and our Facebook accounts). Multiple fields are available for each email and phone number entry. You can even poke somebody or write on his/her wall right from here. Functionality is all covered.

 

 Editing a contact entry allows us to put more information, from name, nickname, company name, any phone and fax numbers, email addresses, addresses and birthday reminder. Wireless sync to Google Contacts is also supported, and this comes helpful if you’re using some handsets from various brands.

Pearl 3G handles telephony with no fuss. It also comes with Enhance Call Audio feature, with 3 options to choose from: normal, bass boost and boost treble. It enhances the clarity of your call partner’s voice. By the way, the handheld also support smart dial, so you don’t have to dip into the contacts to make a call. Just type some part of the contact’s name and Pearl 3G will pop up the results matched.

Messaging

 

 All messaging needs is covered well by the Pearl 3G, from sms, mms, email, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), to PIN message (it’s peer-to-peer messaging service by RIM).

Both sms and mms is put in one folder, listed by date. Sms/mms from one contact is managed in threaded view, similar to conversation in BBM or IM app. Input method relies on either SureType or multitap, and you can switch both anytime. Smiley is also present. Creating a mms is very simple, just add multimedia files, contact, or even appoinment files to the message. Carbon copy (cc) and blank carbon copy (bcc) is also available.

There is one folder, called “Messages”, that integrates everything messaging-related, from sms, mms, emails, BBM chats, Twitter direct messages to Facebook comments. And for PIN message, we can send message to PIN number without adding it to BBM contacts before.

The Pearl 3G support multiple email account service (up to 10, afaik). I tried using 5 accounts with the phone and all works well. Push email is quick and reliable, without significant delay.

Writing email straight from contacts is easy, we will be asked which account the email is going to send from. Document attachments can be downloaded and viewed with ease. Standard features such as forward, reply all, save email, up to flag for follow up are available. HTML mails can be handled without fuss either. The bottomline, Pearl 3G is a capable email machine despite of its deceiving looks.

 This is the holy grail to every BlackBerry device: BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). The user interface is simple and neat. You can add contacts by PIN, email address or scanning the barcode (every PIN comes with a specific code). Sharing image, voice note, location (from BlackBerry Maps, reviewed later on), even contacts is possible. BBM contact can be linked to BlackBerry contact in the phonebook as well.
With the BBM group, you can engage in conference chats, sharing files and calendar entry. The group calendar automatically syncs to handheld calendar of each member. Very useful if you work in a team. BBM is a nice feature to use everyday. But please keep in mind that the joy is highly dependent on your BIS provider’s network.

Web browser
Pearl 3G comes with a Webkit-based web browser. The homepage interface itself resembles that one of Opera Mini 4.x: address bar, search box, quick bookmarks, history.

 Address bar is able to cache the addresses we’ve typed before, yet it’s got no support for address autocompletion (i.e., inserting .com, .net, .co.id or such). Search box serves as search engine for Google, Yahoo!Search, Live Search, Wikipedia and Dictionary.com. No love for IMDB, though. Rendering a page is fast as long as your network (either mobile or WLAN) is decent enough. Web page can be viewed in full view or column view. In colum view, texts and images will be reflowed so they fit the screen width. Image can be zoomed or saved right from the browser.

Generally speaking, the performance is adequate for a mobile web browser. The drawbacks here are the absence of Flash and multitab browsing.

BlackBerry AppWorld

BlackBerry AppWorld, one of my favorite features on the Pearl 3G, is a nice place to download apps, games and theme. Management and the number of apps is decent. The homepage of AppWorld consists of side-scrolling featured apps and 4 access icons, each for categories, top 25, search and My World.

Categories list, you know, the categories of apps available. Games and themes are located here. We can sort it by popularity, rating, price, etc. Top 25 includes 25 apps at top of the AppWorld by date, top free and paid apps, themes and latest updates. Searching an app is very easy, all you need is just typing some part of the app name and wait until it lists the matched results. This list can be sorted by aforementioned categories.

Previewing an app will give you some options: download (to download the app), reviews (to read reviews from other users), recommend (to recommend the app to friends) and screenshots (well, the screenshot samples in side-scrolling view). For paid apps, payment can be opted either by credit card or PayPal.

My World is a repository for the apps we’ve downloaded. Here we can monitor free memory on the handheld, view a list of apps we’ve downloaded, and uninstall or set permissions an app.  A BlackBerry ID is required, and AppWorld asks us to confirm this ID everytime we’re going to download app, not just once. AppWorld is a nice feature to have on Pearl 3G. We can extend and customize the smartphone capability according to personal needs.

Navigation

The Pearl 3G comes with BlackBerry Maps onboard. Please note that BIS plan is required to use this feature.

