Mini-Review: BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 - T-Mobile

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: October 12, 2008

The first ever flip BlackBerry is a winner, so long as you play to its strengths.  While the 8220 is very large for a modern day flip phone, it's lightweight and slick looking enough to trick you into thinking it's a little smaller than it really is.  I've had the 8220 for just under a week now, and I very quickly grew used to carrying it around in my pocket.  No, it's not as thin as a RAZR or as small as a low-end sliderphone, but in all honesty my opinion of the 8220's design changed dramatically (for the better) after a day of using it.  

What I really like about the 8220 is the fact that from the outside it looks like a "regular" phone.  With the flip closed all you see is a sleek black exterior, chrome trim, and camera sensor - there's no telltale QWERTY thumbboard like you'll find on every other BlackBerry (well, at least until the all-touch Storm comes out).  More and more people want cell phones that can handle Email and Instant Messaging, but not everyone wants to see 25 buttons every time they glance at their cellie.  The 8220 brings a much-welcomed "stealth" option to the world of smartphones.

The 8220's SureType keyboard spreads the traditional QWERTY layout over twenty buttons, often placing two letters on a single key.  The phone's large size made for a very roomy thumbboard - much larger than the similarly-designed version found on the popular BlackBerry Pearl.  I had no problems typing out SMS, MMS, IM, and Email messages on the Flip, though I did long for a dedicated period key.  BlackBerry's SureType predictive text entry system worked quite well, though I found myself sticking to the multitap method most of the time.

As for the phone itself, performance varied between excellent and frustrating depending on what I asked the 8220 to do.  Voice calling and push Email over both GSM and WiFi were excellent; the Flip works with T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service for UMA (WiFi) calling, and I generally got good reception and experienced clear sound during calls.  I liked being able to scroll through Email headers via the external display, and the new BlackBerry OS 4.6 adds some sizzle to the graphical user interface, though the familiar BlackBerry key still took me to contextual menus offering up seemingly endless options and settings.  

The Flip also features a media player backed by a 3.5mm headphone jack, and I was able to listen to music in the background while checking Email, surfing the Web, and performing other tasks.  Flip's video player is only decent - the 8220's 2.4", 320 x 240 display isn't nearly on the same level as the larger screen found on the forthcoming BlackBerry Bold, and video clips tended towards pixelation during playback.  Flip's 2MP camera was similarly passable at best - image quality during video capture mode was especially disappointing.  Audio quality during music and video playback, on the other hand, was excellent - especially when I ditched the included earbuds for my own higher-quality 'phones.  I had no problem loading music from my computer onto the included microSD memory card and playing it back on the 8220.

Flip ran into problems when I started surfing the Web.  While the HTML browser had no problems with WAP (mobile) and simple HTML sites, it slowed considerably when I took it to more complex pages like the PhoneDog.com homepage.  Data speeds were great when connected to a WiFi network, but Flip's processor isn't as fast as the one found in it's big brother Bold, and it showed when the browser tried to render complex HTML layouts or deal with JavaScripts.  Stick to mobile Websites and the occasional foray into HTML land and you'll be fine with the 8220, but don't expect iPhone or Touch Diamond-style Web surfing here.

All in all, I'd call Flip a success relative to its target market.  BlackBerry wanted to offer users a new, more fashion-forward form factor and they succeeded.  Despite the Flip 8220's large footprint and thick profile, it actually feels quite modern to hold and use thanks in large part to its light weight.  BlackBerry's legendary push Email system works well on the device, and the ability to scroll through messages with the  phone closed is a nice - if expected - feature.  The inclusion of a standard headphone jack, stereo Bluetooth, and externally accessible memory card slot also makes Flip a very usable media player - though video enthusiasts will scoff at the phone's video playback quality.

Flip lacks the horsepower to distract power users waiting for the Bold to finally make its U.S. debut, but performs well as a basic voice and messaging phone with robust Email capabilities and a few smartphone tricks up its sleeve.  Add to that the inclusion of WiFi connectivity for voice and data purposes, and you've got a nice addition to the BlackBerry family and T-Mobile's messaging phone lineup.  Yeah, I wish the processor was faster, trackball a little bigger, and display a bit richer, but I don't think most potential Flip buyers will nitpick about that stuff.  They'll just be happy to finally have a BlackBerry that doesn't look like a BlackBerry from the outside.

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