At a Glance

What’s Good: surprisingly music-friendly; external play/pause button; stereo bluetooth, standard headphone jack; UMA capable; unique form factor; slick new BB interface; more compact than other BlackBerries; still has the BB office apps that keep executives aboard, but feels like a fun phone.

What’s Not Good: no GPS; weak web browsing; some lag here and there.

Bottom Line: If you're looking for a strong messaging device that works with a variety of communications platforms, the Flip will not disappoint. It makes calls over Wi-fi, and provides excellent call quality in adverse environments. Pretty much any kind of text communications platform currently available is accessible on the Flip. However, without 3G and a full-blown browser, don't expect to be surfing the night away.

Specs:

  • Make/Model: Blackberry Pearl Flip 8220
  • Network: GSM 850/1900 (There are European/Asian versions)
  • Data: EDGE, Wi-Fi
  • Carrier: T-Mobile
  • Size: 3.98” x 1.97” x 0.69”
  • Weight: 3.6 oz
  • Form Factor: Clamshell flip with external display
  • Display: Internal is 240 x 320 TFT, external is 128 x 160 TFT (262k colors)
  • Memory: 128 flash; The hot-swappable microUSB comes w/ 256 MB, and accepts 16GB
  • Notable Features: smooth external display with email/message previews; myFaves; voice notes; voice dialing; push email; stereo bluetooth; 2 MP cam with LED flash and 5X digital zoom, which can be controlled with the trackball. It also captures video.

Introduction

I am not a BlackBerry user. I mean, I've touched them and played around a bit, but I'm certainly not part of the crowd that experiences withdrawal symptoms after a day or two without BlackBerry interaction. Though I can assure you, such a crowd exists. Crackberry numbers are strong. There must be good reason for such loyalty and even addiction.

Perhaps my lack of BB experience is appropriate for this review, because the Flip might be the one that can do just that; upturn the notions of people who thought they knew what a BlackBerry was all about. The name obviously refers to the phone's form factor first, but the physical changes seen in this release may represent a shift in the BB's overall appeal in the cell market. The Flip goes after the young messaging demographic while retaining enough familiar features to keep the exec loyalists around.

Design & Features

Blackberry flip

Before we dive in, I want to point out that Noah has covered this phone extensively in video. I'll avoid overlapping his info in this review, outside of the quick reference to the specs above. So have a gander at: Noah's early first impressions and hands-on at CTIA; his un-boxing and first-look vid; and his full review, parts one and two.

One thing I love about this phone that I don't think Noah mentioned (he probably did and I missed it) is that the external mute button serves as the play/pause control when you are not in a call and have the music player running. It doesn't matter if it's in the background, or if you stopped playback 3 hours ago. Even when the phone is closed. One tap on, one tap off. Easy. Sensible.

This is the kind of music control I look for. I complained about the lack of this feature in Samsung's Rant and especially Highnote, and RIM hath filled the hole in mine heart. (Don't you love it when phone reviewers go all Middle English on you?) Not to mention that the loudspeakers rival those of the Highnote! The BB isn't quite as crisp, clear or loud, but it's close, and works very well as an open-air music player. BB beats a music phone at its own game? Perhaps. The hardware control is that important to me.

O.K., so I'll go over the design and features as usual, but briefly. For starters, it's a flip phone. It's sleek, refined, and the size doesn't bother me as much as it does Noah. Then again, I'm used to lugging around large phones. Red and Black flavors are available.

When closed, the face shows a clock, email/message count, battery life, alarm status, Wi-Fi/UMA connectivity, voice mail status, and a few other notifications. You can also preview email and text massages here. Above the external screen sits a camera lens, with an LED flash, and a red LED status light.

 The right side of the phone has a volume rocker and shutter button, as well as the microSD slot. The left side features a mute/media control button, the voice command button, the microUSB jack and headphone jack. The lanyard clip point is at the top. There's nothing on the back but a battery cover.

