The BlackBerry Style 9670's flip phone design enhances the BlackBerry appeal, while poor screen quality, 3G-only network support, and limited programmable keys detract.
The BlackBerry Style 9670 for Sprint, Research In Motion's first BlackBerry
flip phone with a full four-row QWERTY keyboard, delivers a design that seems
quite appropriate for the BlackBerry. However, other design decisions limit
some of the appeal and usability of the new smartphone.
The Style 9670 is available only from Sprint at this time. Unsurprisingly,
given RIM's conservative approach to adopting new wireless WAN technologies,
the Style does not support Sprint and Clearwire's 4G WiMax network. Instead,
the Style operates on Sprint's EVDO Rev A network (800MHz and 1,900MHz), while
also supporting 2.4GHz-only 802.11n for data connectivity.
I tested the Steel Grey version of the Style, which is also available in
Royal Purple. Both models have a retail price of $400 but can be purchased for
$100 after rebate with a two-year contract.
I liked the Style's clamshell, flip phone design on the whole-a design that
works well for the BlackBerry's increasingly throwback aesthetic. But mostly I
liked the flip phone design because it removes the opportunity for accidental
pocket dialing, a common malaise in my experience with older slab devices such
as the Bold 9700, no matter how many times RIM changed the way the lock button
worked on previous models.
When closed, the Style measures in at 3.8 by 2.4 by 0.7 inches, expanding
out to 6.9 inches long when opened. It comes with two screens: The external
screen (240-by-320-pixel resolution) shows the clock, waiting message
indicators, caller ID information or music playback information when the Style
is closed, while the 360-by-400-pixel internal screen is used for normal
operation while the phone is flipped open.
The Style doesn't have any rotational sensors to adjust the internal screen
according to orientation, so the tall screen is particularly unsuited for
watching letter-boxed video. When using the built-in video viewing application,
I also found that I frequently needed to switch video size, as the Fit Screen
option preferable for viewing movies or other content leaves an off-center
image when viewing content recorded from the Style itself.
Unlike RIM's previous attempt at a flip phone-the Pearl Flip 8200, which
came with a SureType keypad-the Style has a full, four-row QWERTY keyboard. I
found the Style keys slightly larger than those of last year's Bold
9700-roughly the same width, but perhaps 2mm taller. However, these large keys
didn't improve my typing speed over that when using the Bold 9700. Instead, if
anything, I found that the Style's overly flat keyboard-with its barely raised
keys-provided less tactile feedback, leading to more typing errors during my
few days with the device.
Like other BlackBerry devices released over the last year, the Style comes
with a navigational trackpad instead of a trackball, but I found the Style
implementation to be particularly sluggish and unresponsive. Frequently, the
trackpad would register no movement despite my best efforts, leaving the
placement on screen unchanged. Ratcheting up the sensitivity via the settings
menu did not alleviate the problem.
The Style is the second BlackBerry shipped to date preloaded with BlackBerry
6 OS (it runs Version 126.96.36.199 to be exact), following the summer release of
Torch 9800 for AT&T. Since the Style does not have touch screens,
navigating the new BlackBerry 6 screen layout made a little more sense than
with the Torch, as the interface didn't need to cater to two input types.
However, I still quibble with some of the hot-key changes made from previous
BlackBerry OS versions, especially given that experienced BlackBerry users will
definitely want to use hot keys more frequently given the lack of a touch
screen. For instance, I now have to depress the BlackBerry button twice to
access the application folders (getting the Options menu the first time),
whereas that order was reversed in BlackBerry 5 OS. In addition, the Previous
and Next keys within the e-mail application have reversed functions from those in
Like the Torch, the Style comes with a 5-megapixel camera and LED
auto-flash. The video camera, meanwhile, delivers a disappointing 640-by-480
VGA resolution. I also found the placement of the camera lens and flash a
little awkward. Since it was located toward the top of the lower half of the
clamshell, I invariably covered the lens and flash with my hand when trying to
capture a photo or video.
I was most disappointed that the Style only comes with a single convenience
key, located low on the right side of the device, whereas most other BlackBerry
models I've tested come with two. Preset to trigger the camera application, I
found myself missing the second button, which I've used in the past to trigger
voice-activated services, such as voice dialing or voice-aided e-mail writing
applications such as Nuance's Dragon for Email.
I'd like to see RIM figure out a way for the single convenience button to be
programmed contextually. Since the camera application works only when the Style
is flipped open, it would be ideal if I could set the button to trigger a
different application or function when the device is closed.
By eschewing the second convenience button, RIM had space along the right side
of the Style to add an externally accessible, covered microSD slot. However in
tests, I found it quite difficult to open the cover of the microSD slot without
removing the back battery cover from the device. This removed much of the
appeal of having an external slot, and it made the lack of the second
convenience key more glaring.
As expected, the Style worked seamlessly with my BlackBerry Enterprise
Server 5.0.2 deployment, activating within minutes and delivering my stock
security and wireless profiles without a hitch.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.