It's been quite a year for Research In Motion. In 2008, the company debuted its premiere touch-screen BlackBerry, the RIM BlackBerry Storm as well as its first clamshell model, the RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220. While it didn't draw quite the oohs and ahhs of the Storm or the BlackBerry Bold, there are still plenty of people of who really like the flip phone design. In fact, according to RIM, about 70 percent of the cell phone-owning population in the United States has clamshell phones, which is why it wanted to provide this option to customers.
Admittedly, the overall design of the BlackBerry Pearl Flip isn't the flashiest, but it is functional. Plus, there's plenty to like inside the device: an updated operating system and interface, document editing, Wi-Fi, strong e-mail support, and a 2-megapixel camera. It's not for the power business users, but if you're looking for your first smartphone or just want to keep tabs on your e-mail and have a penchant for flips phones, the Pearl Flip is a good option. The RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 will be sold through T-Mobile for a very reasonable $149.99 with a two-year contract and comes in two colors. The black model will be available on October 13, while the red model will be available around October 20.
The RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220's design is obviously the main headline here. It's RIM's first stab at the clamshell design, and while it doesn't leave a lasting impression, there are some elements that show careful thought went into it.
In its closed state, the smartphone measures 3.9 inches high by 1.9 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 3.6 ounces. It's not the most compact flip phone we've seen, but you should be able to slip it into a pants pocket with no problem. The Pearl Flip fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. The phone is quite tall in its open state, but when on a call, it feels a bit weird since the drop hinge (see below) causes the bottom half of the phone to hit your cheek. On the positive side, the handset has a solid construction and is available in black or red.
On front, you get a 1.6-inch diagonal external nontouch display with a 65,536-color output and 128x160-pixel resolution. In addition to showing the standard information (battery life, network strength, time and date), it displays notifications for new messages, missed calls, caller ID, voice mails, and the like. You can even read previews of new e-mail from the external screen. In addition, when using the media player, you can also see track information but you can't perform any functions, other than adjusting the volume. The screen goes completely dark after the preset time-out duration, but you can quickly activate it by pressing any of the external controls. Above the display, you'll also find the camera lens and flash.
The BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220's flip mechanism is smooth, and the phone opens and closes with a satisfying snap. The hinge feels nice and sturdy, and in fact, RIM actually used something called a drop hinge to provide the best ergonomic experience. If you open the phone and look at it from a side profile, you can see that the front flap sits behind the back cover, instead of directly above. While not the most aesthetically pleasing, it allows for plenty of room for you to use the navigation array and you don't have to worry about your thumb hitting the bottom edge of the front cover when trying to press a button.
The Pearl Flip borrows its keyboard and navigation controls from the BlackBerry Pearl. Below the display, you get Talk and End keys, a BlackBerry menu shortcut, a back button, and trackball navigator. The latter, however, is set fairly deep beneath the phone's surface, so while it's fine for scrolling, it was a bit difficult to press down when selecting an item.
For better or worse, you get a SureType keyboarad. For the uninitiated, it's a modified keyboard that has two letters assigned to one button. As you start to enter the letters of a word, the SureType software will present you with a list of possible letter combinations or words, based on context. People seem to either love or hate the SureType keyboard, but regardless, if you're new to it, there may be a slight learning curve or period of acclimation. The good news is that the buttons are large and spacious, so there aren't a lot of accidental presses.
The internal display measures a spacious 2.25 inches diagonally and shows off 65,536 colors at a 240x320-pixel resolution. Text and images look incredibly vibrant, and the new BlackBerry interface really pops with its updated and snazzy icons. You can, of course, customize the home screen with different background images and themes, as well as adjust the font size and type and backlight time.
On the left spine, there's a mute button, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro USB port, and a customizable convenience key. Meanwhile, on the right side, you have a volume rocker, a microSD expansion slot, and another user-programmable shortcut key.
T-Mobile packages the RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 runs BlackBerry OS 4.6, providing new functionality and a fresh appearance to the device. On the surface level, the user interface features an updated look with flashier, modern icons. It may be superficial but it does a lot to add to the device. The Pearl Flip 8220 continues to offer the outstanding e-mail support that BlackBerry is known for in the smartphone world. It can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server, with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise, to deliver corporate e-mail in real time.
