Motorola BACKFLIP Review

7
Introduction and Design
Introduction:

There's a lot to say about AT&T's undeniably slow gallop in joining the Android table, but nonetheless it's finally here to some degree with minimal fanfare surrounding its launch. For a brief time we saw AT&T seemingly knock on Android as they probably were under the mercy of Apple – who of course sees Android as their biggest competitor right now. To that degree, we see the hints of that on-going animosity as AT&T officially announced getting into the Android game with the Motorola BACKFLIP. Instead of following Verizon’s lead in premiering a high-end contender in the Android market, AT&T takes the approach on a slightly different path as they intend on offering a device that sets itself apart from the usual line of Android smartphones we’ve seen. We’ll see how the BACKFLIP can attract AT&T customers that have been stuck on the mindset of seeing the iPhone OS as the carrier’s flagship platform.

The package contains:
•    Motorola BACKFLIP
•    Quickstart Guide
•    2GB microSD card pre-installed
•    Charger
•    USB Cable

Design:

There’s no question that the BACKFLIP’s strength mostly lies in its unusual form factor that really manages to separate it from all the existing pack of slate/candybar devices – essentially requiring a literal backflip to expose its QWERTY. Taking plenty of design elements from the Motorola CLIQ, the BACKFLIP sports a slightly smaller frame (4.25” x 2.09” x 0.60”) that easily makes it more compact and comfortable when holding in the hand thanks to the rounded soft edges. The silver metallic-like casing feels high quality and constrasts well with the black color that adorns the touchscreen and QWERTY – not to mention it feels light weight (4.69 oz) in the pockets as well. Unlike the CLIQ, with its questionable build quality, the BACKFLIP does exude a higher level of workmanship that doesn’t make us worry about the hinge that holds the two parts of the phone together.



You can compare the Motorola BACKFLIP with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Continuing its resemblance to the CLIQ, the BACKFLIP features the same 3.1” HVGA (320 x 480) capacticitive touchscreen with support for 262k colors – there’s no question it’s more than manageable and responsive to the touch. Colors are brilliantly reproduced in variable tones while text on-screen are more than detailed enough to make out. The screen can be visible in just about any viewing angle and can withstand even the blinding conditions that comes with outdoor viewing – you’ll still be required to slightly cover the screen though in direct sunlight. Although setting the phone to its maximum brightness level will provide the most optimal viewing experience, the lack of a light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness does make it an eyesore. 

The same layout of buttons seen on the CLIQ are found directly beneath the touchscreen – the menu, home, and back keys; although this time around they are all touch sensitive as opposed to physical ones. Luckily we didn’t experience any issues with them as they were accurate and responsive to the touch. The same can’t be said about the other physical buttons on the sides of the phone – the dedicated power/lock, volume rocker, and camera. The latter felt the most button friendly as it’s slightly raised from the surrounding surface while the other two were just about flush to the suface which made it difficult in feeling them out. Music lovers will enjoy seeing the 3.5mm headset jack found prominently on the top edge of the phone while the microUSB port used to charge and connect to a computer is located on the right side. When you open up the phone, there’s a trackpad found directly behind the touchscreen to provide an alternative navigating tool as there are no physical directional buttons on the BACKFLIP. There’s a slight notch in the back cover, used as an outlet for the speaker, that comes off to reveal the battery, SIM card slot, and microSD slot.

It’s almost confusing at first to see the QWERTY keyboard dominate the face of the entire back portion, but it becomes quite clear how the designers intended for this to happen. Seeing that when the phone is in a closed position, the QWERTY keyboard will actually face the unforgiving surfaces we place it upon – that’s why the QWERTY looks to be consturcted out of a single plastic-like material. Buttons are separated with notches to the surfac that encloses the entire surface of QWERTY to prevent dirt and debris from entering. Regretably they lack any tactile feel and we found ourselves struggling to speed type with the QWERTY. Thanks to the brilliant backlighting, there was no problem seeing which button we were pressing. Finally, the 5-megapixel auto-focusing camera with LED flash is found towards one corner.

Fundamentally, the Motorola BACKFLIP's design provides some freshness that will enable it to be easily recognized from afar. It could've really hit it out of the ball park if the keyboard were a bit more useful as opposed to focusing on how it'll withstand the harsh surfaces it will come in contact with.



