Ever since Motorola branded itself as a big producer of Android smartphones, we've seen the models pour out. The Motorola Flipside, for instance, is one of a quintet of handsets first announced at CTIA, and one of a trio destined for AT&T. The Flipside is the bulkiest of the bunch, and also the most blockishly utilitarian.
The Flipside is the only one among them that's a traditional touch-screen handset with slide-out QWERTY keyboard. In terms of features, it's decidedly midrange. Running Android 2.1 (Eclair), the Flipside has a 3.1-inch touch screen, a 3-megapixel camera, and support for 32GB of expandable memory. Android 2.2 (Froyo) would have been our first choice, and Motorola has yet to share its upgrade plans with us if indeed they exist. The Flipside costs $99.99 with a two-year service agreement.
With its silver-rimmed face and thick black body, the Flipside most closely resembles the Motorola Backflip. Instead of the Backflip's reverse flip design, however, the Flipside is a traditional slider. As for its looks, at best they're regulation: black and rectangular with today's seemingly obligatory rounded corners and a soft-touch back cover. There's very little style and no flourish. Instead you get a stocky phone that's 4.3 inches tall by 2.2 inches wide and 0.6 inch thick, and a hefty 5.1 ounces. The keyboard contributes much density, sure, but we've still seen slimmer slider models. Although the Flipside feels rather blocky in the hand, it fits just fine on the ear.
The Flipside's 3.1-inch HVGA touch screen supports a 320x480-pixel resolution and 16 million colors. That makes it a sharp display capable of handling Motorola's updated Motoblur interface (read more here). We're not huge fans of the busy social media icons and widgets that load by default on Motorola's Android skin, but we welcome all seven digital home screens. Though we had no problems getting around, the Flipside's onscreen navigation controls and icons are notably petite; we generally find 3.5-inch displays and larger to be the most finger-friendly, particularly when using a more compact virtual keyboard.
Much of the Flipside turns out to be standard Motorola and Android fare, but there is an interesting hardware design element: a large trackpad below the display that measures approximately half an inch at the diagonal. It wakes up the phone when you press it, and, though laggy and slow, can nevertheless be used as an alternative navigation tool if you need a break from touching the screen. It also serves as a directional controller for games. The touch-sensitive Menu, Home, Search, and Back buttons sit on either side. Google reigns as the default search engine here, unlike on Verizon's Motorola Citrus.
Motorola continues the Flipside's no-nonsense design in the rest of the smartphone's external hardware. There's a small, serviceable volume rocker and a camera shortcut on the right spine. On the left is the Micro-USB charging port. Up top are the 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button. A 3-megapixel camera and small self-portrait mirror are on the back. Beneath the back cover is a microSD card slot capable of housing 32GB external memory, but Moto gets you started with 2GB already installed. Removing the cover could be more intuitive, though. Instead of snapping off, it slides up slightly before releasing.
"Utilitarian" may not sound complimentary for a keyboard, but let this be the exception. The Flipside's QWERTY keyboard may be stylistically uninspired, but its proportions provide roominess without extraneous width, and the raised, matte keys are easy to get around on. Our one complaint is the grainy texture, which feels a tad rough under the fingers, and rasps as you type.
The Motorola Flipside certainly won't wow you with its looks, and the same is true of its features. Still, it remains a capable Android phone that offers plenty of services for the casual and intermediate user. As with all Android phones, the address book size is limited only by the Flipside's available memory, and each entry contains room for multiple phone numbers and e-mail addresses, street addresses, an instant-messaging handle, a company name, a birthday and anniversary, a nickname, a URL, and notes. You can save contacts to groups and pair them with a photo and one of 12 polyphonic ringtones for caller ID. You can choose to send a contact's calls straight to voice mail. In addition, Motorola lets you link related entries, perhaps for siblings, close friends, or a couple.
Along with other Motoblur phones, the Flipside will prompt you to enter credentials for a new or existing Motoblur account, followed by your Google account, and offer a chance to log in to Facebook, Twitter, and many more social networks and services. In addition to syncing your contacts, calendar, and, Gmail inbox, the phone also offers to source its contact photos from one of the social networks you've credentialed, like Facebook or Twitter.
You'll also find Bluetooth 2.1, assisted GPS, and voice dialing, and the full complement of calendar, clock, and other organizer services. AT&T has preloaded its roundup of Web shortcuts and apps: a family map, street maps, music, navigator, radio, and hot-spot sniffer. Other preloaded apps include Yellow Pages Mobile, Where, Vlingo Voice, Quickoffice, and a headline news app. There's more, too: MobiTV and Mobile Video apps, mobile banking, a task manager, and e-Translate are also onboard. Some of these apps may be useful to new Flipside owners right out of the gate, but other apps duplicate innate Android functionality, and seem to us like a waste. The usual Google services of YouTube and Navigation, to name two, are also present.