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Overview

What's Good: Small size that can be easily pocketed; decent physical keyboard; fast for a 720 MHz processor, no lag; 5-row physical QWERTY keyboard; friendly price tag for a smartphone at $79.99 with a two-year agreement; great social media integration.

What's Bad: A bit too small for some tasks; Android 2.1 instead of the current 2.2; MOTOBLUR is very obtrusive; display is a little pixellated and definitely low-end; poor battery life; on-screen keyboard is cramped; poor camera quality; signal was very sensitive to change; very poor camera quality.

The Verdict: The Motorola FLIPOUT is a new mid-range Android device on AT&T. If you're looking for an iPhone-like experience, high-end web browsing experience, great camera, you may want to look elsewhere.

Introduction

When I received the Motorola FLIPOUT, my first thought was, “I have to review this phone?"  That attitude changed when I actually turned it on and started playing with it. It definitely isn't my favorite device, but I can see where Motorola was headed with it. This device and its close relatives (Motorola BRAVO and Motorola FLIPSIDE) are aimed to kill off the multimedia feature phones. Data plans are now more affordable with their tiered structure and people now expect more out of their phones.

Design & Features

In the box, you're greeted by the Quickstart guide and under the device itself you will find the standard USB AC adapter and data transfer cable for charging. Since this is a hip device, it also comes with your choice of battery covers; orange or a bluish-black.  If you prefer another color, you can purchase additional battery doors at AT&T retail stores.

When closed, the Motorola FLIPOUT is a 2.64-inch square at about 0.67-inches thick. Once you swivel it open, the device is almost doubled in size. One of the strange things that takes some getting use to is the different placement of buttons and ports which are determined by whether the device is opened or closed. If you keep the device closed, the power button is located in the middle of the right edge of the device; above that you will find a 3.5 mm headphone jack. The microUSB port is found on the bottom edge near the left corner, and the volume rocker is on the top edge slightly off-center.  The moving buttons aren't a major issue, but sometimes I found myself looking around to find where the power button had migrated to.

The face of the device equips the speaker, the 2.8-inch TFT display (320 x 240 pixels), and the three touch buttons: menu, home, and back. On the back of the device you will find the flash-less 3.1 megapixel camera with a mirrored bubble for snapping self-shots. If you want to access the pre-installed 2 GB microSD card, you will have to pop off the battery cover. If you press upward on the bottom edge of the screen, the screen will flip-out to the side and uncover a 5-row tactile keyboard with a directional pad and the microphone. Surprisingly, even with the all-plastic design and funky hinge, the device feels pretty good in the hand and the one-point hinge isn't wobbly at all.

Usability & Performance

One of the most unimpressive aspects of the FLIPOUT is its display. Paying $79.99 for a smartphone, you can't expect it to be top-notch, but the display only has a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels, so you can expect to see some rough edges on your widgets and in your apps. Motorola has masked the low resolution well with MOTOBLUR though, which is my least favorite thing about the device. I'll admit, being able to resize your widgets is a nice feature, but when they are obtrusive and plastered all over the screen out-of-box, it's more annoying than anything.

If you've used an Android-powered Motorola device before, you've undoubtedly experienced MOTOBLUR. MOTOBLUR is Motorola's custom user interface for Android that offers quite a few widgets and attempts to give the vanilla Android experience a facelift. It has a way of making a small display feel even more cramped. Personally, I think it's ugly and just gets in the way. With its bright colors and deep social integration, it is aimed at non-professional users, most likely teenagers using their first Android device. While I don't care for it, I can see its purpose as a user-friendly alternative to vanilla Android.

Deep inside the internals, the FLIPOUT is equipped with 512 MB internal memory. It also comes with a pre-installed 2 GB memory card that is expandable up to 32 GB. This could be an issue for many since it comes with Android version 2.1. With 2.2 you can save portions of you applications on your SD card to conserve internal memory, but that is not an option on the FLIPOUT yet. With that being said, you will be limited as to how many applications you can install. I would say after about 20 applications (depending on size it could be less or more), you may being to experience extreme lag.

Signal level was an issue on the FLIPOUT for me. Aaron didn't have any issues, but I only get 1-2 bars in my apartment. If I take the SIM card out of the FLIPOUT and put it in the Surround or BlackBerry Torch, I would get anywhere from 2-5 bars. I don't know if its just a weak internal antenna or not, but there's definitely something going on there. The quality of calls was just fine, and the speaker and speakerphone were plenty loud for average conditions. Anything too loud, and you'll have to step out into a quieter area. Also, if you want to make a call on the FLIPOUT, you will have to flop out the keyboard because the microphone is hidden on the face of the panel below the keyboard.

The camera is probably the low point of this device. At 3.1 megapixels, you can't expect a whole lot out of it, but it is a fixed lens with no auto-focus. The pictures taken with it in low light or medium light conditions were smokey looking and blurry. In bright conditions or outdoors it will snap good enough pictures to suffice, but nothing breathtaking.

The battery on this device will leave you wanting more. It's enough to get you through the day if your device spends most of the day in your pocket, but don't expect to tweet and update your Facebook all day and make it home at the end of the day. If it makes it through that, it will be gassed by the end of the day and running on the last few drops of juice. The battery is only 1170 mAh battery where most Android devices are carrying 1400 mAh batteries or higher. The standby of the device performs well, but talking and pulling data seem to kill it rather quickly. Of course, this could be related to the strange signal conditions in my apartment.

One area that the FLIPOUT excelled in and surprised me quite a bit was Internet browsing. While it isn't as impressive as a 4.3-inch device (obviously), it renders pages well and loads quickly. Once the page loads scrolling and zooming in and out were very quick to respond, even on resource-heavy web pages. Sometimes it would mistake a swipe for a long press, but I blame that on the tiny screen, as my fat thumbs don't get along with displays that are under 3.8-inches. Another thing worth noting is that since it is running Android 2.1, there is no Flash support. You may be thinking that's a bad thing, but in all honesty, at 720 MHz, it couldn't handle Flash.

The keyboard on the FLIPOUT is a gray area for me, as I can't decide whether I like it or not. One time I would use it and not have a single typo, other times I couldn't get through one word without typing extra letters or completely missing the target keys. Since I'm a BlackBerry fanatic, I'm used to the keys touching and not being spaced apart, but I just couldn't get totally used to it. One nice part of the keyboard is that it is five rows as opposed to the majority of physical keyboards being three or four rows. The on-screen software keyboard is absolutely terrible. The buttons are about two-thirds the size of the physical keys and it's very cramped. If you're planning on getting the FLIPOUT, do yourself a favor and just use the physical keyboard, unless you have micro-fingers.

Conclusion

The Motorola FLIPOUT is different than anything I'm used to, but it surprised me in quite a few ways. While it is assuredly a mid-range device, it offers a great web experience for such a small display, great social media connection, a nice physical QWERTY keyboard, and a cheap gateway to the smartphone world. It isn't marketed as a business-centric device, but it does offer some things to accommodate, like corporate email. The target demographic is mainly teens and first-time buyers, but if Mr. Businessman Professional wanted a piece of the FLIPOUT, he wouldn't be excluded. For $79.99 with a two-year agreement, it's worth taking a look at.


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