Locking satellite is relatively quick, it took less than 1 minute at outdoor. The navigation offers “Find location” and “Local search” to get you to places, where Find location features address recognition. Searching is also quick and GPS will list places that match your query. Choose one and it will view it on map. Routing has some options to choose from: fastest route, shortest route, avoid highways and tolls. Position is marked with red arrowhead and route is marked with purple lane. Trackpad serves as zoom tool. You can share the route to BBM, email, etc. Very useful.

BlackBerry Maps is reliable enough for a navigation guide. The bad news is, there is no turn-by-turn voice navigation. Not quite a problem if you don’t drive alone, I’d say. Satellite view is nowhere in sight, either.

 Multimedia

 The music player supports a wide range of audio formats; MP3, AMR-NB, AAC-LC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, WMV, Flac, Ogg Vorbis. The interface is quite simple yet intuitive. Songs are sorted by title, artist, album, genre or manually by playlist we can create by ourselves. Equalizer isn’t forgoten, and it offers various settings; bass boost, bass lower, dance, hiphop, jazz, etc. Audio boost is present as well.
Quality of audio output is very good. The bass isn’t too “heavy” and details are reproduced quite well. This music player sure will entertain you on the go, or at your leisure time. The only issue I encounter is, metadata of m4a files (aac iTunes at 160kbps) isn’t displayed. I don’t know why.
 The video player lists all video files stored on both the memory card and internal memory, and it supports these formats: MPEG4, H.263, H.264, WMV3. Video is played back in landscape mode by default. I tried some mp4, 3gp, wmv non-HD videos, and no problem. If you’re not maniac of HD videos, Pearl 3G video player is more than enough.

Image gallery has two view modes: thumbnail and list. File search and slideshow are there. You can share images to email, BBM contact, MMS, even third-party apps like Facebook and Twitter staright from the gallery. Functionality-wise, it works fine. The only thing is lack is eye candy or something to please eyes.

There are also some games preinstalled. Nothing spectacular but enough to accompany you killing the time. Word Mole tests your vocabulary skills, while Trooper Typing challenges your typing speed. The rest is classic games you might be familiar with.

FM radio is absent.

Camera and video

The Pearl 3G is narcissist-friendly; it comes with 3.2MP autofocus camera. Flash and video recording ability is also on the list. The shooting interface is, again, very simple. It takes picture and records video in portrait position (err, no dual-front design here). The screen serves as viewfinder while the trackpad as zoom control as well as camera shutter.
The settings are rather limited; flash (off, on, auto), AF (normal, close-up, off), white balance (auto, sunny, cloudy, night, incandescent, fluorescent), picture size (2048×1532, 1024×768, 480×360), picture quality (superfine, fine, normal), color effect (normal, BW, sepia), geotagging, and storage location. Accessing these is a bit awkward, you have to click menu and then move the highlight one row down and click trackpad to confirm. Unfortunately, there is no scene mode provided. To record video, the settings are more limited; flash, color effect and video size (640×480, 176×144).
You can take a look at photo and video sample samples here. 

I’m generally pleased with the photos. Color reproduction, detail, contrastand saturation level, everything is surprisingly good (considering it’s a RIM device, and RIM has never been into megapixel race). The only issue here is random shift in white balance. On some occassions, the photo taken shows a warmer color tone and tends to be purplish or brownish. Macro shots are awesome. Photos taken under low light environment are not that bad, sure you can spot artefacts (“grain”) but that’s on tolerable level. The video is just average, it’s adequate to keep spontaneous moments and upload them to YouTube or Facebook.

Organizer

The calendar offers 3 view modes: day view, week view and month view. It also shows agenda for a certain time frame. Reminder ringtone can be set from here, and you can share events to BBM group.

It’s basically a comprehensive calendar, not only covers the events on handheld but also handles calendar from BBM groups, Facebook (yeah, your friend birthdays and wedding receptions!), to each email account. Every calendar has different color and you can select which one to view.

 

File manager has, well, very basic interface and file search feature. Cut, copy, paste files are all supported. Calculator is present to help you with simple mathematics. Memopad keeps your little notes. And by the way, Pealr 3G also comes with e-manual onboard. Smart and green choice by RIM.

 

 Clock, alarm, timer and stopwatch are provided. Clock app can be set to Bedside Mode (so your handheld will only show the clock, to access other features you have to quit bedside mode first). Stopwatch support multilap counter. The only drawback here is, alarm has single slot only.

