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BlackBerry Pearl

Q. I currently have a BlackBerry 7100x which I’ve found an invaluable tool. I also use a Nokia 6230 mobile telephone on the Vodafone network in the UK.

From next year, I will be spending approximately half my time in Europe (Spain in particular) which is why I obtained the Blackberry in the first place and may well acquire the Pearl when it’s available.

My question is, can I do without the Nokia mobile phone?

John

A. Like you, I would be lost without my BlackBerry – I usually carry a BlackBerry 8700 but often feel the need to carry a dedicated phone as well. But in my view, the BlackBerry Pearl really does bridge this chasm and is definitely the first BlackBerry I feel comfortable carrying at all times.

Reception is strong and voice quality is as good as I have come across so I suspect you would be quite happy without the Nokia.

The only advantage I can see of continuing to carry two devices is the redundancy that it provides – particularly if they operate on different networks.

Q. Could I ask you an ancillary question related to your article about the BlackBerry Pearl. How much longer does it take to write email text on this new SureType keyboard compared to the Qwerty keyboard on the old Treo or Blackberry?

This is key productivity question (notwithstanding the fact that this smart phone must be lighter than those with full Qwerty keyboards and therefore more convenient), and one I am sure those with Qwerty smart phones would like to know the answer to.

It is not the kind of question one can answer without using the new phone for some time and then of course it is too late to go back (unless one is rich.)

On a good smart phone Qwerty keyboard you can use two hands very easily and have the advantage of one keystroke - one letter, instead of having to do something else first when two letters are needed in sequence that are on the same button.

Graham Cox

A. Thanks for the question. You are right.

Using a full thumb-operated Qwerty-style keyboard like those found on Palm’s Treo handsets, Motorola’s Q, Nokia’s E61/62 or many of Research in Motion’s other BlackBerry devices is generally easier and probably faster than using the predictive text-based keyboard on the new BlackBerry Pearl – especially if you have grown used to using a full thumb-operated mini Qwerty keyboard.

That said, in the month I have been using the BlackBerry Pearl I have been very impressed with the accuracy and speed of the latest version of RIM’s SureType technology which effectively combines a traditional phone keypad and a familiar Qwerty-based keyboard.

Since there are only 20 keys (including ‘shift’ and ‘return’ ) most keys are home to more than one letter. But If you are familiar with the Qwerty layout, it is still relatively easy to find the right key using either both thumbs or just one.

In fact, provided you can steel yourself not to look at the screen as you type, SureType does a remarkably good job at figuring out exactly what text you are trying to type based on context as well as its built-in lexicon.

SureType actually includes a word list of over 35,000 words and the ability to increase that list based on the frequency of use and the names and addresses in the handset’s address book. It also has the ability to recognize character letter sequences that are common in the English language, such as “-ing”.

New words are automatically extracted from your incoming emails and added to your custom word list and you can also load additional industry-specific word lists, such as finance/business, medical and legal word-sets.

But as I found, SureType is not perfect and tends to stumble occasionally particularly over proper names, unusual words and acronyms. For improved speed and accuracy, RIM suggests you follow these steps the first time you enter unique words and email addresses:

1. Use the trackwheel to select the correct letters after you press each key

2. Press the SPACE key after you have typed the complete word, acronym or email address to allow SureType to learn that letter combination. News words will automatically be added to your custom word list and will appear as an option the next time they are typed.

One added feature worth considering. You can also switch to the multi-tap input method when desired by pressing and holding the ‘Star’ key in a text input field.

Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised with how quickly I got used to SureType which is a big improvement over previous predictive text software I have used.

On balance, I think the additional features, superb design and much more phone-like attributes of the BlackBerry Pearl outweigh the disadvantages of abandoning the full mini Qwerty keyboard.

Q. One obvious, and possibly redundant question. Why is there STILL no spell-check feature on Blackberries?

Matt Farrar

A. That is a very good question and not one that I have an answer to. It seems an obvious omission now you come to mention it. Perhaps everyone in Canada (where Blackberries come from) is much better at spelling….

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