The BlackBerry Style is the first of its kind for RIM. They've had flip-style devices before, but this is their first full-QWERTY flip phone. BlackBerry has been known to deliver an unequaled email experience with deep enterprise roots. This is the second time that we've seen RIM step out of their comfort zone with device design, but there's no doubt they didn't stray too far. It definitely has that BlackBerry feel to it, even with the lid down.
Design & Features
The BlackBerry Style, while closed, strongly resembles the Palm Pre at first glance. Upon further investigation, you will feel like you have just stepped out of the Delorean into 1999, the days of the flip phone. In the box you will find a 3.5 mm headset with an in-line microphone, a microUSB cable for transferring data and charging, and a USB AC adapter, along with your standard user guide manuals and Desktop Manager installation CD. The BlackBerry Style also comes with an 8 GB microSD card for media storage.
The front of the device looks very sleek, although it is very glossy and attracts fingerprints like no other. There are no buttons on the front of the device, but a 240 by 320 pixel display sits pleasingly front and center displaying the date and time, battery meter, signal meter, and any notifications you may have. Along the right edge of the device is your volume rocker and a convenience key, The convenience key default is set to camera, but it can be customized and set to nearly any application or function. One the right edge you will find the 3.5 mm headphone jack and the microUSB port for charging. Hidden neatly on the right edge is the microSD card slot. To actually get to this slot, you will have to remove the battery door and pop open the plug. On the back of the device is a 5 MP camera with an LED flash and the battery door. Underneath the door, not much is going on, just an underwhelming 1150 mAh battery. One negative to this new design and slide-off battery door is that it seemed to be pretty loose from the get go. I found myself having to constantly slide it back into place. I imagine this will only get worse over time.
When you flip open the device, Motorola RAZR-style, not only do you feel like Joe Cool, you will reveal a Nokia-looking QWERTY keyboard, the standard BlackBerry call, menu, back, and end call buttons, and a very crisp 360 by 400 pixel display. The display sits at a pretty sharp angle which took some time to get used to. It may have been due to my using a Torch for a while now, but the Style's screen was just begging to be touched. BlackBerry 6 was definitely meant for a touchscreen, but the Style doesn't have a touchscreen on the inside, unfortunately. One thing worth noting is the strength of the hinge on the device. Since it has moving parts, the durability will be a big concern of any serious buyer. The hinge used on the Style feels very sturdy and there is zero wobble or wiggle to it.
Usability & Performance
Upon opening the lid and using the trackpad to navigate, you will find that the Style is not blazing fast and that BlackBerry 6 is better suited with a touchscreen. The brilliant display draws your fingers to it only to let you down when nothing happens when you touch it. We're in the age of touchscreens and mobile operating systems just seem to be more functional and easier to use with them. The processor doesn't seem to be the problem with the slight lag with this device either. I experienced much of the same lag with my Torch when I first got it. An update was pushed to it and from then on it has been zooming. I imagine something along the same lines is going on here. There are animations that slow you down ever so slightly, and after a while, it really becomes annoying.
One thing RIM has started doing recently is packing their devices with more internal memory, but they didn't really didn't give you much to play with. They definitely don't over-pack anything. You have 512 MB of internal memory, which about half of that is taken up by BlackBerry 6. An 8 GB microSD card is also included gratis, but that's nothing to write home about as most phones come with a memory card, usually 2, 4, or 8 GB. That should be plenty to store some music on and accommodate for quite a few pictures with the 5 MP camera.
The camera and picture quality of the Style were par, but just like on my Torch, the auto-focus doesn't seem to work all the time. The flash definitely helps picture quality in low-light situations, but they're still not going to be great. Ever since cell phone manufacturers started using higher quality cameras in their devices, RIM hasn't really been able to keep up. Sure, they megapixels are about the average, but the auto-focus has always been finicky and the quality of the pictures have been extremely mediocre. One thing I definitely missed on the Style that I've grown accustomed to with BlackBerry is the two-stage button for the camera. The right-side convenience key when set to camera acts as the focus button like on a digital camera, then the second-stage snaps the picture. The right-side key on the Style is just a standard button, which is disappointing.
I didn't really make a lot of phone calls with the Style, but the quality of the calls were pretty good. They were on par with my other devices, maybe even better than my Droid X. The signal varies a lot, but it could just be my location as Sprint isn't the strongest here in Kannapolis, NC. The speaker for speakerphone was about the perfect volume level when turned all the way up. If you turn the volume down at all, it drops off drastically.
The Style holds a 1150 mAh battery inside which is what more and more of the BlackBerrys are moving towards. Even though I wish the capacity was a little higher, the battery life seemed to be just fine. I didn't use the phone too heavily over the testing course, but I did use it to Tweet a lot. I carried it for about three days and only charged it once. Keep in mind that I wasn't really making calls or texting with it beyond testing. It was basically my tweeting machine for those three days. Either way, the battery drained very slow in comparison to the Curve 3G and Pearl 3G I had around. Also, as varying as the signal was here, I'm sure with a solid signal, the battery would have lasted even longer.
Just like on any other BlackBerry, browsing the internet is not the best of its features. It can be done, but I only use my BlackBerry for browsing the internet when in desperate need to look something up, or if I absolutely have to. The WebKit browser makes things a little bit easier on the eye and less painful, but I'd rather browse from just about anything else before having to use a BlackBerry.
One thing I noticed over the course of using the Style is how difficult some things were to get used to. I've been a BlackBerry user for a little over four years now, and this thing is just plain awkward. Like I said before, the keyboard looks more like a Pantech or Nokia keyboard than a BlackBerry one. It doesn't even feel like a BlackBerry keyboard. The keys are very tall and even though the keys are bigger than those on my Torch or any other BlackBerry for that matter, I was constantly hitting the wrong key or hitting more than one at a time. The second quirk about the Style is the angled screen. It's almost angled too much. When holding the device at a comfortable typing angle, you're looking at the screen itself at an angle. It just feels and looks very weird. If you try to look at the display straight-on, you will be typing at an awkward angle.
Being the first of its nature for RIM, the Style is an example of passable execution. A huge benefit to this over its brother, the 9650, is that it ships with BlackBerry 6, but using BlackBerry 6 without a touchscreen is just plain weird. I know the device isn't a touchscreen, but that didn't keep me from trying, or catching myself in the act over and over. For $99 with a two-year contract, the Style should be a great device. The build quality of the Style is excellent and it feels very sturdy in hand. With this device you can have all the features of your average smartphone with the look and feel of everyone's favorite retro flip phone. The Style will be great for people just now venturing into the smartphone world who are looking to tackle a busy inbox and stay connected to all of their friends through various supported social media sites.
What's Good: Fairly cheap price tag ($99.99 with two-year contract after $100 mail-in rebate); “new” clamshell design; easily pocketable; no butt dialing; BlackBerry 6; decent camera; good battery life.
What's Bad: The screen is almost at too much of an angle, very glossy face, easily scratched and fingerprint magnet; the keyboard is a little different from any other BlackBerry and I found it a little difficult to get used to.
The Verdict: The BlackBerry Style is a new form factor to RIM, but it's nothing new to the mobile world. It's bringing back and old form factor actually, but with...style. The Style will be great for return BlackBerry customers looking to change it up a bit and first-time smartphone owners looking to knock out some emails.