Earlier last month, I happened to catch a flight out of Delhi back home to Mumbai on a Saturday afternoon. Of course, the flight was delayed. Of course, the “Good Times” airline did not inform me about the four-hour delay, despite asking me to fill out, on the online booking form, my mobile number, alternate phone number, email, meal preferences, whether I dress on the left or right, or things like that. I was hoping the lady in the loud red jacket at the check-in counter would lie and sweetly say, “But, sir, we emailed you an hour ago.” Fortunately she didn’t, or I would have whipped out my gleaming new BlackBerry Pearl smartphone and sternly said, “Now look here, the last email I got was at 12:39pm from my wife reminding me to pick up curtains for the kids’ rooms.”
Now, I’m sure you must have noticed the sleek, corporate fat cats at airports, BlackBerry bricks holstered at the hip, practising the ¼-second draw to check their emails or to dash off important missives to save the world. I half expect these guys to blow smoke away from the barrel and twirl the ’Berry back into the holster, like the hero of a B-grade western.
BlackBerries have made themselves indispensable to Serious Business People, but now they’re after their kids with the very hip Pearl, which is the first BlackBerry to ship with a camera, music/video players and expandable media in the form of an SD card slot.
The BlackBerry Pearl is pretty in “piano black” trimmed with chrome accents and I would be tempted to buy it on looks alone—an impressive feat bearing in mind the quality of the competition out there. The best bit about it is the glowing ball or “pearl”, which is used for scrolling through the extensive menu, just like the ball in a mouse. This allows you to move up and down, left and right, with just small movements of your thumb. Hmmm…
BlackBerry’s designers were able to cut the smartphone down to a very competitive size, something at par with the LG Chocolate. The phone can easily fit in a pocket and when you pull it out, it looks cool in your hand. The BlackBerry Pearl has a 2.25-inch TFT screen that displays at a 240x260-pixel resolution, offering a sharp, clear display with vibrant colours and is great for viewing email, images and websites. It also adjusts its brightness according to your surroundings. A small LED above the screen illuminates different colours for different status messages: Green for wireless, blue for Bluetooth, red for new messages and amber for low battery.
But to achieve this slim form factor, something had to go. The Pearl features a keyboard with a QWERTY layout, but it has two letters to each button and uses a combination of predictive text and normal typing called SureType. It takes time getting used to and I wouldn’t type this review on it, but it’s fine for short email text.
BlackBerry made its reputation on “push” email, and, of course, the Pearl offers this. Simply put, your BlackBerry service provider has a system that immediately sends each email to your BlackBerry hand-held as soon as it arrives on the mail server. This means that there’s little or no delay between a message being sent and it arriving on the mobile device. The email system itself is really easy to set up and is designed with consumers in mind. Login to the BlackBerry service provider website from your PC, enter your email address and password, and you’re done.
As an aside, my mother was hospitalized for an emergency angioplasty last fortnight. With the BlackBerry, I was updating my family around the globe on email and could snap pictures of her recovery and send it via email straight from my Pearl. Also, I could attend to official emails and browse the Web quite efficiently through Yahoo Go 2.0, a portal with a nifty interface optimized for cellphones.
Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger are also pre-installed for all you instant messaging fanatics. BlackBerry devices let you tap into up to 10 email accounts at a time, including both personal email and corporate Outlook or Lotus Notes systems.
The BlackBerry Pearl sports a 1.3-megapixel camera with a flash and 5X digital zoom. Since we’re already seeing 3.2-megapixel cameras on some high-end phones, it seems time to discontinue 1.3-megapixel cameras from phones altogether.
But the bigger deal is the lack of a video camera function. This feature is standard on most camera phones these days, so not having it on an otherwise-full-featured smartphone Pearl seems like a big oversight. Even stranger, once you consider the built-in video player and the eXPandable memory available with a microSD card. The Pearl shows up as a storage device on my iMac, and it was easy to drag and drop MP3 songs from my iTune library. The speaker quality is average, but the sound quality improves with the supplied earpiece.
A quad-band phone, the Pearl has strong reception and sharp, clear audio. The speakerphone is loud enough for indoor and in-car use. You have several options for making voice calls. Naturally, you can use the Pearl like any phone and hold it to your ear. Speaker-independent voice dialling has, at long last, been added to the BlackBerry platform, and the recognition engine was adept at handling commands (such as “call Amrit at work”), but taking full phone numbers was a futile exercise, even with a fake Angrezi accent.
The Pearl’s sleek form factor and new features, coupled with BlackBerry-heralded email capabilities, will be a draw for business users and consumers alike. However, before getting into emailing on the move, one should study one’s carrier’s charges for BlackBerry data services—unless, of course, Daddy is paying the bills.
My new pretend girlfriend
Google? Yahoo? Dogpile? No, no. There is a new search engine in town, www.msdewey.com, and it is quite addictive for grown-ups (well, to be honest, male grown-ups!). Ms Dewey is a rather comely interactive search assistant who comments on searched keywords in her own saucy style and makes random actions when idle. This is a fully-animated search engine, based on a lot of video footage of a librarian in a futuristic city backdrop. You enter your search term as normal and the search results appear in a pop-up window—eventually, but first Ms Dewey will try to tell you the answer. That often takes a lot of thinking on Ms Dewey’s side. She looks bored, mischievous, sad, happy or embarrassed, while cocking her hips and shooting coy, sideways glances at you. And the intros, which vary while loading up the site, can be pure entertainment.
But who’s behind it? The site doesn’t say, but good old wiki informs me that Ms Dewey was developed by McCann-Erickson San Francisco and EVB, an online ad agency, as a viral marketing campaign for Microsoft’s “Live Search” search engine. And, just in case you missed it, Ms Dewey is a play of words on the Dewey decimal system used in libraries. Who says Microsoft doesn’t have a sense of humour?
However, as a search tool, I’m afraid this does not work at all. The response time is extremely slow and there are no advanced search features. But for sheer entertainment, it’s worth your 10 minutes. Ms Dewey is saucy, sexy and chatty as hell, and deserves an Oscar for her spirited performance. Few queries that seem to get a funny rise out of her: ‘Google’, ‘maths’, ‘palindrome’, and, er, ‘porn’.
Trivia: Ms Dewey is played by Janina Gavankar, an American actress and musician of Indian and Dutch descent, who also collaborated on a project for a song called Tell Me What in India with Pratichee Mohapatra, formerly of girl band Viva, and Navraaz (http://www.deepcds.com/videotest.htm). Gavankar’s most notable role is that of Eva ‘Papi’ Torres, a promiscuous lesbian in The L Word, a popular American TV drama.
Tell Harsh what gizmos you would like to see reviewed at firstname.lastname@example.org