Review compliments of Shaun of PDA247.
Throughout the past two decades there have been very few phones that change our view of what is acceptable in terms of form factor and size.
In 1994 the Sony CM-R111 was a revolution. It had no screen and merely displayed signal coverage and battery power using LEDs, but it was unbelievably tiny and showed that small mobile phones were possible. Unfortunately it took many more years to this type of phone size to become commonplace.
Motorola released the StarTAC in 1996 and it quickly became ‘the’ mobile phone to own. It was like nothing before it and to say the design was a complete revolution would be an understatement.
In 2004 Motorola debuted the RAZR and in effect produced another StarTAC moment. It was truly beautiful to look at and to use and everyone wanted one. In fact so many people wanted the RAZR that it quickly became the biggest selling mobile phone in the world and Motorola made the mistake of producing variations on this design for far too long.
As it happens I owned all of the above phones and they were all super impressive for their time. They held that magical quality of feeling too small for what they could do and years ahead of their respective times.
Here we are in 2010 and Motorola is launching the FLIPOUT. Is this another magic moment in the history of mobile phones? The difference is that it is a smartphone, not a standard mobile, and it is competing with other advanced devices like the Sony Ericsson X10 Mini that are trying to break the mould in terms of how a mobile should be formed. This is a difficult battle and at first glance it looks as though the FLIPOUT is a gimmick waiting to bomb like so many other Motorola products from the past few years. It’s not quite that easy to judge though…
I have to say that I was blown away when I first picked it up.
With a footprint of 67 x 67mm it feels impossibly small and is unlike anything I have used before. The 17mm depth is noticeable and this is not a phone that will sit in your pocket without making a bulge, but the main dimensions take the smartphone to a place it has not ventured before.
I’m not a science fiction fan, but the phone gives a feeling that you are picking something up from an episode of Star Trek. It feels light years ahead of other smartphones purely because of it diminutive dimensions and square form. It doesn’t feel like a phone, but more a tiny PDA when you hold it without the keyboard exposed and is completely unique in achieving this.
I have big hands and expected to struggle with the touch screen on such a small phone, but instead found it perfectly natural to pick up and start navigating with my finger. Even in closed mode the icons are placed perfectly below the screen and after the merest of times I felt at home with this strangest looking of phones.
Swiveling out the keyboard brings more unnaturalness to the experience because it just feels really odd the first few times you do it. I can understand why it has to be this way because there would not have been enough space for the keys if it was a slider and FLIPOUT is quite a good name so I guess that Motorola wanted to stick with that. It serves no discernible purpose at all by swiveling, but for novelty alone it may help sell a few more devices. It also looks great when a call arrives and you swivel the phone to answer it and kind of reminds me of the quick flick many people perfected with the RAZR a few years back. The screen orientation stays the same when you swivel it which is not expected, but it works, and the mechanism attaching the two parts of the phone appears to be very strong.
Motorola seems to be presuming that people will use this phone in open mode most of the time because in closed mode the volume keys are at the top and the on/off button is on the right. The microUSB is at the bottom and the 3.5mm headphone jack is just above the on/off button. In open mode everything moves and becomes more traditional; on/off and headphone jack at the top, volume keys on the left and microUSB on the right.
Personally I would like to see the buttons the other way around because I believe that most will use the touch screen to check Twitter, view bookmarks and clear alarms etc. without needing the keyboard and even more importantly are likely to close the phone before using the side buttons. It’s not a big deal, but is a slight design flaw in my opinion.
There is no touch screen keyboard here which makes sense because the screen is small at 2.8″ and the hardware keyboard is only a twist away (hmmm, the Motorola TWIST? That’s an even better name). You can’t expect much from a keyboard that is only 67mm square, but what a surprise it is. There are 5 full rows of keys including a number row and after 10 minutes I felt right at home with it. I hadn’t realised how useful a dedicated number row is, and how often I type numbers, and every part of the keyboard has been a joy to use. The over large enter key is extremely useful and even the two-key wide space bar works well with a mini navigation pad in the corner for good measure. Trust me on this, it is one of the best keyboards in the industry which is amazing considering the size and shows what can be done in a small space.
Overall the hardware is way better than I expected. From the positioning of the microSD slot, just above the battery, to the screen which works ‘much’ better than I expected in bright conditions the FLIPOUT does not feel like an exercise in miniaturisation, but a full smartphone in a tiny body.
