The BlackBerry Pearl was a breakout device for RIM. It was the first time the company took the more traditional form factor allowed by its SureType 20 key keypad and packaged it in a small, glossy, and consumer friendly device. In short, it was the break out device for RIM. The Pearl Flip is set to be that same kind of device. It takes all of the good features of the BlackBerry Pearl line and stuffs them into the folder form factor that the North American market loves so dearly. The new form factor also allows the Pearl Flip to offer something no other BlackBerry has in the past: a secondary display. It all looks fantastic, but how does it actually work?
Considering that RIM has never built a folder phone before, it is no surprise that the Pearl Flip deviates a bit from the standard form factor. The Pearl Flip is designed like two flat slabs that are connected together by a wide bar shaped hinge where the slabs curve slightly. It is a very good looking design, but one not without downsides. For starters, the Pearl Flip is quite big at 101mm x 50mm x 18mm (4.0" x 2.0" x 0.7"). By modern standards, that's approaching chunky. In its defense, the Pearl Flip weighs only 103.5g (3.6oz).
Another con associated with the Pearl's form factor is that, when opened, it doesn't conform to the shape of a person's face well like most clamshell phones do. Instead, it opens up effectively straight. Again, it looks quite cool, but it gives away some of the benefits of most folder style phones: close proximity of the microphone to the user's mouth. Lastly, in spite of its obvious girth, the hinge doesn't seem that sturdy. As you can see in the video below, there is a bit of play in the hinge that is a little disturbing.
The rest of the exterior of the device, however, is just drop dead gorgeous. The 8220's smooth curves, metal trim, and gloss front face and embedded display are just fantastic. I really can't get enough of looking at this phone. But there are more things to like than just its handsome design. On the left edge are two particularly handy features: a 3.5mm audio port and a micro-USB charger/data port. There are a pair of user configurable shortcut keys, one on each side, and a microSDHC(INFO) memory card slot that sits below the volume rocker control on the right edge.
Inside the trend continues. The Pearl Flip's 240x320 pixel (QVGA) display is quite pretty, and the 20 key SureType keypad has nice flowing lines to it. There is the signature "pearl" trackball, of course, but this time it sits in a recessed well that keeps the trackball from pressing on the display when the phone is closed. We didn't find this to be a problem at all and were able to use the trackball normally. The keys that cover the bottom half of the device, including those of the SureType keypad, have a reasonable feel to them. Somehow, though, the SureType keypad seems less usable than it is on the original Pearl series. Perhaps it is because the keys are perfectly flat, maybe it has something to do with them not being arranged in straight rows. But whatever it is, we didn't like it all that much. It is usable, but something just feels slightly wrong with it.
In the end, the Pearl Flip leaves us with mixed feelings. We all love the way the device looks, it really is a pretty phone. It's just that some aspects of the phone seem to have suffered for that pretty design, notably the play in the hinge and the curved rows of keys on the 20 key keypad. These aren't deal breaking issues, of course, but perhaps RIM should have tried a more traditional design for its first flip phone effort.
The RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 for T-Mobile is rated for 4 hours of talk time or up to 14 days of standby time. While the standby time seems optimistic, at least when used with T-Mobile's UMA(INFO) based WiFi VoIP service, the talk time seems pretty much on the money. Reception from the built-in antenna is about average, but the call audio is pretty good overall on regular calls. The speakerphone performed decently, but was nothing to write home about. The Pearl Flip 8220 lacks any 3G support at all, but works on all 4 of the major GSM/EDGE network bands used throughout the world.
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