Office and setup

To handle office things, Pearl 3G is bundled with Docs To GO from DataViz (standard edition, by the way). This app consists of Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow To Go, each to handle .doc, .xls and .ppt, respectively. Documents can be viewed and editted straight from these apps, but you cannot create new document unless you upgrade it to premium edition. Simple formatting (font, paragraph, bullet and numbering, etc) is present. Table, bookmark and hyperlink can be inserted to the document. Don’t worry, word count and spell checking are provided as well. Documents can be sent to email with no hassle. Docs To Go works well as docs viewer. I myself did not edit any docs on Pearl 3G, anyways. The screen size is what’s holding me back.

With setup wizard, you can set email accounts, Bluetooth and WLAN connection. For email, it is very easy, you just need to choose your service provider (Yahoo!, for example), insert username and password and voila… you are there. For Bluetooth and WLAN, it’s a bit tricky. Sometimes I encounter failure to connect Pearl 3G to another device or hotspot.

Overal performance

Pearl 3G is powered by 624MHz processor. Navigating through menu is snappy and multitasking is reliable enough. However, lag is encountered occassionally, though. Battery lasts for a day in single charge (decent enough, considering I’m a heavy tweeter LOL).

My impression

It’s very blatand to dub Pearl 3G “the best BlackBerry ever” since it has never been intended to be so. Pearl 3G just knows where it sits; far from either Torch or Gemini, but right next to Onyx. It’s a BlackBerry with many good things to offer to you and some flaws some of you can live with and some others simply cannot. It looks gorgeous in your hand, design-conscious people. It may be sleek, but you Onyx users (yes, I talk to you, 9700 users) should not underestimate its smartphone prowess. Pearl 3G also serves a good entertainer for your leisure time, and the camera is the biggest surprise this time. Fingerprint-prone finish and eye-candyless, outdated user interface are probably two main drawbacks that might scare some people away from the Pearl 3G.

The bottomline, Pearl 3G is a good-looking, fast, reliable email machine from RIM. I had good times with this handheld for a whole month. Thank you, RIM and HWM Indonesia for this chance.

Review: BlackBerry 9105 (part 1)

Something pretty is coming.

RIM and Hardware Magazine (HWM) Indonesia have kindly let me to lay hands on this BlackBerry 9105 (referred as Pearl 3G from now on) on a free trial during March 2011. All opinions presented in this review are expressed solely based on my personal xprinces, points of view and judgement as a user, and do not represent either RIM’s or HWM’s ones. 

Ready, set go. Oops, don’t forget to click images for full-size view!

Retail package

 This box of the retail package right before unboxing. Following the eco-savvy industrial trends nowadays, RIM ships Pearl 3G in rather smallish box (the highly popular 8250 aka Gemini has got bigger box, mind you). As you might have heard somewhere else, small packaging is meant to reduce the environmental effects of transportation, preserve the use of paper and allow the manufacturer to send more phones with each shipment. A right move to RIM.

The retail package contains every single thing you will need to live with the Pearl 3G. You’ll get a handset unit (all trial users got Red Gradient units!), a cable data with microUSB connection, a piece of stereo headset, a user tools CD, a charger, and a quick guide with SAR information. A 2GB microSD is inserted into your phone already, preloaded with driver that prompts when you connect your phone to computer for the very first time. What’s missing here is a carrying pouch–I will discuss about this in details later, in design review part. Please keep in mind that your retail package might be different from what I’m showing you here, depending on your regions and network operators (if you purchase it from them).

Design

Pearl 3G is crafted in 108 x 50 x 13.3 mm body and it weighs 93g only. This makes Pearl 3G one of the most compact smartphones on the market. 93g is, you know, surprisingly lightweight. Pearl 3G also fits my hand perfectly and it feels nice there. I was impressed by the dimension.

The front face is made of glossy plastics with piano finish. It doesn’t look cheap at all. The red-to-black gradation paintjob worths a praise, I really like it! Pearl 3G is certainly a looker. My office mates were impressed by the looks as well.

On the front face, from top to bottom, you’ll find earpiece, status LED, screen (discussed later), trackpad with 4 control keys, 14 input keys and a tiny microphone. The trackpad works well, the sensitivity can be adjusted in the Options menu. It’s a bit sunk down and I needed some time to be friendly with it. Call, menu, back and end call key are raised higher than the trackpad. They offer a very good tactile feedback. Status LED serves as indicatorof network coverage and some events (missed calls, new BBM messages, etc). Earpiece and microphone work well, no complain here.The build quality is good. No creak whatsoever so far.

Okay, that are the good things. Now, the downside is the finishing. Piano finish makes Pearl 3G (really) prone to fingerprint. Based on my personal experience, fingerprint was visibly scattered on the surface and that had me to spend time to clean it up with smooth cloth. A quality pouch is welcomed, unfortunately RIM does not include it in the retail package. Every beauty has a price, and this is the price of Pearl 3G’s look.