The FLIPOUT is running Android 2.1 and packing a 600Mhz processor. This processor does not sound great compared to the 1 GHz competition, but when you consider the screen size and what you are likely to use the phone for it is more than adequate. Indeed, in my tests I did not suffer any glitches at all and found it to be at least as fast as the Desire. I pushed it as far as I could by running multiple programs, but got bored before it started to slow down.
At 1170mAh the battery is not the biggest in the business, but then neither is the screen. I would, however, put the battery life as below average and you can expect one day of use as a maximum. Heavy use may mean a charge in the evening, but it ‘just’ about passes the level I would personally deem as acceptable.
Much better than I expected. The speakerphone was especially loud and crisp and once again I marvelled at the size of the phone and what it could produce. To the ear, which feels a little odd by the way, it was also clear, but not as loud as some other phones. Don’t get me wrong, this phone is not as clear as the BlackBerry or a Nokia, but it is pretty good and offers more than enough voice quality for most people.
Music playback through headphones is above average and even better through the loudspeaker. It isn’t going to impress audio junkies, but again is of a level that most will accept. Video playback is quite good and produces yet another “How am I doing this on something so small?” moment rather than making you feel that the quality is wonderful. A screen this size and resolution will always struggle to compete in this area and to be fair it wasn’t built to.
Oh dear. It really is not good; capturing a good quality photo proved troublesome and video quality was even worse; the audio quality in the video capture was appalling and I could barely hear the words of the people I videoed. I can often say that a phone camera is useful to have, but I struggle to for this one. On the good side there is an image editor, but if you get past deleting the photos you have taken I will be impressed.
Android 2.1 is impressive as always and Motorola has included Motoblur. Opinion is divided on Motoblur and I am in the camp that can take it or leave it. I tend to think positively of it because it is different from most other OS shells and appreciate the large number of extras that Motorola has included on the FLIPOUT.
As if Android does not include enough apps in its default form, there is quite a list of additions to contend with. Social networking is high on the agenda here and Happenings is one of a new breed that has been designed to brings all of your different social networks under one roof. It is a neat idea, but does not present the updates in a way that will suit those of you following lots of people on Twitter. It is more suited to Facebook and the ability to filter the app helps, but heavy users may struggle with it.
This is what you get within Motoblur-
- BATTERY MANAGER
- Battery Manager helps you manage your phone’s power consumption.
- Facebook™, MySpace and Twitter Direct Messaging
- MOTOBLUR ENABLED
- CALLER ID
- On main display, Picture ID, Ringer ID, social network status
- CUSTOMIZABLE HOME SCREEN
- Widgets can be moved and resized to further personalize your seven (7) home screen panels. Enjoy access to more apps,games and widgets from Android Market™.
- Your work, personal and social networking contacts all in one place.
- PHOTO SHARING
- MySpace, Photobucket, Picasa™, Facebook™
On top of this there is News for RSS feeds, Google Maps Navigation which really is very impressive for a free app, Quickoffice, Places and a few other changes. Motorola has put some effort into ensuring that the FLIPOUT is as complete as can be out of the box, but again I feel that Android is already crowded enough without too many additions.
Obviously the more software the better for someone like me who has used many smartphones, but is the target market going to get close to all of the software onboard?
I quite like the screen on the FLIPOUT. It isn’t very big of course, but performed much better outdoors than I expected. The low resolution is noticeable almost all of the time and text in particular felt a little chunky, but it’s a serviceable solution that does the job. I wouldn’t expect much more for the asking price.
All of the above sounds as though I am relatively happy with the FLIPOUT, but that would be understating the matter. I love this little phone to bits! It is completely different to anything I have used before and for that alone it has charmed me. That is a shallow reason to like a phone I know, but if I like it this much because of the shape imagine what teenagers will think of it. And maybe this is the FLIPOUT’S biggest problem?
People who want an Android phone want a big screen or at the very least something that looks semi-serious. People who want a trendy phone that is unusual and catches the eye will want to send messages, mess about on it and do little else. The FLIPOUT is a smartphone that looks like it should be on a teenage girl’s shopping list and thus it may struggle in both markets.
Having said all of that, there is a lot to like about the FLIPOUT and for novelty value alone it is refreshing in almost every way. The fact that it is actually a very good smartphone may be lost on many people though.