It’s not often you hear the words “smart flip phone” that is until you meet Sprint's Blackberry Style 9670. And smart it is. The hybrid BlackBerry is half flip phone, half smartphone, complete with the signature BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. The Style is an excellent mid-priced option for a non-touchscreen BlackBerry with all the benefits of RIM’s OS 6.
The Style, powered by Sprint, weighs in at 131 grams and is around 96 x 60 x 18.5mm, which makes it slightly fatter than your average flip phone. When you open the palm-sized Style, you’ll find a full QWERTY keyboard, which accounts for the extra width. The hardware itself has a sleek and glossy front and a matte textured back, giving it a well made feel.
The front of the Style features a 50.8 mm 320 x 240 colour screen, which displays an analogue clock along with various notifications for voicemail or emails at the bottom of the screen. When you receive an email or text message, a larger notification will takeover the clock, giving you a preview of the note, until it minimises into the corner as a smaller notification icon.
BlackBerry and Sprint missed the mark with the external screen, which really does nothing more than give notifications and show the time. A better use for an external screen would have been as a viewfinder for easy picture taking without opening the phone, or perhaps for watching multimedia.
Like most BlackBerrys, the emphasis is on messaging. IMs, BBMs, texts, Facebook, and Twitter DMs are all pushed into a single inbox. You can view messages separately within the individual email or Twitter clients but it’s easiest to keep it central in the notification inbox. Email messages are reliably pushed to your phone, offering constant updates throughout the day on the front screen and notification box.
The notification system is slightly flawed since BlackBerry still shows notifications even if you’ve checked emails or IMs on another computer. For example, if you’re working on the computer rather than your BlackBerry, you may come back to hundreds of email, Twitter, and Facebook notifications, even if you’ve read each and every one of them on your computer.
The hardware itself has a headphone jack, USB port, a volume key, and a customisable convenience key. The convenience key can be set for whatever function you choose, whether it’s for fast picture taking or muting music.
When you flip the Style open, you’ll find a 68.58mm colour screen on top with the BlackBerry QWERTY and trackpad below. The 360 x 400 colour interior screen shows all the standard BlackBerry OS 6 sections like Favorites, Media and Downloads. Setting up the BlackBerry Style is made easy by the prompting set-up screens that help you set-up email and other accounts and you’ll find yourself connected in a flash.
The Style has a 5.0 megapixel camera with the signature BlackBerry flash, which makes for quite decent picture taking. Like most phones, there is a delay when you press “take” on the trackpad, something to keep in mind when snapping photos. The major downfall of the camera is its placement on the phone itself. It is in somewhat of an awkward position so those not used to the Style are likely to cover the lens with their fingers.
The Style runs on Sprint’s 3G CDMA network, a network great for voice, but with problems when it comes to data. Voice quality was loud and clear, and the phone has a loud speakerphone. You can even adjust the bass and treble during calls, which is especially useful if you know any loud or shrill talkers. Sadly, the speakerphone doesn’t work when the phone is closed. As far as data goes, the phone’s strength indicator was askew, at times showing a weak signal when there was a strong signal and a strong signal when there was a weak signal. This is more of an annoyance than something that truly affects usage.
The Style really stands out when it comes to battery life. Compared to an iPhone or a typical Android phone, the BlackBerry Style can last an incredible 10.5 days in standby and around 4.5 hours in heavy use. Needless to say, it will see you through your average working day with no problem at all.
The Style runs on BlackBerry OS 6, which is the same OS as the higher end BlackBerry Torch except with a slower 528MHz processor. Pocket-lint didn’t miss a touchscreen with the Style, mostly because the trackpad makes navigating around icons simple. The trackpad’s sensitivity plus the slightly cramped QWERTY took some getting used to, but once we did the Style was a breeze to use.
Web browsing is reasonably fast on the BlackBerry Style, faster than older BalckBerry devices, but if you’re coming from an Apple or Android phone, you will certainly not agree. Another downside is that web pages tend to look tiny on the 65.58mm screen. Sprint has some custom features built into BlackBerry like the Sprint Music Store, Navigation, and Spring TV. Sprint TV costs $9.99 and delivers streaming channels to your phone, but sadly the system doesn’t work over Wi-Fi, which is probably the place you will want it most. Sprint Navigation gives spoken driving directions but again, it doesn’t display on the external screen so you need to keep your BlackBerry open while driving.
Compared to the Apple App Store or Android Marketplace, RIM’s BlackBerry App World has limited games and apps. This is something that die hard BlackBerry users seem to care little about, but may be a downside for an existing Android or Apple user, and an ongoing concern for those considering switching to BlackBerry.
Syncing the BlackBerry Style to your PC is simple with the BlackBerry desktop software. You can sync videos, pictures, and music into folders on your phone from your PC. The Style has a 512MB memory and comes standard with an 8GB memory card upgrade. Users can choose to expand memory up to 32GB. Music sounds great and the phone will provide you music for 14 hours straight without needing a charge. Movies look fine on the Style, especially when playing in 640 x 480 resolution or lower. If you want to watch YouTube videos you have to go to the web link itself, which is kind of a pain compared to having an app. On the other hand, it makes sharing the links easier.
Overall, the BlackBerry Style is an excellent choice for BlackBerry users looking for a phone with reliable hardware, excellent voice features and basic web computing capabilities. Running on 0S 6, it has similar speed to its touchscreen cousin, the Torch, but in the flip smartphone form factor. It’s the perfect hybrid for someone who wants all the features of a flip phone, which is said to be more conducive for talking, with the capabilities of a smartphone.
Available in “steel grey” and purple, the BlackBerry Style costs $399.99 retail and $99.99 with a 2 year contract from Sprint.