Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:58:55 PM
Tons of social networking features, great email, unique design, Android OS is user friendly
Too busy for all but the most hardcore social networker, pixelated display makes the phone feel low-rent, dismal camera
Motorola has clocked up a few innovation firsts with its phones – first ever clamshell (the StarTac), world’s only handset with a round display (the Aura) and now the FlipOut, a square phone you flick open almost like a switchblade. The latest phone with the social networking interface, Motoblur, it’s a surprisingly capable device, but its size and social network overdrive won’t be for everyone.
Cute and compact, the FlipOut has a unique design that – like many of its ilk – doesn’t actually have much added value. That said, the flick-to-open mechanism is nicely implemented, if a little lightweight, as the edges of the phone are a bit sharp and actually hurt our hand when we’d flicked the phone open a few times. Yes, we’re hard like that. The 2.8-inch screen is an unimpressive 320 x 240 pixels, which results in a pretty pixelated display, and its size isn’t great for web surfing. It does support multi-touch though, which works a treat in the browser, gallery and maps. The phone opens to reveal the five-line QWERTY with dedicated number line. The keys are a good size, but a bit hard to press. There’s also a separator bar down the middle which is a tad distracting when you first use it, but perhaps it’s to help when texting in the dark. There’s a superfluous D-pad in the bottom left - why not just use the touch-screen to move a cursor? To make a phone call, the handset must be open. It’s a comfortable shape, opened, and the proximity sensor is excellent, with the screen coming to life almost immediately after you pull it away from your ear. The touch-screen is sometimes a bit slow to register the end-call tap.You can dial numbers with the on-screen keypad, but not type in the first few letters of a contact to have a list of suggested names pop up. Annoyingly, there’s also no access to favourite contacts, so you’ll have to hit a tab to search for the contact you want. We tried typing a name on the hard keyboard, and weirdly, all the letters come up as numbers instead. The three-megapixel camera on the back is standard issue, like so many Android phones. There’s no flash or auto-focus, so you’ll have to hold your hand extra still. Pictures come out a bit soft and blurry, and colours look washed out. Daylight shots are better of course, but indoor shots suffer a bit, and lowlight is out of the question. But you’re not interested in the phone for its camera, you’re after…
Motoblur is social media on ‘roids. Upon start up, you’ll be asked to enter details for all your social networks and email accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a ton more. The phone then syncs your contact lists with your phonebook for the fattest universal phonebook you ever did see. You can also choose which social network takes precedence when it comes to syncing profile pictures. For anyone not totally into it, it’s just social overload, though you can choose different groups to display. The messaging app contains a unified inbox for all your messages, whether text, Facebook, Twitter, or email, with a home screen widget that will show the most recent one. But the real meat of Motoblur is the social networking app, Happenings – and you can place as many Happenings widgets tweaked to different settings as you want, over seven blank home screens. Happenings syncs the feeds from all your social networks, and you can have different widgets to display feeds from certain groups – for example, Twitter only, work contacts, or a preset favourites group. The widget displays the latest update with a (pretty blurry) picture of the person posting it, but doesn’t show the full text. You can drag to change the size of the widget, but that only makes the text bigger. To see the rest of that update, you’ll have to tap on the widget, at which point you’ll be taken to a mobile version of the social network site. As far as widgets go, this one isn’t very intuitive, and you do have to play around a little to get the phone set up perfectly for your needs. Motorola has a few other widgets onboard, including ‘Quick Action’, which puts a favourite contact on the home screen, along with two options such as call, text or last update. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to change these actions once you’ve set them – instead you’ll have to delete the widget and make a new one. And like Moto’s last Motoblur phone, the Dext, there are a few glitches – here, hitting certain action options stops the interface working and you have to force close the program.
The Android 2.1 OS is as user friendly as ever, and the notifications toolbar is the best thing about this particular handset – all alerts, whether of missed calls, messages or low battery show up in a bar at the top of the screen. Swipe down and you can click through to the appropriate program. As usual, Gmail retains desktop functionality, but for some reason isn’t allowed to play with the other webmail, so Gmail messages won’t show up in your unified inbox. The browser supports full HTML and Flash Lite, so you can view websites as they’d appear on a desktop, as well as embedded video. Because the display is so low-resolution, this isn’t as exciting a proposition as it sounds. Text has ragged edges, and you have to zoom in pretty far for it smooth out. Wi-Fi and HSDPA means pages load quickly though, and the support for multi-touch makes it a better phone for browsing than most, though the screen size will be a deterrent. A-GPS and Google Maps are onboard for as good a navigation experience as any Android phone.
If you’re turned off by hulking Android phones like the 3.7-inch HTC Desire, or four-inch Samsung Galaxy S, you might appreciate the compact, quirky shape of the FlipOut. The Motoblur interface is strictly for the hardcore social networker though, and unless your way of life is tweeting, Facebooking and more, you’ll probably find the busyness too much – particularly as the pixelated display and widget design make the phone look a little on the cheap side. A cute phone for a very specific audience.