The BlackBerry Style marks RIM's second-ever handset to ship with BlackBerry OS 6 (the first was the BlackBerry Torch), and it's also the first BlackBerry to have both a clamshell design and a full QWERTY keyboard. RIM has experimented with a flip design before, but only with the Pearl Flip, which had the more compact SureType keyboard. RIM hopes the Style's full keyboard will draw in quick-messaging fans, and the presence of OS 6 and an advanced feature set might mean it'll appeal to power-hungry users as well. We were pleasantly surprised by how well OS 6 works with a non-touch-screen BlackBerry like the Style, and we think its practical design will appeal to a wide range of consumers. The RIM BlackBerry Style is available for $99 after a $100 mail-in rebate and a two-year service agreement from Sprint.
The RIM BlackBerry Style is the first BlackBerry to combine both a clamshell chassis and a full QWERTY keyboard. This design is more common with simpler messaging phones like the LG Lotus Elite and the Motorola Rambler, which might mean RIM is aiming the Style toward entry-level smartphone users. Indeed, Sprint claims the flip phone design is incredibly popular with its customers, perhaps because it reduces accidental presses or because you can end a call just by closing the phone. Whatever the case might be, we applaud RIM for this new design, as it's enough to keep BlackBerry fans happy while drawing in potential new customers.
Because of the full keyboard, the BlackBerry Style has a somewhat square-looking shape from the front. Measuring 3.78 inches long by 2.36 inches wide by 0.73 inch thick, the Style is a little wider than most flip phones, but its width is about the same as most candy bar BlackBerrys, so it wasn't a problem for us. It has rounded corners, curved sides, and a smooth back that gives the Style a luxurious feel in the hand. At 4.62 ounces, the Style has a nice heft when held.
On the front of the Style is a 2-inch color LCD external display with 240x320-pixel resolution framed within a very glossy exterior. Indeed, we had a hard time seeing the screen under bright sunlight because of the glare. By default, it displays the date, time, battery life, and signal strength information. You can also set it up so that it shows incoming caller ID, a short message preview for incoming texts or e-mails, and you can use the volume key to scroll through the list if you like. You can also view the currently playing track if you have the music player running.
On the left spine of the Style is the Micro-USB charging port, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSD card slot. However, the slot cover is sealed so tightly that you need to remove the battery cover in order to pry it open. The volume rocker is on the right as well as a "convenience key" that you can map to any of the phone's functions. On the back is the camera lens plus an LED flash.
The Style has a very solid hinge that opens and closes the phone securely. When you flip it open, you'll find a very attractive 2.7-inch display. Though it only displays 65,000 colors, the high resolution--360x400 pixels--more than makes up for it. Images look sharp and bright, and we had no problems reading text or viewing Web pages. The quality of the display is comparable to that of other BlackBerry handsets we've seen, like the BlackBerry Curve 3G. You can change the size, style, and family of the phone's font, the brightness, the backlight timer, the screen dim timer, and the display theme.
Also like the Curve 3G, the Style has a flat navigation array along with the raised optical trackpad in the middle. The array includes the Send and End/Power keys, the Back key, and the main menu key. As with other BlackBerry handsets, holding down the menu key will bring up a task switcher.
The Style is the first OS 6 we've seen without a touch screen, so unlike the Torch, you have to use the optical trackpad for most of the navigation. We were skeptical about whether the new interface would translate well to the trackpad, and were pleasantly surprised when it did. The trackpad is smooth and intuitive enough that we could easily scroll through menus and lists without too many hiccups. Our only real complaint is that using the trackpad isn't nearly as quick as using a touch screen, but that's not something that bothered us too much.
The keyboard on the Style is very similar to the one on the Torch. It's very thin and relatively flat to the surface, so the keys don't feel as easy to type on; we found ourselves slowing down quite a bit when typing out a message, for example. The keyboard is sloped and angled like that of the Bold, however, so we could still text and dial by feel. It's quite roomy, with plenty of space above and below the keyboard for your thumbs to rest on. RIM also cleverly designed the phone so that it doesn't feel top-heavy when your hands are around the keyboard.
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.