BlackBerry Style 9670 Review: The First Clamshell, Full QWERTY BlackBerry

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blackberry style 9670

The BlackBerry Style is official and has launched on most carriers for $99.99 on a 2 year contract (after a mail-in rebate). With TELUS, the Style will be $49.99 on a three year contract. The Style comes in steel gray and royal purple, as well as the standard black and features BlackBerry 6 out of the box.

The Style is an interesting form factor that has been hugely popular over the years but isn’t necessarily a modern trend. When you look at the devices that are gaining a lot of steam and popularity, a clamshell form factor doesn’t come to mind. Still, you can’t deny the prevalence of these devices and if anyone is going to do it at a good price point and modern design, it’s RIM. I’ve been using the device for about a month now, so lets take a deep look at this device, and see what it’s like. Hit the jump for the full review.

Table of Contents

Initial Impressions

  • Unboxing
  • Size, Weight, Feel and Form Factor

Hardware

  • Flip Mechanism
  • External Display
  • Keyboard
  • Trackpad
  • Battery Door and SD Card Slot

BlackBerry Six

  • WebKit Browser

Internal Specs

  • Processor
  • Memory
  • Battery

Media

  • Camera
  • Video
  • Music

General Usage

  • Phone Call Quality
  • Messaging (Email, SMS, BBM)

Style Accessories
Style Applications

  • Sprint BlackBerry Style Preloads

Conclusions

  • Pros and Cons
  • Closing Thoughts

Initial Impressions

Unboxing

The Style comes in a modern BlackBerry box which is thinner and doesn’t contain the usual junk that an older BlackBerry comes with (paper manual, CDs and leaflets). Inside the Style’s box, you’ll find:

  • The device
  • Updated charger (single block unit with USB cable that plugs in)
  • Updated headphones (all black with a more modern look to them)
  • Micro USB cable

The new headphones are something that came with the Canadian BlackBerry Torch, but wasn’t in the box with my AT&T BlackBerry Torch (perhaps because it was a review unit). The new headphones are much more modern in that they’re a single black color, and the microphone is much more discreet.

Size, Weight, Feel and Form Factor

When you first pick up the Style, it feels really soft and round, almost like a polished pebble. In terms of size, it feels like the same thickness as the Torch, but shorter. Compared to the Pearl Flip, it feels thicker and wider, almost “fat”. When you think about design, and what makes a product sexy, I’m not really convinced the Style has got it right. A modern day mobile phone should be thin and uses long lines to try and evoke the same qualities that humans find attractive. The Style feels a little too hefty and the curves around the device remind me of something that’s “stumpy” rather than “stylish”. The problem might be that I’m a man reviewing a BlackBerry that is making me constantly think I’m holding a compact mirror. While RIM has said that this device is marketed to both males and females who want a flip form factor, you can’t help but think it’s a girl’s phone.

The LG Lotus Elite

The Sprint LG Lotus Elite looks just like the BlackBerry Style. In the Sprint sponsored show The Guild, Sprint marketing is clearly trying to sell the phone to teenage girls. This looks like the Style’s demographic and I’m having a hard time thinking otherwise.

The problem with calling it a “girl’s phone” is that I’ve shown the BlackBerry Style to a few girls I think have a good sense of taste and they all say they don’t like it. Some of the comments I get are that it looks “retrograde”, “bulky”, “fat” and “old”.

The flip form factor is a great choice for BlackBerry and the Pearl Flip was actually a cool device. I personally used the Pearl Flip for a couple months before I broke it (the spring loaded flip mechanism shot the phone out my hand and into the toilet). The Pearl Flip was an enjoyable phone because of the preview screen and it was a manageable size. The screen was a little small and it’s an odd resolution for developers, but generally the phone was fun to use. I was hoping the BlackBerry Style would give me the same feeling but the design just didn’t work out.

Hardware

Flip Mechanism

The best part about a clamshell BlackBerry is that satisfying feeling you get when you answer and hang up a call. The feature was best summed up on Inside BlackBerry in an interview with Randy Carson, the Style’s Product Manager:

Our market research has shown that there are a lot of people that prefer a flip form factor. They feel most comfortable opening the device to answer a call, and closing to hang up. They also like being able to close the device and know they can put it in their pocket or purse and not have to worry about accidental dialing. Being able to discretely check the external display screen to see incoming messages is also a great feature afforded by the form factor.