Motorola BACKFLIP 360 Degrees View:




Interface:

Following suit after the Motorla CLIQ and DEVOUR, the BACKFLIP also features MOTOBLUR to give AT&T customers a customized Android experience right out of the gates. Everything about it is nearly identical to what we’ve seen previously on other handsets, but the distinct affinity for Yahoo as the only option for web searching really highlights the confusing stance that Google supplants its Android platform.





The user can sign into accounts from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Bebo, Skyrock, Last FM, Picasa, Photobucket, Yahoo! Mail and Google, as well as corporate and other personal email accounts.  Similarly to webOS, contacts are pulled from each location and merged together, and if a contact’s info isn’t recognized you can link to other services.  Thankfully info from one service does not get pushed back to another; for example if you have a Gmail contact who is also a Facebook contact and they have different email addresses with the two services, Gmail is not updated with the Facebook address.  Similarly to HTC’s contact management you can view your communication history within a contact, as well as their “happenings,” or social network updates.



The homescreen has several custom widgets as well. The Happenings widget pulls all of this social network info and gives you a constant feed of updates. Messaging offers your standard SMS, MMS, etc. but also integrates Facebook, Twitter and other messaging services. There is also a News and Entertainment widget that displays relevant info. Lastly is Social Status, which allows you to quickly update your status for the various services. The best feature of these widgets is that a tap brings up more info right on the homescreen without launching an app. For instance, if you tap on a news headline it will bring you a brief synopsis, with a link to launch the full story. If you click on a Facebook profile update in Happenings it gives you the full text, ability to read any comments and the option to comment yourself. On any of them you can swipe across the screen to get to the next item.



Despite exuding the same experience as other MOTOBLUR devices, the Android 1.5 powered BACKFLIP is littered out of the box with AT&T’s laundry list of applications found on its feature phones – these include AT&T Maps, AT&T Music, AT&T Navigator, AT&T Radio, Mobile Banking, Mobile Video, MobiTV, MusicID, Where, and YPmobile. Although they sometimes can be regarded as extra clutter in the applications listing, they’re permanently stuck on there as they can’t be deleted. Aside from that, there are some instances when the phone lagged and we noticed a good amount of times when certain apps would crash unexpectedly – more on this than others, When it did manage to work consistently, the experience was decent to say the least – but we’d suspect MOTOBLUR being the culprit to some of the problems we witnessed. 



Organizer & Messaging:

All of the organizer options are stock Android 1.5. The calendar integrates with your Google account and syncs wirelessly. There is no memo or tasks program, but several are available in the Android Market, and the alarm clock has been ever so slightly tweaked to allow the user to change the snooze time between 5 and 15 minutes.



One item worth noting that really makes the Motorola BACKFLIP unique is its ability to run the clock app when you tilt the phone at an angle – displaying some useful information like the weather. We enjoy how it acts as a digital picture frame by shuffling through your photos in this mode, but it also works well to double as an actual alarm clock. When you have it in this mode and connected to with the wall adapter, the LEDs behind the touch sensitive buttons are constantly lit – this can cause some strain to the eyes in the pitch black conditions when going to bed.



As mentioned before, messaging is not only SMS and MMS, but also integrates messages from the various social network services, as well as other user-defined personal and corporate email accounts. In addition to the physical QWERTY, the on-screen Android keyboard is available as well, which we found to actually be somewhat more usable due to the fact that we found ourselves speed typing a bit more flawlessly on it.





Multimedia:

The Motorola BACKFLIP utilizes Android’s native music player.  There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but it could use some more polish.  Still, it handled all of the mp3s we threw at it just fine, properly displaying album art and track info. Yet another sign of AT&T’s strong presence on the handset, the Amazon MP3 music store is blatantly omitted with no alternative to be found on the phone for purchasing songs. Audio from the handset had a decent pitch to it that made it audible to the ears as long as it’s not set on the highest setting – at that point, it began to start crackling.

We tested the playback of several videos on the BACKFLIP, as it supports MP4 files encoded with H.263 and H.264. Even though the display is physically limited to 480x320 pixels resolution, the device could play videos of up to 640x272 resolution with 1080 kbps bit rate. To our surprise, the video at that resolution still managed to play smoothly with no indications of slowdown – audio accompanying it was decent unless volume was set to the highest option.



Motorola has reworked the picture gallery and video player so they are now prettier to look at.  When flipping through pictures, for example, the transition is much like turning a page.  The photo viewer allows for picture editing as well.  Users can adjust a number of variables, such as RGB, brightness, contrast, color saturation and others, and an auto-fix noticeably touches up images.  There is a very cool preview feature where half the picture stays as the original and the other half is adjusted so you can compare the differences.  The image can be cropped and rotated, or have the resolution cut down.  The user can select from different color effects or add speech bubbles, clip art and frame the picture.  All-in-all, it offers some very handy stuff.



