BlackBerry Pearl 8220: Next Great Smartphone?

By Al Sacco, CIO.com |  Mobile & Wireless, BlackBerry, RIM

It's no secret that BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) has tried to expand its traditional customer base beyond the enterprise in recent days. But the company's BlackBerry Pearl 8220 flip phone ( formerly dubbed "KickStart") is the first RIM device aimed specifically at the vast low-end consumer market. And it just might be exactly what RIM needs to secure for itself a dominant stake in the space -- assuming carriers are willing to hit the necessary price points.

The BlackBerry Pearl 8220 is the first RIM device to feature the common flip-phone form factor, popularized by Motorola's RAZR flip phone, and it was unveiled by RIM Wednesday at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show in San Francisco-though images of such a smartphone and even an in-depth review have been floating around the Web for weeks.
I was lucky enough to get some hands-on time with the Pearl 8220 at CTIA, and after a few weeks of pondering its potential impact on the smartphone world, I thought it was time to offer my "official" take on the device.

The idea to offer a BlackBerry flip phone is nothing short of brilliant on RIM's part. The average technology layman is probably aware of BlackBerry at this point-though I'd bet few know the name RIM-but consumers are much more likely to use, and therefore to feel comfortable with, some form of flip device from Motorola, LG, Samsung or Nokia. Nearly all of the leading cell phone and smartphone manufacturers offer flip phones. Just as many device makers are attempting to mimic Apple's iPhone popularity with touch-screen-devices of their own, so too did cell phone leaders try to duplicate Motorola's success with the RAZR.

But what's the best way to really grab consumers' attention? Take aim at their wallets, of course! In my opinion, RIM and its carrier partners have to both undercut its main smartphone market rivals and vanquish its competitors in the entire cell phone space. After all, those are the companies RIM's pitting itself against by wading into consumer waters.

Canadian carrier Rogers was the first to announce it would offer the BlackBerry Pearl 8220, though it's still unclear when exactly the new flip phone will become available. Rogers pricing details have been released; however, the company plans to sell the RIM flip phone for US$150 with a three-year contract. Canadian carriers have traditionally priced BlackBerry device a bit higher than their American counterparts...but still! In my opinion, that price-along with a three-year contract-is asinine, and I suspect Rogers will suffer because of it.

That's especially so since the Pearl 8220 looks and feels rather flimsy; it's lighter than any other BlackBerry I've seen, and it's made of a different sort of rough, thin plastic. That can't be good for durability. I would not pay $150 for the device with a one-year contract, let alone a three year deal.

But RIM's announcement at CTIA relates to the T-Mobile Pearl 8220, which will be the first RIM flip phone smartphone to hit the United States. It's expected "this fall," according to the company, and rumors suggest that T-Mobile will sell the Pearl 8220 for as little as $49.99 with a two-year contract. Now that's more like it, and if this information proves to be accurate, RIM and T-Mobile are going to have a real winner on their hands, the consumer smartphone space will see another major player and RIM will have cranked up the competition between it and Apple another notch.

Oh yeah, it's also worth mentioning that reports of a BlackBerry Pearl 8210 suggest a sibling device with GPS instead of Wi-Fi will also hit the market in near future, likely on AT&T.

What's your take? First of all, would you pay $150 with a three year contract for the new BlackBerry flip phone? How about $50 with a two-year contract?

For the curious: additional BlackBerry Pearl 8220 images can be found on RIM's website, along with a video of the Pearl 8220 phone in action.

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