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Review: BlackBerry Pearl Flip

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The Pearl Flip is Research In Motion's first attempt at a form factor other than a bar-style phone. It is a clamshell, which is a preferred style for many users in the U.S. If you are a clamshell lover, but want the capabilities of RIM's operating system the Pearl Flip could be the device for you...

...that is, if you don't mind its bulk.

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There's no dancing around the fact that the Flip is a bit on the bulky side. It is very thick for a modern clamshell and definitely forms a noticeable bulge if you choose to place it in your front pocket. Bulky it may be, but weighty it isn't. The heft of the phone is surprisingly little, given its beefy size. It is comfortable to hold in your hand both closed and open, and feels well balanced. Holding the Flip in both hands, it typing position, is also comfortable. I was worried that the top half of the phone might make it tiring to hold in the typing position, but that worry was misplaced.

Aside from its size, the Flip is attractive to look at. It is clad in black, with silver accents. This may not be an original color scheme, but it works on this device. The front face has a large display for reading the time, checking status indicators, and also reading incoming messages. It is hidden unless illuminated. The glossy, black face does tend to attract fingerprints, however.

At the top corner of the Flip's left side is the mute button. It is a bit hard to find, if you ask me, because it is flush with the surface of the phone. Pushing it iwll mute an incoming call. Below it is the 3.5mm headset jack, allowing you to use most regular stereo headphones with the Flip. It also has a microUSB port for charging and data transfer. A customizable application key is also placed here, and is easy to find and offers good travel and feedback.

The right side of the phone is where you'll find the volume toggle, which is near the top corner of the Flip. It is small, but still easy to locate and use. Next to it is the hatch covering the microSD port. Opening it was not a problem. Last up on the right side is another customizable application key. This key felt a bit spongy, and there was no real "click" to it.

The Flip's battery hatch comes off and is replaced in a snap.

About the keyboard. There's no arguing that the SureType (2 letters per key in a 20-key pad) style keypad on the Flip is bigger than the regular Pearl's. Many users have indicated that the Pearl's keypad is too small to use really well. RIM made it bigger on the Flip to address that issue. I feel that from side-to-side, it is much easier to use. The extra width makes for a much better typing experience. The up-and-down length of the keypad is the really problem. It is a long keyboard, and you really have to move your fingers up and down to reach all the letters and characters you want. That complaint aside, the keys themselves are markedly improved when compared to the Pearl. They have great travel and feedback, with a nice "click" to know they've been pushed. The keys themselves are separated by a distinct set of ridges that run across the keypad, letting your fingers know when they've moved down a row. There is less feedback as you move your thumb back and forth.

The trackball is also different when compared to the original Pearl. On the Pearl, the trackball stuck out from the surface of the phone, making it easy to find, but also easy for it to be pushed or rolled around in your pocket. The trackball on the Flip is recessed completely into the keypad so the phone can close all the way. I wish the trackball were sticking up just a bit more, because I felt that I couldn't grab enough of the the trackball with my thumb. The trackball was responsive, and you can adjust both the up and down, and back and forth sensitivity to a setting that suits you.

The four buttons surrounding the trackball are the standard send/end keys and BlackBerry and return keys. They had less travel and feedback than the number keys.


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