It wasn't until I picked up my Sunset colored BlackBerry Curve a few months ago that I really discovered how functional and powerful a BlackBerry device could be. I tried a BlackBerry Pearl about 6 months before with minor usage attempts over the last couple of years and always felt the BlackBerry devices were strong in email, but not much else. RIM has really been focusing on the consumer with devices like the Pearl and Curve and just recently launched their first flip/clamshell form factor BlackBerry device with the BlackBerry Pearl Flip on T-Mobile. The flip form factor has been extremely popular in the U.S. for years and I personally used to prefer them before I discovered QWERTY devices. Now those flip form factor fans now can also keep using a flip phone and get the power and functionality of a BlackBerry with the Flip. Check out my image gallery for photos of the device and some of the new screens you will see on the Flip.
|Image Gallery:A walk around the RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip from T-Mobile.|
Out of box first thoughts The fairly standard T-Mobile BlackBerry box arrived and I quickly opened it up to reveal the Flip. I was immediately impressed by the compact size of the folded up device that also had a very attractive outer casing that appeared to be both classy and business-like. I popped in the battery and flipped open the top to check out what was under the hood. I liked the way it flips back over itself, much like my MacBook Pro and MSI Wind screens do. This helps reduce the overall length while giving it a more modern look. The inside display seemed quite large and I was actually surprised by the SureType keyboard because I thought it was just going to be a Pearl device with a flip screen. The keyboard is much improved over the Pearl with flat, large buttons that take up more than half of the bottom portion of the device. The Pearl has mushy, small keys that move around a bit too much. I pulled out my T-Mobile Shadow to compare the keyboards since it too is quite flat and the Flip keyboard is much bigger than even this keyboard.
I have BB 4.5 on my Curve, but find the very slick outlined, colored icons of BB OS 4.6 to be even better looking. The device also seemed very responsive and worked well with a single hand. I fully charged up the device and went about further testing for the next two weeks.
In the box: The BlackBerry Flip from T-Mobile comes with the device, 900mAh battery, A/C adapter, USB to microUSB cable, wired stereo headset, CD with BB Desktop software, Quick Start Guide and Tips and Tricks pamphlet. There was no case provided, which is a bit different for BlackBerry. Usually you do get at least a slip case because all the BlackBerry devices I have used in the past go into standby mode when slipped in a BlackBerry case. With the flip form factor you just need to flip the device closed to go into standby mode.
Specifications: The BlackBerry Pearl Flip runs the latest 4.6 operating system and has the following specifications:
- BlackBerry OS 4.6
- Quad-band GSM radio (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
- 128MB flash ROM
- 312MHz processor
- 2.4 inch square 320x320 high resolution display
- Integrated 802.11 b/g WiFi radio
- Integrated Bluetooth 2.0 radio with A2DP
- Infrared port
- 900 mAh Lithium ion battery with reported 4 hours of talk time
- microSD card slot with microSDHC support
- 2 megapixel camera
- micro USB port for syncing/charging/wired headset
- Standard 3.5mm headset jack
- Weight of 3.6 ounces
- Size of 3.98 x 1.97 x 0.69 inches
Like we have seen with the Curve and Pearl, there may be a version with GPS instead of WiFi coming to AT&T and the other carriers that do not support UMA like T-Mobile does.
A walk around the hardware: As you grab the device in the closed position, you see the shiny black front with the small 128x160 pixels color display in the center. The display shows you basic information like caller ID, time, data, signal strength and carrier, and song that is playing. Above the display you will find the flash, camera lens, and light sensor. There is a bit of curvature around the camera that makes the camera protrude forward a bit.
As you open up the display you will see a large, bright 2.4 inch 320x240 pixels display on the top part of the flip. The display looks great and is quite viewable in well lit environments. You will also find the headset speaker opening above the display that provides good sound quality.
On the lower part of the Flip is the SureType QWERTY keyboard and other hardware buttons and controls. There are send and end buttons, menu key, and back button around the pearl trackball. I have come to really love the trackball on BlackBerry devices that is now present on my T-Mobile G1 device. The trackball on the Flip is also still fantastic. Below the buttons and trackball you will find the keyboard.
I found the SureType keyboard on the Pearl to be a bit troublesome with the rather strange chunky, flat keys that felt mushy on the device. The Flip keys are solid, flat, and rather large. There is a bit of curvature in the design that makes it easy to type with one or two thumbs as you hold it in your hand. If you are looking for a device that is quite compact, while still giving you a QWERTY experience then the Pearl Flip keyboard may meet this need. The preditive text functionality in the OS works well and I found I never had to turn off this functionality to correctly enter text.
As you walk around the left side of the device you will find the mute button, 3.5mm headset jack, microUSB port and customizable application button. I like that the Pearl Flip uses a standard 3.5mm headset jack and think this is important for targeting consumers. The new standard for charging and syncing is microUSB and like many other devices the BB Flip includes it as well.
Looking at the right side of the device you find the volume buttons up towards the top with the microSD card slot and cover below the volume buttons. Down further along the right side you will find another application button that you can assign to launch an application/perform a function.
The battery/SIM card cover takes up most of the back of the device and pops off with a very small latch. I actually found that the latch sticks open and has very little movement to lock on the back, which may be an issue if you drop your BB Flip.
The hinge on the upper back is very sturdy and has a modern design that gives the BB Flip a bit of a unique look when you flip open the device. I like the hinge design and think it goes well with the consumer group BlackBerry is targeting with this device.
Thoughts on the BlackBerry OS 4.6: I have BlackBerry 4.5 on my Curve so I have been experiencing the improved web browser, video capture capability, and HTML email client that were three of the major improvements in this version of the OS. OS 4.6 includes these updates as well as security improvements and improvements in multimedia functions.
You can tell that consumers were definitely thought about in this latest version of the BlackBerry OS with the better look and feel of most of the utilities and applications. There are also 6 games included on the device. However, the settings menu is still very old school and everything seems to be randomly listed in a basic text list.
I enjoy using Opera Mini on my Curve, but find the current web browser is adequate for most mobile surfing needs and I understand from reading the PC Magazine review that Opera Mini may not work on the Flip.
DataViz includes the read only version of Documents To Go on the Flip so you can view Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files that appear as attachments in your email. You can also download and edit those same files right on your Pearl Flip.
Pricing and availability: The T-Mobile BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 is available now for US$149.99 after signing up for a 2-year contract, US$150 instant rebate, and US$50 mail-in rebate. The full retail price if you don't want to extend your contract is US$349.99. The BlackBerry unlimited data plan is US$19.99 per month or you can get the email only feature for US$9.99 per month.
The Pearl Flip will come in black and burgundy and I had a chance to check out the black model.
Final thoughts and conclusions: I spent two weeks with this evaluation device and think it is a compelling smartphone if you need to find something in the flip form factor. There are very few flip form factor smartphones available and this is the first BlackBerry flip phone. The keyboard is quite functional, the camera is decent, the device is very pocketable and solidly well constructed, the battery lasts a good couple days of heavy usage (like most BB devices), and the pricing is reasonable. The camera is a bit weak and the device is not as strong in the phone department as Nokia phones. I really wonder how many consumers that love flip phones will actually go for a BlackBerry device with this SureType keyboard and find it to be an interesting departure from the traditional BlackBerry form factor. I personally still prefer full QWERTY keyboards and am willing to give up the size advantage to keep using these devices so I won't be picking up a Flip for myself.