Camera:

The camera interface is pretty simple, but one nice feature is that when you take a picture, it displays your location information and integrates that into the filename.  Settings are fairly sparse; the user can adjust resolution, geotagging preferences, color effect, toggle auto focus and choose from automatic or preset white balances. Quality from the 5-megapixel camera was decent for the most part with a lot of detail in shots taken in good lighting conditions with the exception of colors – which came out washed out looking. Although the LED flash did a good job of illuminating shots in low lit conditions, the auto-focusing system had a difficult time adjusting – resulting in some decently lit, but fuzzy looking shots. It goes to show that the BACKFLIP is more than capable of taking photos that you would want to remember.





With a maximum shooting resolution of 320 x 240 pixels at 25 fps, the Motorola BACKFLIP produced smooth lookingvideos that really lacked any detail. Despite not displaying any slowdown, thanks partly to the frame rate, videos still looked too pixilated while audio captured sounded muffled. Videos taken with the BACKFLIP can be cropped, but that is the extent of the editing capabilities. Finally, another distinct advantage that it has over other handsets is the fact you can take self portraits when you have the device completely opened – using the actual touchscreen to see yourself as you record. It’s definitely a neat feature and can really come into play for those who prefer being able to see themselves as they record.

Connectivity:

The Motorola BACKFLIP is a quad-band GSM (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and tri-band UMTS (850/1900/2100 MHz) handset which makes the perfect solution for the global trotter. In addition, it packs 802.11b/g Wi-Fi for an alternative internet connection and Bluetooth 2.0 to pair up with various devices for wireless transfers.

There’s really not much to say about the web browsing experience on the BACKFLIP as it’s similar to others before it. Despite the lack of multi-touch on the handset, loading pages through AT&T’s 3G network wasn’t a problem as it replicated our web site with no problems. Kinetic scrolling could be a bit smoother, but it doesn’t deter from the overall usability of the Webkit based browser. Unlike the Motorola DEVOUR and HTC DROID Eris over on Verizon, the BACKFLIP doesn’t support Adobe Flash Lite – which means a separate app will launch whenever you attempt to watch a YouTube video. Finally, you can use the trackpad behind the touchscreen for another way of navigating – it’s definitely different and has a useful purpose, but we found ourselves always resorting to actually using the touchscreen.





Performance:

Of all the areas, the Motorola BACKFLIP exceeded our expectations in the phone calling quality department. Not only were voices on both ends distinct and natural, but there was no indication of any static or background noise disrupting the experience. When using the speaker phone, we had to set the volume on the loudest setting to really gauge the sound of voices – despite that, it still reproduced some decent tones.

In an area that’s covered under the umbrella of AT&T’s network, we did not experience any dropped calls in the greater Philadelphia region. Even though the Motorola BACKFLIP retained a solid connection to the network, we did notice that it generally had one bar less than other AT&T phones we carried – still, it didn’t seem like it was affecting our general usage.

Smartphones are of course tagged as being sufficient in the battery category if they are able to withstand a good working day. With that knowledge in mind, the BACKFLIP’s 1400 mAh battery exceeded our expectations as it lasted almost 2 days of solid use. In addition, we got out an astonishing 8.25 hours of talk time when the manaufacturer has it rated for 5.83 hours of talk and 315 hours of standby.

Conclusion: 

Unlike Verizon’s plunge into Android, AT&T has decided to go with a less than magnificent entourage with their dive. It’s not to say that the Motorola BACKFLIP might not be garnered as the flagship Android device we would’ve envisioned, but it’s uniqueness in various aspects meticulously elevates it to a higher platform for AT&T customers that have been Android-less. Although the Motorola BACKFLIP provides customers a glimpse into the power of Android, the experience is somewhat less tasteful as there are still some decisions that hinder it from truly becoming triumphant in making Android’s presence known on AT&T. In the end, it kind of plays to the same level we’ve seen with the T-Mobile G1 – it brings Android to the game, but leaves users wondering if this is all that’s out there.


Motorola BACKFLIP Video Review:



Pros

  • MOTOBLUR
  • Unique design
  • Quality construction
  • Decent photo quality
  • Excellent calling quality

Cons

  • Stiff QWERTY
  • Unstable performance
  • Stuck on Android 1.5

PhoneArena Rating:

8.2

User Rating:

6.3
27 Reviews

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