I'm a longstanding BlackBerry user, but my taste has always extended to the Bold and other full-keyboard models. How well do BlackBerry's latest alternatives to that design — the compact Pearl 3G and the touchscreen Storm 2 — measure up as productivity tools?
Smart phone choices are a question of taste and habit. My own tastes extend to having a full keyboard, because I do a lot of writing on a portable device, more I would imagine than most people, and an actual physical keyboard still works much better for this than any touch screen.
I've been a BlackBerry user for some years now, and that undoubtedly creates a barrier to switching to other platforms, since the same shortcuts and tricks continue to work on newer models. It shouldn't create such a barrier to switching to other BlackBerry devices, though; I already know that BlackBerry's strengths — good and reliable push email, a nifty mobile browser, and easy integration with Outlook — will be in place, and I potentially get other benefits, most notably in the area of size.
With that in mind, in recent months I've had extended plays with both the BlackBerry Storm 2 and the Pearl 3G. Both represent platforms BlackBerry has already successfully established, and both differ from the full-keyboard Bold approach I generally favour. The Storm 2 uses the touch-screen interface that's increasingly dominating the phone market (think iPhone, think Android, think Nokia, even think Windows Mobile), and thus offers a larger viewing area. The Pearl 3G has a half-keyboard; each button represents two letters, making it much more portable. How do they perform?
When I tested an original BlackBerry Storm back in 2008, I devoted an entire column to just what a poor choice it was for actually getting anything done. All I'm going to say about the Storm 2 (currently available on Vodafone and 3) is this: while it's a slight improvement on the ghastly original model, it's still not a phone I can imagine anyone wanting to actually use. It just doesn't implement the touch screen interface well at all. Typing, in particular, is a right royal pain. As far as I can see, it's one to avoid, but I don't want to waste hundreds of words on why I hate it.
The Pearl 3G (which is a Telstra exclusive right now) is, I have to say, rather more tempting. Having to double-type each letter is certainly slower than having a key per letter, and in several weeks of use I never got confident enough to type without constantly looking at the keyboard, which also slows you down
The minimised keyboard does make some familiar BlackBerry keyboard shortcuts less accessible; as the keys simply aren't there, the Pearl often just skips them or merges them in elsewhere. There's no shortcut for access bookmarks, though this is only a click away from the 'Go to' screen, which you can get by hitting G.
Despite those quibbles, my typing accuracy very quickly surpassed anything I've ever managed on a touch screen, and the battery life was impressive, with two days use easily possible even with heavy 3G access. Shortcuts aside, it was a familiar, speedy and productive BlackBerry experience.
Ultimately, neither phone persuaded me to switch away from using a Bold; for my own work circumstances, it remains the best choice. However, I can easily imagine someone with a less text-heavy approach than mine getting along beautifully with the Pearl 3G, especially if size is a major concern.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman needs to get better at keeping track of his BlackBerry cables. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.