8 Best Buys for Essential Gear

Cell Phone

The Apple iPhone 3G commands much attention--and rightfully so, considering the handset's slick looks and numerous innovations (the iPhone 3G ranks fifth on our latest Top 10 Smart Phones chart). But the iPhone and its on-screen keyboard aren't for everyone--especially if you plan to do messaging.

T-Mobile's Wi-Fi-equipped Research in Motion BlackBerry Pearl 8120 ($200 with a two-year contract) stands out for more than just its excellent messaging capabilities (owing to RIM's e-mail-friendly software and 20-key SureType keyboard). The T-Mobile Pearl occupies the top of our chart (the AT&T Wireless version ranks number two) because it works with T-Mobile's innovative HotSpot@Home technology, which lets you make VoIP calls over a Wi-Fi network.

The voice-over-Wi-Fi feature provides a viable calling alternative in locales where cell signals are weak, and the service has worked well in our testing. Wi-Fi speeds up Web browsing and data-intensive tasks, too. The HotSpot@Home Talk Forever Mobile service, required for voice-over-Wi-Fi calls, costs $10 a month.

The T-Mobile version of the phone is less attractive than its AT&T counterpart, in part because of its mousy-gray case; the icons in the BlackBerry menu look cartoonish, as well. The cluttered interface is mostly a result of all the software that T-Mobile loads on the device. Some of the add-ons are versatile (such as a voice-command application that worked very well for dialing contacts), while others aid productivity (RepliGo views, prints, and faxes Microsoft Office documents). You get a couple of games, too.

The phone packs a sharp 2.0-megapixel camera and an excellent multimedia player. The Pearl's SureType predictive text-entry system turns this candy-bar-style phone into one with an effective 20-key keyboard. And both voice quality and talk-time battery life were excellent: The T-Mobile 8120 lasted the full 10 hours of our tests.

Bottom Line: The sleek T-Mobile BlackBerry Pearl 8120 not only has RIM's excellent messaging capabilities, but it lets you place voice calls over a Wi-Fi connection, too.

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