Once opened, the top-half reveals the screen, and the bottom, all of the internal keys. You've got a click-able back-lit track ball, surrounded by send, end, back, and BlackBerry buttons. Below them is the twenty-key SureType layout familiar to BB users.

Usability & Performance

I recently purchased T-Mobile's @Home service. You can check out my first impressions here. The box used to facilitate VoIP also happens to be a wireless router. So, not only is my laptop connected wirelessly to the Internet, but I have a land-line phone and T-Mobile Hot-Spot access.

The BlackBerry Flip is UMA-capable, which means it can make calls over Wi-Fi. If I'm walking home while talking to someone on the BB via GSM, and I open my front door, the BB will automatically connect to my T-Mo router and the call will be converted from cellular to W-Fi. My monthly minutes are not being used from this point on.  This would work with T-Mobile Hot-Spots in public areas as well.

I only tested this once, but the transition was impossible to detect, outside of the changing of icons in the connectivity status area on the face of the phone. This is the first time I've used a UMA-capable device, and it's pretty neat. Lots of cool communications stuff in the air right now. All connectivity-related setup was a breeze. I use WPA2 Wi-Fi security, but this phone handles every type I know of.

As I said, I am not a BB user, and the whole Crackberry thing is totally alien and bizarre to me. But BB really is changing. The boring old interface that I found totally unappealing has been revamped, making the line much more user-friendly... and pretty.

I can see students swapping vulgar jokes with this model, whereas BB used to be, in my mind, for, suits and elite tech industry folk. Wow, somehow “folk” totally doesn't seem to fit with the three words before it. Rather than edit it, I'll just point out how strange it sounds. Actually, people in that crowd probably like much geekier phones, but that's how I used to see BlackBerry.

The camera is really fun to use. The trackball can be used for zooming, which is entertaining. Really, it sounds stupid, but I enjoyed zooming in and out, looking for the best framing. The LED flash doesn't take too much juice, apparently. I had no problems taking 17 pictures and making an average day's worth of calls (about an hour). Nightly charging would be fine for me. Liberal media playback will obviously limit battery life. I meant liberal playback of media. Conservative material takes just as much power to play.

This isn't quite a smart phone. Five minutes with the web browser, or a spin with one of the included games makes that much clear. It still does the mobile office stuff that biz users need, but it's not what I'd call a smart phone. It's more like a high-end messaging device. The phone is very strong on this front. Email, SMS, IM, MMS; the BB Pearl Flip rocks socks in these departments.

As for the typing, I prefer multi-tap. Many BB users have grown to love SureType, but it just feels strange; the need to accept or change a selection at the end of each word. It interrupts my train of thought. In Noah's review, he mentioned that a dedicated period button would be nice, “but maybe it's just me.” No, it's not just Noah. With all of the space available on the bottom half of the Flip, a whole row of useful dedicated buttons could be added. That said, the large buttons make for easy typing.

The browsing isn't that interesting to me. The only times I browse the web on a phone are: when I'm waiting someplace without a computer and happen to have a killer phone browser on hand (like the G1's); or, there's some serious web emergency - like I'm stranded in a canyon and urgently need to find the nearest book store - in which case, I'll take whatever I can get.

I've had the BB for about a week-and-a-half, and I only used the browser once – for a test. It's a mobile browser, and you'll get the mobile versions of your sites. They don't display until everything has loaded, and it's just not a fluid or inviting experience.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Pearl Flip is the first BB I really had a desire to play with. It's much more friendly to mainstream markets than previous Berries, and I think the new form factor will garner some new adherents.

The 8220 is a messaging device with very strong music capabilities and organizational functions. It's got all of the BB features that people love, so I don't think a person upgrading from another BB to this one will be disappointed.

The lag experienced during web browsing and video control was a but irritating to me. When I find a function that makes any device hang or lag, I avoid that function. Then again, videos and web are about the last thing I expect to do on a messaging device, so it's not like I'm disappointed with the 8220. Think of the smart functions as a bonus.

Blackberry Flip


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