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Motorola Backflip

First INQpressions Latest qwerty keyboard mobile
Fri Apr 09 2010, 17:36

Product: Motorola Backflip
System Specifications : 3.1-inch capacitive touch screen, Android 1.5 (upgradeable to Android 2.1), qwerty keyboard, 5 megapixel camera, WiFi, Bluetooth, Quad band, 3.5mm audio jack, microUSB, microSD, Li Ion
Price: TBC

MOTOROLA's BACKFLIP SMARTPHONE is its latest Android handset with a physical keyboard, following on from the Milestone and Dext handsets. Unlike the Milestone, the Backflip ships with the Motorola MotoBlur overlay to the Google OS, which first made an appearance on the Motorola Dext.


The Backflip comes with a few design features that are first seen in this mobile phone and could very well be rolled out to Motorola's other upcoming handsets. The first of these design initiatives is in the keyboard, or rather the way it opens out for use. In its non-operational mode the keyboard sits at the rear of the phone. Only when it is opened out, or backflipped to be fully exposed, is the keyboard available. In its dormant state the keyboard is powered down and cannot be used, as the keys are non-functioning. There is a raised ridge around the keyboard and the keys are recessed inside that rim to protect them when the phone is placed on a hard surface. This protects the keys when the keyboard is not in use.


This way of housing the qwerty keyboard, besides being unique to Motorola, also holds the added advantage of being able to offer a larger keyboard than previously seen. With other slide-out physical keyboard based phones a good portion of the actual space that can house the keyboard is obscured by the way the slide-out mechanism connects to the screen. On some phones nearly one third of the possible available area for the keyboard is overhung by the display. On the Backflip this isn't the case, as there's just one large, robust hinge holding the two parts together, so none of the usable keyboard space is obscured by the screen. This in turn means the space available for the keyboard is the same as the size of the main part of the phone that contains the display. In this case the full 53mm width is on offer and 108mm in length. Thus the Backflip houses the largest, most comfortable to use keyboard that we've ever seen on a smartphone.


Another aspect to the hinged design is that it's an intelligent hinge. When opening the phone up to 45 degrees and placing the Backflip down on a flat surface, the mobile launches into a predefined mode much the same way as if it was placed into a docking station. On the example that we reviewed, the phone entered a mode that appeared much like an alarm clock but effectively this could run any other customised profile. When the phone enters this physical position the music player can be launched in much the same way as if it was placed into a docking station only without the need for one. For all intents and purposes the Backflip ships with its own docking station already built inside. The 45 degree position is also ideal for watching video content and is adjustable depending on the viewing angle that's desired.

The second feature that shows up first on the Backflip and could appear on other Motorola phones is Backtrack. This is an area located on the back of the screen that acts much like a laptop's touch pad, only on a mobile phone. Moving a finger around this area or tapping on the space responds in much the same way as a touch does on the front of the screen, only without obscuring the view of the screen. This works well on a webpage. Backtrack is also useful for maps, where instead of obscuring the place being scrolled to or zoomed in on it can easily be seen.

The Backflip's display is the same 3.1-inch HVGA 320x480 capacitive touch screen found on the Motorola Dext mobile from late last year. It's responsive enough, though it does appear to display less sharp image quality than the screen on the Motorola Milestone, which really excels in showing vivid colours.


Running on top of the Android 1.5 OS on the Backflip is MotoBlur. This is a social networking based overlay that displays all the activity of a user's Facebook and Twitter updates in the widgets on the homescreen. In addition to showing status updates, all the specific details of those contacts on the social networking sites are automatically populated into the phone's address book. In addition, an individuals' status also appears on that person's own page in the address book and is useful when they call as it's displayed when the Backflip recognises their phone number. This social networking integration is a way of getting around using multiple applications while going back and forth between them all, where all the features are at the forefront and are easy to use.

There aren't just a lot of social networking functions to MotoBlur, there is also a good deal of security in the integrated software. When the Backflip is first initialised an account is created using MotoBlur with Motorola, and the contents of the phone are then constantly backed up into the cloud on that account. Everything from text messages and emails down to the address book contacts are thoroughly backed-up, just in case the phone is ever lost or stolen, such that all those details can then be restored to a new phone very easily. Also on offer in MotoBlur is a way of tracking the Backflip if it's lost or stolen, all remotely through GPS on mapping software. If the phone has definitely been taken, all of the phone's contents can be remotely wiped as well. Features such as these can be found in Apple's Iphone and are also part of the latest version of the Microsoft Windows Mobile OS, but so far they have not been seen on other Android handsets.

In Short
We initially thought the phone's unusual way of opening out, with its physical qwerty keyboard located on the rear of the handset, was gimmicky. However, after using it for a while and seeing the merits of a much larger keyboard with its more comfortable way of typing, the way the keyboard is housed makes sense. This coupled with the Android OS offers up a good all-round decent smartphone, although some elements of the Motorola MotoBlur overlay might not suit everyone. As this mobile is upgradeable to Android 2.x the integration and support for corporate email servers could attract business users too, with its sizable keyboard. However all of the social networking malarkey could put off potential customers, thus hampering potential sales as the Backflip might be seen as just a youth phone. µ


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