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BlackBerry Style review: BlackBerry Style

BlackBerry Style

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Nicole Lee
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Nicole Lee

Former Editor

Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.

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8 min read

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7.7

BlackBerry Style

The Good

The RIM BlackBerry Style combines a clamshell form factor and a full QWERTY keyboard. It ships with BlackBerry OS 6, which has an improved user interface, a new WebKit browser, and a better multimedia experience. Call quality was impressive.

The Bad

The Style's square design may be a bit bulky for some users, and the keyboard is a touch too flat for our tastes.

The Bottom Line

Despite a few quirks, the RIM BlackBerry Style's practical design and advanced feature set make it a great smartphone for BlackBerry newbies and veterans alike.

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.

Design
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.


The BlackBerry Style is RIM's first clamshell phone with a full QWERTY keyboard.

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 Style has a rather thin keyboard.

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.

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.

Features
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
BlackBerry OS 6 brings a whole new Web-browsing experience courtesy of a new WebKit-based browser. It looks cleaner and fresher, and we really like the introduction of tabbed browsing. It's easy to add a Web page to the Home screen as a shortcut, and you can also share and copy URLs. As we noted in the Torch review, RIM claims that the WebKit browser has improved HTML and JavaScript rendering, which does result in zippier page loading. Unfortunately there's no Flash support, at least not yet.

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's indoor shots were a little dim.

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.

Performance
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.

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7.7

BlackBerry Style

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8
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