Motorola Backflip Preview

by Reads (29,651)

CES 2010

Update: Our full Motorola Backflip Review is now up.

 

The Motorola Backflip is no longer a rumor, and I was there at CES for the official unveiling.

This smartphone isn’t what I’d consider cutting edge, but it does break new ground in one area: design. It sports an unusual shape with a flip-around keyboard and a touchpanel behind its screen.

It runs Google’s Android OS, and features the MotoBlur software suite, designed to make this device more appealing to fans of social networking.

I got some time with a pre-release version of the Backflip while I was at CES, and I put together a video overview as well as my early impressions.

Video Preview
Motorola reps were demonstrating the features of this Android OS-powered smartphone, and I made a recording that covers both the hardware and software:

FIRST THOUGHTS

Hardware
There are two features that set the design of the Motorola Backflip apart from the crowd, for good or ill.

Motorola BackflipThe touchpanel behind its screen — dubbed the Backtrack — is one of the best innovations I’ve seen in smartphone design in some time.

It’s a feature that I understood how to use the second I picked up the device, and one that I now wish I had on my current phone.

It’s a trackpad, but it functions more like a 5-way control button. You move your finger around on it, and that jumps you between items that can be selected on the screen.

Unlike most trackpads on smartphones, it can be used with either hand. Plus it is quite large because it’s in a space that generally goes unused.

The Backtrack isn’t your only control option; the Backflip’s display is a touchscreen.

I’m not as sanguine about this smartphone’s other new feature, the reverse-flip keyboard. It seems to have all the disadvantages of a more standard clamshell design, but just some of the advantages.

I like that the Backflip can sit on a desk or table with its screen flipped up at an angle, making it easier to watch a movie. By default, when the put this device into this configuration, it runs Android’s suite of “bedside” software, with an alarm clock, music player, etc.

However, the fact that the keyboard is always exposed is… odd. When the device is closed, the keyboard is on the back. (The keys are deactivated, though, so don’t start thinking you’re going to learn to type backward.) And when the Backflip has its screen flipped up, like in the picture above, it’s sitting on its keyboard.

Motorola BackflipThis Motorola device’s other hardware features are fairly average: a microSD memory card slot, 5 MPx camera, a GPS receiver, and a 3.5mm headset jack.

It is also going to have 3G mobile broadband (HSDPA 7.2 Mbps), Wi-Fi b/g, and Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo.

Software
The Backflip will likely launch with Android 1.5, but Motorola says an upgrade to Android 2.1 will be coming at some point.

Another feature that differentiates this from non-Motorola smartphones is MotoBlur, a software suite for Android which gives easy access to consumer and business e-mail accounts, as well as social-networking services like Facebook and Twitter. I’m a fan of MotoBlur, which also appears on the Motorola Cliq, though I haven’t had as much time to spend with it as I’d like.

Availability
The Motorola Backflip is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of this year in N. America, Europe, and Asia. However, so far none of the carriers that will be offering it have been named.

According to unconfirmed reports, though, this will be one of AT&T’s first Android-based smartphones.

Pricing for the Backflip is not yet known, and will certainly vary between carriers that offer it.

 

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