Blackberry Pearl: major keyboard usability issues?

I have always been a great fan of the Blackberry from RIM with its mobile email and its full QWERTY keyboard but it was always so bulky. So when I got the chance to upgrade to the sleek and slim Blackberry Pearl I thought it was worth a go. I read some great reviews of the product too. But the slim style comes at a price – a new style QWERTY keyboard with two alpha letters on each key instead of one. But for me in terms of usability it’s a disaster.

Blackberry: old v new keyboards

The Pearl, thats the one on the right, is a very elegant design concept and I guess, on paper it looks like it should be a winner. Stick with the QWERTY keyboard. Allow two alpha letters per key. Make the keys sensitive to whether you click on the left or the right side. And have a clever predictive text system to help you out.

That’s the theory.

In practice I find the keys very small and fiddly and I am not known for my large hands.

They are actually a strain on my eyes (no I dont need glasses) as the font seems to be even smaller than other numeric keypad phones.

It is very hard to differentiate in your clicks between left letter and right letter.

The predictive text is adequate - nothing special.

And I have to keep looking at the keyboard. I seem to have a real problem getting the model of the keyboard layout into my head even if it is QWERTY.

Now I may be a slightly atypical Berry user – I text and email a lot from my Berry – but the result is that my text speeds are right down to the level of a traditional multi-key numeric keypad.

So if you are like me in your text/email usage of your Berry then I suggest you stick with the new models which retain their traditional full QWERTY keypads - the Blackberry Curve or Blackberry Bold.

Or perhaps in a few months I will get used to it but I somehow don’t think so - I would be interested in how other people are getting on with it?

Perhaps there is an important lesson for all designers here:

Sometimes things look great on paper but they just don’t work out in practice no matter how hard or how long you try. Great ideas are sometimes never any more than great ideas – it does not make them great inventions!

Oh by the way – just to show that I am still a big Berry fan – the Pearl has a superb camera on it and also Wi-Fi so you can take a picture or a video, switch on the wireless and email it to a friend for free – bypass your mobile operator and avoid those nasty multimedia message costs.

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:

Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature’s Best Designs

The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks

Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 500 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.

Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques. The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps musicians and bands form a unique collaboration with their fans for mutual benefit.

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I find the buttons far too small, and I think it may be giving me RSI. It forces your hand / palm into a curl as well that is difficult to maintain over a crackberry session. With Push capability coming to iphone, or itouch I would consider a jailbreak version for my corporate account (all our team are on BB).

Thanks Paul I think you are right and what you are saying should ring large warning bells to RIM about other corporate users future blackberry alternatives. If I was an exec at RIM I would be looking very closely at the Blackberry's future differentiation strategy with push becoming commodity. And it seems to me that they strategy of trying to capture a chunk of the mini-keypad slim Smartphone market might not be such a good move as it blurs the distinction between the Berry and other devices.


The blackberry pearl does not have keys that are designed to be sensitive to which side of the key is pressed. You must press a key twice to get to the second letter listed, or use the great Predictive input. I have owned a BB pearl for 10 months now and am very happy with the keyboard input . I must say that for the first 3 weeks to a month I did not enjoy adjusting to suretype, but now that I am comfortable I feel that I type faster on the pearl than on my previous BB, the 8800 series world edition. In my opinion having a fully functional BB that fits in your pocket and palm so nicely is easily worth getting aquainted with a new way of entering text.

Blackberry is also mine favorite cell phone. The feature of this phone is not found in other types of phones. So, I like this cell phone very much.


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