If it looks like a BlackBerry and smells like a BlackBerry, chances are it’s a BlackBerry. But the BlackBerry Pearl Flip arguably doesn’t look or smell anything like a traditional BlackBerry. While the Pearl Flip has all the functionality of its candy bar siblings, its clamshell design makes it a unique addition to the BlackBerry family that some may find a desirable alternative to the norm.
From afar, the BlackBerry Pearl Flip looks more or less like your run-of-the-mill camera-toting flip phone. On closer inspection, however, the prominent BlackBerry logos on front and back hint that this flip phone may be packing more than meets the eye. The device is available in either red or black.
At 3.9 inches tall by 1.9 inches wide when closed, and about .7 inches thick, the Pearl Flip isn’t the smallest clamshell design the world has ever seen but still will fit comfortably in a pocket or purse. The Pearl Flip weighs in at 3.6 ounces, with the bottom composed of a faux brushed metal and the top part of the device a shiny black plastic.
When closed, the front of the device is graced by a 1.6 inch 128×160 resolution, 65k color display. The external screen indicates battery life, signal strength, time and date, caller ID, and notifications of new email messages, texts, voicemail, and missed calls. When not illuminated, the external screen blends with the Flip’s black front. The front is also home to a 2 megapixel camera with flash, as well as the traditional blinking BlackBerry status indicator.
Flipping the phone open reveals a 2.2 inch, 240×320 resolution, internal display set in a sleek silver frame. While considerably smaller than its candy car brethren, the Pearl Flip’s screen offers ample space for reading emails but may frustrate frequent web browsers. Opened, the Pearl Flip is somewhat lanky, but feels good in the palm of the hand.
Not surprisingly, the internal keyboard closely resembles the Pearl’s SureType keyboard. RIM’s SureType technology, as it’s called, allows two letters (and a number) to be assigned to each button and offers a list of possible words and letter combinations as you type. The layout of the keys resembles that of a traditional telephone keypad. To be sure, SureType will take some getting used to. You may learn to love it, or you may find yourself desperately longing for your full QWERTY keyboard.
On the left of the device is a mute button, standard 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port for charging and synching, and an app launcher key defaulted to voice commands. On the right of the phone is a volume rocker, microSD card slot for up to 16GB of additional storage space, and another app launcher key defaulted to the camera.
The Pearl Flip is running Blackberry OS 4.6. OS 4.6 offers a big step up in aesthetics, replacing the aging icons and interface of previous OS’s with sharp, semi-transparent icons that glow brightly when scrolled over. Sure, beauty is skin deep, but the facelift made a world of difference in the feel of the device. The Pearl Flip uses the traditional BlackBerry trackball for navigation – though it’s set into the phone slightly so it can flip closed.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes apparent that the Pearl Flip isn’t packing the same power under the hood as some of its contemporaries. I experienced some hang-ups and sluggishness when opening and switching applications.
The Pearl Flip may not look like other RIM smartphones, but successfully delivers the same messaging might that BlackBerry is known for. Of course, the RIM flip phone offers support for enterprise email solutions including Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise, and IBM Lotus Domino.
The device can also support up to 10 additional email accounts, including POP and IMAP accounts. I was able to effortlessly add my Gmail account to the Pearl Flip. I just entered my user name and password, and my Gmail was soon being pushed to the device. You can also view and edit Word, PowerPoint, and Excel attachments.
The Pearl Flip also supports instant messaging, with six pre-installed messaging clients including Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, and of course BlackBerry Messenger.
Because there’s a SureType keyboard instead of a full QWERTY, the BlackBerry Flip is likely not a great choice for users wanting to frequently send lengthy emails. It is, however, a great choice for being able to reliably stay up on emails on-the-go without taking up too much space.
The Pearl Flip is equipped with a full HTML browser. While the small screen size sometimes makes browsing cumbersome, the overall experience is pretty positive, particularly for a clamshell device. Navigation is achieved using an on-screen cursor that is used to zoom in, move around, and select links. A “GoTo” window is used to jump to a new web page and search, with built-in search functionality for Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, and Dictionary.com.
The Pearl Flip’s media player supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA , MIDI and AMR-NB audio formats, as well as MPEG4 and WMV video formats. The phone has 128MB of memory built-in, and is expandable with support for up to a 16GB microSD card for plenty of space for music and video. You can sync the Pearl Flip with your iTunes music library, or add music directly to the phone. Expect the usual options, including playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, album art, and search functionality. Conveniently enough, you can also jump back to the media player from any menu when a song is playing.
Picture Quality on the Pearl Flip is acceptable for a quick memory. The device’s camera is 2 megapixels, with a flash, 5x zoom and limited amount of settings. Images sometimes weren’t very sharp in conditions with lower light, even when taken with a steady hand. Colors were pretty well-defined for the most part, but direct sunlight tended to wash out brighter colors. Video quality was mediocre, with frames appearing dull and pixilated.
There are relatively few flip phones that can boast WiFi, and the Pearl Flip is one of them. Unfortunately, however, the Flip’s WiFi doesn’t fully make up for the fact that the device lacks 3G support. The Pearl Flip is equipped with Bluetooth v2.0, with support for headset (mono and stereo), hands-free, and serial port profiles. There’s also no built-in GPS on the Flip.
The Flip features T-Mobiles MyFaves feature on the home screen which gives you unlimited calling to 5 pre-selected favorites. The device also has a speakerphone, voice dialing, memo pad, tasks list, calculator, and voice notes recorder. Pre-installed games include BrickBreaker, Word Mole, Texas Hold’Em King 2, Sudoku, Klondike, and Trooper Typing. The Pearl Flip is also compatible with BlackBerry’s App World, making thousands of applications available for download for the device.
The BlackBerry Pearl Flip is a device that some people will love and some people will perhaps love to hate. Power BlackBerry users may be frustrated by the SureType keyboard, lack of 3G and GPS, and occasional sluggishness. Yet, flip phone devotees who have resisted jumping on board the BlackBerry bandwagon will welcome having the messaging power of a BlackBerry, full HTML browser, and WiFi just a flip away.