Research In Motion has rolled out the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220—the first ever BlackBerry with a folding, clamshell design. The result is a sleek, clean-looking phone with excellent messaging features. But you do make some sacrifices to get a compact clamshell-style BlackBerry, such as losing the full QWERTY keyboard.
When the Pearl Flip is closed, all you see is its glossy black exterior and the BlackBerry label across the top of it. The external display is invisible when it's inactive—if the phone rings, you’ll see it light up. When you open the Pearl Flip, you see the keyboard on the bottom half and the internal screen on the top. The Pearl Flip uses RIM’s SureType keyboard, which is a QWERTY keyboard, but with two letters on each key. Q and W, for example, share one key, as do A and S. The BlackBerry OS uses a predictive text system that tries to guess what you’re typing based on the keys that you press.
PROS: With is shiny black and silver design, the Pearl Flip is attractive. It’s also very light, weighing only 3.6 ounces. RIM says that the Flip itself features an ergonomic shape that’s designed to make both talking and typing more comfortable, and this does hold true for typing, at least. When the phone is open, the top of it sits a little bit behind the bottom, which makes it easy to balance on your fingers while you type.
CONS: The phone is light because its bottom half is plastic. It doesn't seem to fit with the sleek, polished look of the phone's top half. And despite its light weight, the Pearl Flip is actually rather bulky. It will fit into a pocket, but you’ll notice that it’s in there.
I also found the keyboard hard to use for two reasons: First, the keys are very slick. Second, I find that the SureType keyboard dramatically slows down my typing. SureType has its fans, but I'm not one of them.
PROS: Voice quality is very good; I heard my callers loud and clear and they said the same about me. The Pearl Flip also lets you make voice calls over Wi-Fi networks, in addition to regular cellular networks. This means you can make calls in locations where the T-Mobile network may not be available, but a wireless network is (like my house, for example). It also can save you money, as calls placed over wireless networks don't count toward your monthly allotment of voice minutes.
CONS: I found the Pearl Flip rather uncomfortable to hold next to my ear—despite RIM's claims of a comfortable, ergonomic shape. I often felt the phone’s clamshell hinge jutting in to my cheekbone.
Browsing the Web
PROS: The Pearl Flip lets you surf the Web over Wi-Fi networks, which can be much faster than using T-Mobile’s pokey EDGE network. I also like that you can zoom in and out on the content of Web pages, using the handy magnifying glass icon.
CONS: Wi-Fi support is a good thing, because the Pearl Flip lacks support for T-Mobile’s 3G network. Also, the phone runs version 4.6 of the BlackBerry operating system, which supports a new, full-HTML browser. The OS looks good, but the same can’t be said for some of the sites that you open with the browser. While some sites looked great, others were mangled and unreadable.
PROS: Messaging where is BlackBerry smartphones excel, and the Pearl Flip is no exception. It will support up to 10 e-mail accounts, and you can set individual mailboxes for each them—or you can view all of your messages in one main mailbox. You also can preview messages on the phone’s external display screen when it’s closed.
The Pearl Flip's messaging features go beyond IM. It also displays text messages as threaded conversations, and comes with all the major IM apps installed: AIM, GTalk, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, and Windows Live Messenger.
PROS: The Pearl Flip comes with several applications pre-installed, including DataViz Documents To Go. This lets you view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on the phone. You also get a handful of other productivity applications, such as a password keeper, voice memo recorder, a memo pad, and a task list.
CONS: Documents To Go will allow you to view and edit files, but not create them (unless you upgrade to a paid version). But given the limitations of the SureType keyboard, you likely wouldn’t want to create many documents on the Pearl Flip, anyway.
PROS: The BlackBerry music and video players have a new look, and it’s a good one. Both look much cleaner and more modern than past versions. The phone’s external speakers were surprisingly loud, and the Pearl Flip includes a standard jack for connecting your own headphones. Video and photos looked crisp and clear on the screen. It also supports stereo Bluetooth, so you can connect the phone to a compatible headset or speakers for additional music playback options. You also get a 2-megapixel camera that took some decent snapshots, and captures video clips, as well.
CONS: The Pearl Flip doesn’t come with access to an on-board music store for making purchases.
The Pearl Flip 8220 is available from T-Mobile for $150 when you sign a new two-year contract. I’d recommend this phone to someone who is looking for a compact smartphone with excellent messaging features. If you don’t mind its SureType keyboard, you’ll love how this phone keeps you in touch.