The flip mechanism feels strong and seeing as how the Pearl Flip also had a reliable flip mechanism, RIM has probably improved to well beyond what daily use requires. Opening the flip can be done a few ways, but I suspect most people will slide their thumb under the screen and push it open. It’s one solid move that takes a fraction of a second to accomplish. Since there’s no touchscreen, the process doesn’t involve any accidental button pushes. Compared to the Torch and the Pearl Flip, there is less of a “snap” when opening the Style, and this adds to the sensation that the device is a little more delicate.

blackberry style external

External Display

As I said before, the Pearl Flip’s external display was a cool feature that was really useful. Being able to preview messages is particularly useful in this day and age when social networking has you inundated with messages, many of which are invites to Facebook events, Tweets from @poutine_bot and newsletters you haven’t been able to unsubscribe from. The external display probably saves a lot of battery life too, as you aren’t unlocking your phone, turning on the main display, and opening the respective app to discover what message you received.

Something I found about the notifications is that they’re a little simplistic. For example, if someone comments on a Facebook picture, you get a notification of their comment but you’ll only get what the last person said. There is a lot of room on the display for it to show the Facebook picture, all of the comments, and let you scroll down the comments to see what is new. Also, when you see an email, there is a giant email icon and it will only display the body of the message. The notification has no indication of an attachment if one exists as well. Since the notifications are so limited, there is an awful lot of white space in the preview window. Another small concern, which Simon Sage also pointed out, is that your blinking red LED doesn’t turn off if you check your messages with the preview feature. If you’ve previewed the messages already, do they really merit a blinking red LED? Hopefully RIM improves this as BlackBerry 6 develops because the preview window has a lot of potential.

NOTE: I reached out to RIM about this and their response was “There are no [external display] API’s. Only the clock, album art, and notifications are displayed on the external screen.”

Keyboard

Every time I review a BlackBerry’s keyboard I have to sit there comparing it with other BlackBerrys in an attempt to figure out which other device it most closely resembles. Each BlackBerry has a slightly different typing sensation and the Style was no different. Typing on the Style felt a little slippery and the keys are very unique in shape, texture and sensation. It’s hard to tell if it’s some sort of optical illusion, but the keys on the Style seem more tall than other devices. They’re most certainly taller than the keys on the Torch. Personally, I find the Bold 9000 had the best keyboard and I’m still waiting on that keyboard to resurface. Maybe my thumbs are just fat.

Trackpad

The trackpad on the Style is the exact same as on any BlackBerry. As with the Bold 9700, I’m convinced it’s not set properly and the trackpad is on a slight angle. The improper setting doesn’t affect performance at all, it’s just something I’ve noticed and heard others nitpick. The main difference with the trackpad is the area that surrounds it. As you can see from pics of the Style, there is a great deal of empty space around the trackpad. I can’t help but think RIM should have done something here. Maybe a couple speakers laptop style? Front facing camera? Or maybe an LED strip you can customize like those belt buckles (sort of joking).

Battery Door and SD Card Slot

The back of the Style opens fairly easily and removing the battery is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. The SD card slot on the Style could be a little easier. Removing the plug on the card slot is similar to a digital camera and it gives me an uneasy feeling that the piece might break.

Stability: 10/10
Usability: 8/10
Design: 9/10

BlackBerry 6

BlackBerry 6 has changed a little since we first reviewed it. The initial build that came with the Torch was 6.0.0.141 and it was clear that it still needed some time in the oven. Fairly recently, RIM updated the Torch software to 6.0.0.246 and quite a few improvements were made including:

  • Browser – faster page loading and improved panning
  • User input – handled more efficiently, improved responsiveness after unlocking device
  • Applications – faster launching, exiting and switching
  • Home Screen – faster rendering and smoother transitions when switching between panes
  • Media – faster rendering of thumbnails in picture application
  • Email/Messaging – faster and smoother scrolling in message list and when reading email
  • Voice- Software improvements for improved audio quality

For everything you want to know about BlackBerry 6, be sure to read the full BlackBerry 6 review.

