For a long time I have been a minimalist when it came to cell phones.  I just wanted a phone you could make a call on.  I didn't need to browse the web, take pictures, play games, or any of the other dozens of things you can do on phones nowadays.  In fact I was quite frustrated by several phones I've had that seemed to do all of these other things at the expense of actually being able to easily make a decent quality phone call.  My frustration reached its pique when I got a Verizon XV6700 for work.  It was a Windows Mobile Smartphone, and one of the most useless pieces of technology I've ever encountered.  Of course this may have been because it was forced to sync up with Novell Groupwise.  Novell seems to screw up every Windows PC it touches, no reason for Windows Mobile to be spared.  Nonetheless, there were many glaring design flaws outside of its contamination by Novell.  At the first opportunity I ditched it and went back to just a plain old cell phone. Enter Brightkite.  I've spoken of Brightkite before.  It made me actually want to participate in one of these silly social network Twitterish experiences.  Problem, Verizon doesn't support it.  Now I've run into this before.  When I had the XV6700 there were several mobile apps I tried to install but couldn't, because Verizon didn't allow it.  Even with my old LG8300 there were many features that I had to use a program called bitpim to access since Verizon locks their phones down to such a ridiculous level.  The final straw came when I actually tried to forward my phone to another number, a feature that is included on my service.  It didn't work.  I talked to a Verizon Rep, they told me it should work, maybe I wasn't doing it right.  I verified I could do it on my wife's phone, same model.  So I talked to Verizon again.  Once again I'm told it should work.  Once again I tell them it doesn't.  Then I'm told that since it is a corporate account they can't help me and I will need to go through my accounts corporate contact. To hell with that.

So, I made the jump to T-Mobile.  And since Brightkite and Twitter were becoming important to me, and I was already an email junkie, I did something I didn't think I would ever do.  I bought a Blackberry.  I've long thought that the Blackberry addicts out there were a bit pathetic.  Now I'm one of them.  John C. Dvorak paved the way when he called Blackberries the Anti-iPhone on Cranky Geeks.  Sounded perfect for me.

I bought a Blackberry Pearl 8120, the latest model T-Mobile is carrying.  Was torn between that one and the Curve, because I liked the full qwerty keyboard and larger screen on the Curve better.  However the smaller form factor and the ability to take video with the Pearl swung my decision.

Here are a few picture of it, never mind the mass of cables from the podcast mixer in the background:

The Pearl is a fairly small phone, not much bigger than my LG8300 really.  It has a 240x260 screen, and a double-tap style QWERTY Keyboard.  I was a little hesitant about the keyboard and using the SureType predictive text entry.  Each key has two letters instead of three as on a normal phone, and they are arranged in the standard QWERTY configuration.  I very quickly got use the the predictive text, and find it almost as easy to use as a full keyboard, and in a few cases easier as it does learn some of the odd longer words I type (such as chaosengine).

It supports multiple email accounts, sms and mms messaging, as well as internet web browsing.  The camera is 2 megapixel and seems to take fairly sharp pictures, has a flash, and can also take video, though I haven't yet tested that feature.  I got a 2GB microSD card for it, and it acts as a USB mass storage device so I can transfer files to and from it from any OS without the need of special drivers or software.  It also charges from the USB cable.

First thing I did was download several Google Mobile Apps, most importantly Gmail.  I also downloaded the Opera Mini Browser since the standard Blackberry Browser left a little to be desired. Browsing the web and sending email is very simple, though limited by the small screen.  Even so, it serves its purpose quite well.

The Pearl also has WiFi.  T-Mobile does charge you $9.95 a month to use it, which is a bit irritating, but considering it still must route through their system I guess it's understandable.  The really cool thing about this is the fact that when connected to WiFi, none of the calls I make count against my minutes.  So when at home, or I'm assuming at work though I haven't tested it there yet, I can make as many calls as I want for no additional charge.  I also get much better signal strength here from my WiFi than I do from T-Mobile's network.  So anywhere where I have access to WiFi, I can use that for calls, messaging, email, etc.  Very nice feature that I hope works well with the WiFi at work since my Verizon phone never worked well there, and didn't work at all in the server room.

Another uber-cool feature is the fact that I can use the phone as a usb modem and connect it to my laptop to browse the web.  I have an unlimited data plan, so no extra charges are incurred while doing this.  I have not tested the feature yet, but will be doing so soon.  I don't expect it to be very fast, the Edge network is not exactly speedy.  But for doing some light web browsing or email away from home, it should suffice.

With all of this, WiFi, email, web browsing, bluetooth, and a nice bright LCD screen, I didn't expect much from the battery life, but so far it looks good.  With it on WiFi and using Bluetooth half the day, with fairly heavy usage as I play with all the phones features, it still shows over 75% battery use.  And as I mentioned earlier, it charges from USB, so I can easily recharge it about anywhere.

So, I'm a convert to the cult of Blackberry.    Mock me if you will, but I will probably be two busy texting Brightkite on my Blackberry to notice.