With BlackBerry Internet Service, you can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. We had no problem setting up our review unit to access and retrieve our Yahoo e-mail as it merely required entering our login ID and password. For faster communication, the Pearl Flip also comes preloaded with six instant-messaging clients: BlackBerry Messenger, AOL, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo, and Windows Live. The smartphone also has a spell-check feature that will look for errors in e-mails and memos, but not text messages.
In addition to an attachment viewer that opens popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more, the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 also comes preloaded with DataViz Documents To Go, so you can now edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well. Other PIM applications on the smartphone include a Calendar, a task list, a memo pad, a voice recorder, a calculator, and more.
Voice features on the Pearl Flip include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well a group category--business or personal--or one of 32 polyphonic ringtones.
The Pearl Flip supports T-Mobile's MyFaves service, giving you unlimited calls to five contacts, regardless of carrier. Individual plans for MyFaves start at $29.99 a month. You also get Bluetooth 2.0 with support for mono and stereo Bluetooth wireless headsets, hands-free kits, and dial-up networking.
As with the company's other Pearl models, RIM can't seem to offer both Wi-Fi and GPS, rather one or the other. In the case of the Flip, you get Wi-Fi (802.11b/g with UMA support), which we'll take for a couple of reasons. First, it's compatible with T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home service, which lets you make and receive calls via wireless networks. The benefit of this is that calls made via Wi-Fi will not be deducted from your cellular plan, meaning you get unlimited calls as long as you're within range of the hot spot. However, you do need a HotSpot@Home plan, which costs $9.99 per month on top of an existing T-Mobile plan. There is also a family plan that costs $19.99 a month and includes up to five cell phones.
Second, the smartphone isn't 3G-capable and Wi-Fi provides a better alternative to surfing the Web on EDGE. Now, in the past, the BlackBerry browser has always been a bit clunky and archaic compared with its competitors, but it has come a long way. The Pearl Flip 8220 features a full HTML Web browser and supports streaming video, including YouTube clips. You can choose from various views, such as Page View or Column View, and there's an onscreen cursor that you can move in any direction and place on any part of the page where you can click a link.
There are plenty of other entertainment options on the Pearl Flip. The built-in media player can play various music and video formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files, and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video clips. There's a search function, playlist creation, shuffle and repeat, and you get a full-screen mode for video playback. The included software CD also contains a copy of Roxio Easy Media Creator, so you can create MP3s from CDs and add audio tags. There's a BlackBerry Media Sync application so you can synchronize your iTunes library with your BlackBerry. There's 128MB of flash memory onboard, but we'd load multimedia files on a microSD/SDHC card to conserve storage. The expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards.
The Pearl Flip comes with a 2-megapixel camera with flash, 5x zoom, and video recording. For still images, you have your choice of three picture sizes and three picture qualities. Once done, you can send your media via e-mail or multimedia message, set them as your background image, or upload it to Facebook. In addition to the flash, there are white balance settings and you can add a couple of color effects. In video mode, you only get three color effects and two video formats (normal and MMS).
Picture quality was OK. The pictures were sharp with clearly defined objects and good contrast, but the colors looked a bit flat and gray. Video quality wasn't the greatest. While we could make out the objects in the frame, the picture was very pixelated.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 using T-Mobile service and call quality was good. We enjoyed clear audio with minimal background noise or voice distortion and plenty of volume. We also had no problem using an airline's voice-automated response system. On the other end, friends reported good sound quality and even said they couldn't tell we were using a cell phone. Speakerphone quality was OK, but there was some slight hissing in the background. We were able to pair the Pearl Flip with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
General performance felt snappy. The smartphone was responsive in day-to-day use with minimal performance delays. We didn't experience any system crashes during our review period. Web browsing was admittedly a bit pokey using T-Mobile's EDGE network. The Pearl Flip definitely isn't the smartphone for heavy Web browsing, but it's suitable for casual browsing. The Pearl Flip also had no problem finding and connecting to our Wi-Fi network. Music playback sounded fairly decent through the phone's speaker; we would have liked a touch more bass, but songs didn't sound as tinny as some of the other smartphones we've tested. We watched several videos, including a couple from YouTube, and while images and sound were always synchronized, the picture was pretty pixelated.
The RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 has a 900mAh lithium ion battery and has a rated talk time of 4 hours and up to 14 days of standby time. The Pearl Flip blasted the rated talk time out of the water in our battery drain tests with a total of 7 hours on a single charge.