In the past, you've been able to get a BlackBerry smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard, or a BlackBerry smartphone that comes in a convenient flip-style form factor. But you haven't been able to get one that offers both -- until now. RIM and Sprint have announced the BlackBerry Style 9670 smartphone, the first flip-style BlackBerry to offer a full QWERTY keyboard.
Price and Availability
The BlackBerry Style will be available from Sprint on October 31 for $99.99 when you sign a two-year service agreement. That price is very low compared to what you'll pay for some of today's best smartphones, as most of those cost about $200. Keep in mind, though, that Sprint's price factors in a $100 mail-in rebate.
The BlackBerry Style's design has its plusses and minuses. It's convenient, certainly -- clamshell-style phones generally are comfortable to hold when typing and when making calls. But it's also a bit retro, and not necessarily in a hip way. The Style is a bit bulky when compared to some of today's sleeker smartphones, especially those with touch screens, like the Apple iPhone 4 or most of the new Android devices.
My review unit was the steel grey model (a royal purple version won't be available until next month), and the design is attractive. When closed, the Style measures 3.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches by .7 inches thick -- almost as big as the average BlackBerry Curve smartphone. The external display measures 2 inches diagonally, and is all you can see on the face of the phone. It displays a clock and will alert you to new messages. Scrolling with the up and down volume keys on the side of the phone will let you scan through previews of new messages, which is handy.
The Style's hinge mechanism feels sturdy and the phone springs open easily with one hand. When the phone is open, it measures a whopping 6.9 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by .7 inches thick. On the inside, you get a 2.7-inch display on top, and a full QWERTY keyboard, a trackpad for navigation, and the traditional BlackBerry keys on the bottom. The keyboard is similar to those found on the BlackBerry Bold phones , with a slight ridge between each row of keys. I found it exceptionally easy to use for typing; I was able to compose messages quickly using my thumbs, and only occasionally made typos.
The 2.7-inch display seems small, though, especially when compared to the 4-inch (and larger) displays offered on many Android-based phones today. It is bigger than the 2.4-inch screens offered on most candybar-style BlackBerry phones, such as the Curve and Bold models, though. It offers a resolution of 400 by 360 pixels, which is lower than I'd like to see; even the 2.4-inch screen on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 offers a higher resolution of 480 by 360. Still, most images and text looked clear enough.
While the Style may look a bit bulky and old school when flipped open, it is excessively comfortable to hold during calls. You can easily cradle the phone between your neck and your ear if necessary, and holding it in your hand is just as comfortable.
Voice quality in my test calls made on Sprint's network varied from excellent to fair. I occasionally noticed some garbled voices and background noise, but most of the time, I could hear callers very well and vice versa. The volume level was very good, too.
The BlackBerry Style is the second phone after the BlackBerry Torch to offer the all-new BlackBerry 6 OS. The Style is not a touch-screen phone, though, unlike the Torch. I found that using the touch screen to interact with the BlackBerry OS was a more pleasing experience, but using the BlackBerry 6 OS on a non-touch screen device is still a much better experience than using the older BlackBerry 5 OS.
One of the most notable changes to the BlackBerry 6 OS is the new home screen, which offers notifications with previews, so you not only see that you've received a new message, but also who that message is from. You can add content and bookmarks right to the home page, and you can swipe to the left to access your most-used apps and to the right to access your favorites.
BlackBerry 6 OS also features a new universal search that can locate results both on and off your phone; begin typing, and the universal search feature automatically looks on the phone, in RIM's BlackBerry App World, on Google, and in installed apps. In addition, you get a universal inbox that catalogs not just e-mail, but also information from services like Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry Messenger.
Like the Torch, the Style will ship with BlackBerry's App World pre-installed on the phone; this is a welcome step, as you had to download the app store to your phone in the past. The updated App World will feature carrier billing, as well as new options for developers to monetize their apps, including in-app purchases, app subscriptions, and ads within apps.
Other new features in the OS include a Unified Social Feed, which lets you access sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace from one app; updated messaging capabilities, which includes the ability to send group messages; and a new podcast app.
For more information, read my complete review of the BlackBerry 6 OS.
Browsing the Web
The new BlackBerry 6 OS comes with an all-new WebKit-based browser, which is designed to offer faster and "more robust" performance. I tested the new browser side-by-side with an older version of BlackBerry's browser on a Curve 8530 smartphone, and the new browser was noticeably faster. Pages rendered much more quickly, and displayed more accurately.
I also was impressed with the browser's new auto-wrap text zoom feature that can "intelligently wrap text in a column while maintaining the placement of a page's key elements," according to RIM. When I zoomed in on a Web page, the text automatically wraps the text to fit the screen.
I did find, however, that using the browser on a phone without a touch screen wasn't as impressive as using it on the BlackBerry Torch. Zooming in and out on the screen with the menu buttons wasn't as precise as when you're able to do so by tapping on the screen. I also found that the Style's smaller screen seemed a bit restrictive when viewing some Web sites.
The Blackberry Style supports Sprint's high-speed 3G network, as well as 802.11b/g/n wireless networks, so you have plenty of options for speedy Web access and downloads.
The Style retains the excellent messaging features and e-mail handing found on previous BlackBerry phones. Corporate users will like the familiar ability to sync with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, while home users will like the ability to sync up to ten business or personal POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts using BlackBerry Internet Service. You get both a unified inbox, as well as individual inboxes for each account.
RIM has upgraded its text messaging interface, too, as the Style offers a threaded view for reading SMS and MMS messages. In addition, the Style comes with several instant messaging options, including BlackBerry Messenger, AIM, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger.
The BlackBerry Style features a 5-megapixel camera with some advanced features, including a flash, auto-focus, zoom, scene modes, and image stabilization. The camera will capture video clips at resolutions up to 640 by 480 pixels. My test photos looked very good for the most part, with bright, vibrant colors. Outdoor shots looked noticeably better than indoor shots, though.
BlackBerry 6 OS is supposed to offer an enhanced multimedia experience, according to RIM, and it mostly delivers. The Style features a better music and video player than past BlackBerry phones offered, though its interface is still a bit bland. You also get a built-in YouTube video app, as well as access to many of Sprint's video offerings, including Sprint TV, which offers a mix of live and pre-packaged TV shows, and Sprint Football Live, which lets you view NFL games on the phone.
RIM also has revamped its BlackBerry Desktop Software with new features, like Wi-Fi music sync, which allows you to sync music, photos, and videos from your home computer when you are in range of your home wireless network.
The BlackBerry Style is not as high-style as its name would imply; it's actually more of an old-fashioned-looking phone. But that's not a bad thing. It may not boast a cutting-edge touch screen or a big, giant display, but the Style's style makes it an eminently usable phone.