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 the BlackBerry 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 Version 5.
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.