BlackBerry maker RIM (Research In Motion) and mobile phone operator 02 have announced the launch of a brand-new Pearl smartphone handset. The BlackBerry Pearl 8120 goes onsale through as from today.

BlackBerry's narrow and sleek Pearl, launched in autumn last year, caught on in a big way. As the first foray into the consumer market for a company that had made it name with a business handset that unexpectedly turned out to have fashion kudos, the Pearl may just have been the handset that convinced Apple of the viability of a design-focused smartphone handset.

BlackBerry Pearl 8120: exclusive review here.

It's not just the UK getting a new BlackBerry Pearl: in the US, a variation of the Pearl 8120, the 8130, is also set for launch. This will be a CDMA handset, whereas the UK handset is a GSM/GPRS/Edge model that offers WEP/WPA2 Wi-Fi.

The Pearl 8120 made its debut in Spain and Italy last month. Meanwhile appears to be gearing up to offer the Pearl 8120 on a Vodafone contract.

PC Advisor was lucky enough to get an exclusive first look at the new Pearl handset. It’s fair to say, we’re smitten.

This revised design has an improved 2Mp camera (its predecessor was a 1.3Mp model) with magnification of up to 5x selectable via the central rollerball navigator from which the handset takes its name. We were pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the flash that automatically kicked in when we tried to take a few shots at a party. The flash is far from discreet though.

Stick in a removable memory card slot and you'll be able to capture video to it. The Pearl 8120 has just 64MB of memory built in, so you’ll soon be making use of that microSD card’s memory. We used its voice-recording function at a recent press briefing where it lasted about 20 minutes which we didn’t think was too bad.

Our review handset came with a 1GB card (you don’t get this as part of the deal, unfortunately) and you can use cards with up to 2GB capacities.

We were impressed by the thought that has gone into some of the interface. Click on the Maps application in and, if you're already online, you are asked whether you want to turn on the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Mobile Network or turn on the lot in one go.

The wireless radio icon of previous BlackBerries now pops up to Manage All Connections – a great idea given the liberal scattering of feature shortcut icons to be scrolled through on the BlackBerry screen.

Zooming in by pushing lightly but firmly on the pearl rollerball, you can easily move around the screen. The relatively nippy Wi-Fi downlink makes accessing map data noticeably faster than on some handsets we’ve reviewed, but we still can’t see ourselves using this feature on the Pearl as a matter of course.

There’s plenty else we really like about the Pearl 8120, though. It runs on a 312MHz Xscale processor, it makes a proper attempt at both attachment handling on the business side and multimedia capture and playback on the fun side. Roxio’s Media Manager for BlackBerry can be used to search for files you’ve copied on to the device using the USB 2.0 connection.


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