A clamshell BlackBerry? What will those clever folks at RIM think of next?
Actually, the only surprise about the first BlackBerry clamshell is that it took so long coming.
The Pearl series has been RIM's attempt to break the BlackBerry out of the boardroom ghetto and into the pockets and handbags of people who don't necessarily need them for work.
It was only a matter of time before they moved into the flip form factor.
Eschewing the bright and populist style of previous Pearls, the Flip goes for a sober, but not boring, gloss black (or red), which manages the trick of looking both chic and serious.
There's a 27x34mm (128 x 160 pixels) outer screen which is almost invisible when in repose, but when lit displays a rather macho looking analogue clock with date, plus battery, signal, message and caller information. Above it is the 2-megapixel camera lens surrounded by LED photo light and alert light, which helps with the symmetry.
Around the sides are two programmable 'convenience keys' plus volume buttons, microSD card slot (there's no card supplied but it will hold up to 16GB to complement the 128MB of onboard memory), USB charging port, 3.5mm headphone jack and a sound mute button (handy if you do happen to find yourself in a board meeting, and also for cutting the music player temporarily).
Flip it open and the keyboard is immediately obvious as the prince of the Pearls. While its cousins make do with rather fiddly, small buttons, the Flip's are large and very easy to use, especially for texting or emailing.
The keys are laid out in QWERTY fashion with two letters per key, as is the BlackBerry SureType way, and which can take a bit of getting used to if you're not already a BlackBerry convert. But after a few minutes you'll be texting away like a pro, either in multitap or predictive mode.
The 240x320 pixel screen is sharp and reasonably detailed, doing a good job of displaying the pics from the 2-megapixel camera. It's certainly not in the front running for phone-borne cameras, but as with most things about this phone, it makes the best of what it has.
Resolution may be only up to 1600x1200 but you can access the camera in less than two seconds and you can have a snap taken in less than four – just about as fast as you'll get on a cameraphone.
Decent feature set
Pics are fine if you think of them as snaps rather than works of art – they could be sharper, colours could be a bit richer but they're fine if you're in a hurry. Video resolution isn't quite as good, but in good light, if movement isn't too fast, it holds up well.
The Flip's music player is pretty decent too. It'll play all the main audio formats and includes a 12-setting graphic equaliser for optimising your sound.
The supplied headphones are a cut above the usual cheapies (though they don't match those from Sony Ericsson, for example) but the 3.5mm headphone jack means an upgrade is as easy as could be.
There's a choice of BlackBerry and Google Maps onboard for finding your way around, but no GPS, so it relies on cell site triangulation to pinpoint your position. Since it's only accurate to within 500 metres, you'll find yourself aching for a genuine GPS transmitter, which incidentally, you can attach via Bluetooth.
It's quad band but there's no 3G, which limits its usefulness for browsing. If you can get a Wi-Fi connection however the browser is actually quite decent, the BlackBerry trackball allowing you to pan around pages with ease and just a tap required to zoom in. The column view option is also useful since you can't view pages in landscape mode.
Other apps include Facebook (okay for emergencies, but you'll prefer to use your computer whenever possible) and document viewers. Battery life was decent, giving us a good two days of moderate use, even with Wi-Fi switched on for most of that time.
Overall, it's a great little handset that plays to its strengths – mail and text are of course the stars of the show, with camera, music player and document readers all offering decent support in a good-looking and highly efficient package.
Network availability: O2, others TBC
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3.5/5