User interface and software
The RIM BlackBerry Style is the second model to ship running BlackBerry OS 6, which is a major overhaul of the platform. BlackBerry fans will see plenty of familiar details, of course, but there are enough differences for us to sit up and take notice. We'll go over some of the highlights of the new OS here, but for more details, check out our review of the RIM BlackBerry Torch.
The first thing you'll find is that the home screen is completely revamped. You get a Quick Access area at the top that informs you of the basic status of the phone (date, time, wireless connections, and so on), followed by a notification bar for missed calls or messages, and a new navigation bar that presents different screens for five different categories of apps and content: All, Favorites, Media, Downloads, and Frequent. Navigating between the different screens is where using a touch screen felt faster and more intuitive; the trackpad was easy to use, as we said, but we felt like we had to be a bit more precise with it.
Our favorite addition of the new interface has to be universal search. All you have to do is start typing, and the search function will immediately start scanning your phone for the relevant keywords. You can also extend your search to Google, YouTube, BlackBerry App World, and even third-party apps. This is a feature long overdue for BlackBerry, and we're glad to see it finally arrive.
The RIM BlackBerry Style is a Sprint exclusive at launch, with support for dual-band CDMA and EV-DO Rev A networks. Key features include Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, GPS, speakerphone, voice dialing, conference calling, speed dial, visual voice mail, and text and multimedia messaging. With multimedia messaging, you can combine conversations into a threaded chat view, and the messages are collected in one in-box so you can easily sort through them. You can instantly connect with BlackBerry Messenger along with other IM services like Google Talk and AIM.
As with all BlackBerry devices, the Style has e-mail down pat. It syncs with a slew of different corporate options, ranging from the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to Microsoft Exchange. It also supports BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, a free service which offers calendar and contacts syncing for individuals and small businesses. You can also access your own personal e-mail--up to 10 accounts, in fact--in either separate or combined in-boxes.
Since RIM is aiming the Style at the consumer as well as the business professional, it also incorporated quick social network access into the phone. It comes preloaded with Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter apps, plus a special Social Feeds app that incorporates all of those networks into one. The Social Feeds app also has an RSS news feed aggregator.
Other apps included with the phone are DataViz Documents To Go, a memo pad, a calculator, YouTube, Sprint Zone, Sprint Navigation, Password Keeper, BrickBreaker, and Word Mole. You can download additional apps and games from BlackBerry App World 2.0.
Web browsing and multimedia
Another big improvement with OS 6 is a stronger multimedia offering with Cover Flow-like presentations in the music player. It supports MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, FLAC, and OGG music file formats. As for video formats, it supports MPEG4, H.263, H.264, and WMV codecs. You can adjust the video player to play back from actual size to full screen. To get media onto the phone, simply load it via a microSD card or hook it up to the computer with a USB cable. RIM has recently offered a new BlackBerry Desktop Software 6 that can sync your media libraries from Windows Media Player or iTunes. There's also a Wi-Fi Music Sync feature that lets you sync music over Wi-Fi.
The BlackBerry Style comes with 512MB onboard memory, and it ships with an 8GB microSD card already installed. The phone can take up to 32GB cards if the 8GB proves too limiting for you.
The Style has a 5-megapixel camera with continuous autofocus, image stabilization, and 11 picture-taking modes that include face detection and panorama mode. We were pleased that RIM has included all these settings in the camera, and we felt they worked well for the most part. However, the resulting photo quality was not as good as we'd hoped. Indoor shots looked a bit dim and overcast, and images weren't as sharp as we would like. There's also a video camera that can record VGA video.
We tested the RIM BlackBerry Style in San Francisco using Sprint service, and call quality was very good overall. We heard our callers loud and clear without any static or hiss, and we thought their voices sounded clean and natural. On their end, callers reported almost no background noise, and said our voice was very clear and sharp, as if we weren't on a cell phone. The one downside was the speakerphone, which they said made us sound harsh. Strangely, they said the pitch of our voice sounded lower when on speakerphone.
We enjoyed the good EV-DO coverage with the BlackBerry Style. We loaded the CNET mobile page in 20 seconds and the full CNET front page in around 55 seconds. We downloaded a 1MB app from BlackBerry App World in a minute. We experienced only a few seconds' buffering time with YouTube videos as well. Even though the Style only has a 624MHz processor, we suffered no performance problems when switching or launching applications
The BlackBerry Style has a rated battery life of 4.5 hours talk time and 10.5 days standby time. It has a tested talk time of 5 hours and 5 minutes.