 
 No QWERTY keyboard this time, but don’t worry…
Pearl line up has been famous for the half-QWERTY keyboard and SureType combo for years. RIM shipped Pearl 3G in two version, the half-QWERTY packing 9100 and the 9105 with conventional alphanumerics. This is 9105.
There are 15 input keys to serve you–all in piano finish. They consist of 10 alphanumeric keys, enter, back space, symbol and upper/lower case shift key. The tactile feedback is good. Each key isn’t too big nor small and well-spaced one to another. There is no distinct separator between keys in the same row (sans the 0 key) but don’t worry, misspressing is seldom happened though. The back space and symbol key are close enough.
Pearl 3G supports 2 input methods: SureType and multitap. SureType is pretty similar to T9, you don’t need to type every single character right but the dictionary will help you choosing the words you mean to type. For example, you can say “I love you” by typing “4056830968”. It works well and you can type anything quick! Multitap is an input method we usually find on traditional alphanumeric phones. You can switch both methods anytime. From my personal experience, chatting with SureType is fun when both your friend and you very well versed in English.
The trackpad serves as main navigation control. The size is rather smallish, yet the functionality is decent. It responds soft touches very well and even more you can adjust the sensitivity as you see fit. The only complain I’ve got is the placement. It’s a bit sunk down relative to the surrounding keys. I took time to accustom myself to this condition.

 The keys are designed very well. They are raised to provide comfort in typing. The wave pattern adds some aesthetics to the device. Red-to-black gradation paintjob is, once again I tell you, certainly a fresh air to the design. The back space and symbol key are close each other. You may make typing mistakes in some occasions, especially when you’re granted with big-sized thumb. Next: let’s go around.

The right side is home to volume keys and right convenience key. By default, pressing right convenience key launches the camera. All keys are made of rubber. The design itself is signature to RIM–you’ll find this kind of keys on some other BlackBerry devices (9700, 8520, etc). Tactile feedback is good. There is chrome frame that outlines the device. Again, RIM’s design signature.
On another side, there are 3.5mm port, microUSB port and another convenience key. This key launches voice dial by default, but you can change this in the Options menu. Both ports are “naked”. I’m afraid they collect dust with the time. Protecting cover should be considered by RIM designers next time.
There are microphone and loudspeaker on the bottom. The loudspeaker is decent, the volume is not too high nor too low. It gets a little bit cracked on highest volume but this won’t be a big deal. Medium volume is okay for notification ringtones.
There are three dedicated music keys atop of Pearl 3G (play/pause, previous, forward). The play/pause also serves as mute and lock/unlock key. They all look hidden but are comfortable to use. Music keys come useful when you play music quite often. The placement is just right and proper.

There are some stuffs you see on the back; camera lens, LED flash and battery cover. The back part is accentuated with chrome lining, and the battery cover is made of good, alumuniumlike plastics. There is a small groove on the bottom to remove the cover. Pearl 3G sports 3.2MP autofocus camera. There is no cover to protect the lens from scratches of daily use, though. Camera quality will be discussed later.

Pearl 3G comes with 2.25″ screen on the resolution of 360 x 400 pixels. The density is high, i.e. 239dpi. The unit itself is TFT, supporting 262K colors. All these combination makes Pearl 3G’s screen one of the best to please your eyes. Both brightness and contrast are okay. Colors look vivid. Single pixel is barely spotted by naked eyes. And viewing angle is good.

With the pearl 3G, viewing pictures is a joy. One hell of a beautiful screen.  Big love!

The goodness doesn’t stop there. Sunlight legibility is fairly good. Pearl 3G’s screen manages to keep decent readability under direct sunlight. You’ll not meet any fuss with proper brightness setting.

I’ve got chance to borrow some phones from my workmates and compare them to Pearl 3G, side by side. Here you can judge how compact the BlackBerry is. Left picture: (L-R ) Sony Ericsson XPERIA X8, Nokia E72, Google Nexus S, Samsung C6625, BlackBerry Pearl 3G. Right picture: (top, L-R) BlackBerry 8520, 9780, 9105, 9000, (bottom) 9520.

Photo and video samples from BlackBerry 9105

Seeing is believing.

Here are some photo and video samples taken by BlackBerry 9105 (Pearl 3G).  Full review to come. Click image to view in full glory.

Outdoor  

 

Macro shots

Low light

Video

Disclaimer:  all photos and video were taken with Pearl 3G on firmware 5.0.0.689. No image manipulation whatsoever was involded.
What do you think about the photos and video? I’d like to hear your judgements.
Update 27/03: 3 new photos added to demonstrate reproduction of red and other colors, and flash power under completely dark environment.