BlackBerry 6 Review and Guide: FAQ, Tips and Tricks and Impressions

The BlackBerry Style is running 6.0.0.248 and overall it’s very responsive and performs just as you would expect it to. The screens transition nicely and the pages flow side to side at a relatively fast speed. One thing I’m still trying to understand is – why the need to select the middle scroll bar to reveal the full list of icons or hide to view the wallpaper? Are wallpapers so important to users that this is a needed feature? Personally, I find you have to get used to the trackpad sensitivity and be fairly precise in order to land on the middle section and click to reveal more icons. Is this hassle worth it?

WebKit Browser

The Style is the first non-touchscreen BlackBerry to launch with a WebKit browser and the browsing experience is fairly unique. Personally, I find browsing the Internet almost certainly requires a touchscreen interface. Pinching to zoom, scrolling left and right and not to mention accounting for everyone’s different quality of sight makes a touchscreen so much more ideal for browsing the web.

The Style’s WebKit browser is light years beyond the previous BlackBerry browser, but it still makes you wish every site on the Internet had a mobile version. A good web browser browsing experience shouldn’t require a mobile version. Would a touchscreen browser fit in the Style? Probably not, but the browsing experience still needs a little work. For example, when you zoom on certain elements such as a blog column, the browser resizes the column to fit in the screen automatically. This isn’t always the case though as I’ve found you sometimes have to manually adjust the zoom, which takes longer on a trackpad than with a touchscreen. So if you do a lot of web browsing, a touchscreen BlackBerry like the Torch is probably a better fit for you.

Internal Specs

Other than the usual BlackBerry specs such as Bluetooth, WiFi, trackpad etc., the Style has the following specs:

Media

  • High-resolution Transmissive TFT LCD internal display: 360×400 pixel (external display: 240×320 pixel)
  • VGA (640×480) video recording
  • 5 MP camera with 11 scene modes

Battery

  • 1150 mAHr removable/rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Talk time: Up to 4.5 hours
  • Music playback: Up to 14 hours

Memory

  • 512 MB flash memory / 512 MB SDRAM
  • 8 GB media card included
  • Expandable memory – support for microSD card up to 32 GB

Processor (unconfirmed)

  • 624Mhz Marvell PXA930

The BlackBerry Style’s specs are nearly identical to that of the Torch. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, as the Torch performs well under most circumstances. The most obvious performance headache is that your phone becomes completely useless when downloading applications, and whether it’s a hardware or software issue, this needs to be fixed.

Processor

There is really nothing to say about the processor because it seems to be the exact same processor RIM has been using for a couple years now. The 624Mhz Marvell PXa930 processor has been used on many models and the Torch review sums up how I feel about it.

Battery

The battery on the BlackBerry Style is a 1150 mAHr removable/rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The Style’s battery actually lasts quite long and the reason is probably due to the external display factors mentioned above. We’ll have a battery stress test for you in the near future but it would be surprising if the Style could go as long as the Bold 9700, which has the best battery life of any device we’ve ever used. It’s too bad RIM didn’t set the bar at the 9700 and made sure every device would last that long.

Media

Camera

The camera specs on the Style are on par with the other modern BlackBerrys such as the Torch. The specs aren’t exactly going to blow you away but for the purposes of online and casual photography they’re just fine. There is a pretty big flaw with the Style’s camera and that’s the design of where it’s positioned. RIM made a huge mistake, in my opinion, putting the camera where it is. When you’re holding the Style, you have a tendency to hold it in one hand and snap the picture with your fingers wrapped around the back. This is simply the most comfortable way to hold the device. The problem is that doing this means you cover the camera lens with your finger. Have you seen the Style ad? It shows a guy taking a photo in an incredibly awkward manner for this exact reason.

blackberry style photography

Here is how I would hold it:

blackberry style

As you can see, the screen is blacked out because my finger is over the lens. Even holding the phone with your finger near the lens causes a shadow which can have a negative impact on the picture quality.

Video

The video quality on Style is just as good as the Torch – fine for the web but not worthwhile for anyone serious about video. Here is an example:

Something strange that happens with the video camera is that it goes in and out of focus a lot. This sort of software issue is apparently common and there is an article in the RIM knowledge base about the Style’s video not being able to zoom in or out.

