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Blackberry email devices have long been the plaything of the business classes. Nicknamed 'Crackberry' for its addictive qualities, those who pick up the device and subject themselves to the lure of its instant email siren frequently find themselves unable to put it down again, destined to live out a life of never-ending email ping pong.
"Sent via my Blackberry wireless device."
This has become the tagline of small and petty email exchanges across the globe. Thanks to RIM, the company behind the Blackberry, you could be about to see a whole lot more of this tagline, as it launches the BlackBerry Pearl, an email device designed for more than just corporate bumbling.
The new Blackberry Pearl is a smartphone device that looks more like an average mobile than an email device. It's in a slick candy bar form factor, and the metallic edgings give it a touch of class. It's got a firm weight in the hand that makes it feel solid, rather than heavy, and the piano black glossy finish means that you won't feel like a dork whipping it out, which is more than can be said for most smartphones.
The front fascia lacks the usual QWERTY keyboard found on most Blackberries, with a 20-key hybrid keyboard standing in. This works via the SureType system, which I'll talk about in a bit. However, regardless of its functionality, it's clear that this is compromise made to fit a half decent keyboard into the form factor. Just above the keyboard sits the Pearl that gives this model its name. The Pearl is a rollerball/trackball, which you can use to scroll up-down-left-right with the lightest of touch. This replaces the side-mounted scroll wheel synonymous with old-style Blackberry devices, and is designed to allow you to move quicker through the menus, rather than having to scroll sequentially through each item.
The Pearl is clickable, like many 'mini-joysticks' on phones these days. On either side are the menu button and the back button. The menu button does most of the same things that clicking the old side scroll wheel did, such as bringing up a menu for reply/forward/new in email, or GoTo URL/back/forward in a browser application. In practice, this new system of navigation is really nice, although doesn't have quite the same 'natural' feel of the side-mounted wheel. It takes some getting used to, and opinion in the office is split over which is favourable. Most people used to normal phones find the Pearl a fantastic navigation system; most diehard Crackberry addicts find it a little unnerving.
One thing is clear - this is a mass market device, not just for business email-heads.