Music

Listening to music on the Style is an alright experience. It’s nice to have the external display that shows album art but the external display should give you so much more. For example, why can’t I see what track is playing, or how long into the song I am, or what the next song will be? Just having the album art doesn’t really give me any important information. Also, it would have been cool for RIM to fit some media keys on this device somewhere as they make the music experience a little more enjoyable.

General Usage

Phone Call Quality

Phone calls on the Style are actually really fun. It’s great to be able to flip open the phone and slap it closed when you’re done. This is something I would have liked from the Torch. I will often close the Torch’s slider in order to end a call even though it doesn’t do anything. With the Style, all of your calls have a strong beginning and finish, which sort of makes you feel like every phone call was important. In terms of quality, this is sort of a moot point these days as any BlackBerry that hits the market will pretty much have the same call quality and it’s totally network dependent. In any case, we won’t be talking about this past 2015 when all voice conversations will cease and we’ll all just be using BBM or some form of mind-melded instant messaging service.

Messaging (Email, SMS, BBM)

Messaging on a Style could have been incredible if they combined the keyboard and external display effectively. It sort of feels like the Style had a huge potential that just wasn’t met. With BlackBerry 6, the messaging environment is greatly improved with all of your social, work and personal messages getting through in your social feeds and notification bar. If only RIM took one more step with the external display, this could have really kicked ass.

Accessories

BlackBerry Cool’s store is usually pretty good when it comes to getting stocked with new device accessories. Currently in the store you won’t find much other than the standard cables and memory cards, but that seems to be the case in most stores. It’s possible that accessory manufacturers didn’t want to invest in the Style until they saw more traction with the device because the market is pretty bare when it comes to products. This sort of thing happens all the time with RIM when they launch a new device with a form factor that doesn’t fit any of the previous models and nobody knows how well it will sell and whether it’s worth developing for.

Applications

Applications for the Style isn’t quite as bad as the accessory market but it isn’t as good as some of the older BlackBerry models either. Almost a month after the device launched, and there are just over 100 themes available for the Style. The BlackBerry Torch has over 600 themes available and App World in general has 3,667 themes in its catalog. Overall, it looks like the Style has about 1/3 the apps that the Torch has, and the Torch will have even fewer apps than a device like the Bold 9700. Being an early adopter doesn’t pay.

Sprint BlackBerry Style Preloads

The Sprint BlackBerry Style came preloaded with the usual junk: Sprint Zone (place for checking your account and getting news you don’t read), Sprint Navigation, NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile, Sprint Music Store (DO THEY HAVE THE BEATLES YET?!?), and Sprint TV. It’s cool that Slacker is getting preloaded on BlackBerrys these days and it’s a solid app to have on your device. It would be great to see more partnerships like this where if you’re an awesome and market tested app, you’ll get a weblink on every BlackBerry.

Conclusions

Pros and Cons

Pros
Clamshell is great for calls
Full keyboard is sweet
Battery lasts a long time

Cons
External display is incredibly limited in functionality
Form factor is pretty ugly
Camera positioning doesn’t make any sense
Video camera needs some software adjustments
No media keys
Apps and accessories are very limited

Closing Thoughts

The Pearl Flip was a pretty awesome BlackBerry and I was hoping the Style would be a huge leap from that device. The external display is just as limited on the Style as it was on the Flip and this is an area where the engineers either got lazy or lack creativity. The form factor is ugly and the device is sort of awkward to hold.

On the other hand, lots of users out there are going to appreciate the flip form factor and with a full QWERTY keyboard integrated with BlackBerry 6, this is as powerful as clamshell communication devices come. I wouldn’t recommend this to a long time BlackBerry user, but if you’re going for something in the flip form factor, this is a really great option.

  • http://blogs.blackberry.com Alex Kinsella

    My man Kyle-
    Excellent to hear you had a great experience with BlackBerry OS 6. As you mentioned, responsiveness and speed were important to us when we developed the new OS for inclusion in the latest BlackBerry releases. On the form factor topic, we identified the flip design as a great option for current flip phone users who were interested in transitioning to a smartphone – sounds like you agree!
    Cheers,
    Alex from RIM

  • oldtoad gil

    waitig for blackberry style want to change from telus to rogers and the LADy wants a playbook so hurry up rogers