The Motorola Backflip runs Android OS 1.5, an older version of Google’s operating system. However, an upgrade to Android OS 2.1 is coming.
In addition, this smartphone has MotoBlur, which greatly simplifies the initial setup of the device if you already have a MotoBlur account and are switching to the Backflip from another MotoBlur device. Just enter a couple of passwords and you’re ready to go.
However, during my testing I found the Backflip to be somewhat slow and unresponsive; I often had to wait for the phone to “catch up” to my actions when it came to launching and switching applications. It isn’t a complete dealbreaker, but it’s very noticeable, especially after spending a couple of weeks with the much more responsive HTC Droid Incredible.
Wireless signal reception was something of a problem for me; I’ve never had great cell coverage at my office, but all of the other phones I’ve reviewed so far have worked better than the Backflip, which refuses to make or receive calls, and only rarely consents to load web pages or Twitter updates. Signal strength improved as soon as I went outside, but there were still some issues even then.
Call quality is disappointing; one of my test subjects even went so far as to say that it was the worst phone that I have reviewed for Brighthand.com. I experienced several dropped calls in addition to a few calls that stayed connected, but just barely – the connection was bad enough that no real communication could take place, and it was easier to just hang up and text or email. I know the Backflip has a nice QWERTY keyboard that makes text entry easy, but it’s still supposed to be a useful mobile phone first and foremost.
Wi-Fi b/g helps a little bit to make up for its poor support for AT&T’s 3G mobile broadband network. The device also has Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo.
Several productivity applications are included with the Backflip, such as Calendar, Contacts, an alarm clock, and a calculator. I ran across a few oddities on the Backflip, such as only being able to view entries on my default personal Google calendar but not on any of the other calendars I have created or others have shared with me. This is a limitation of the Android OS 1.6 version that the Backflip is running, and should hopefully be fixed by the version 2.1 update this phone is scheduled to receive sometime in the third quarter of this year.
The email experience is good, again due to Android. You can select individual labels to sync automatically, and you can place shortcuts for individual labels on the home screen if you like, to speed things up even more. The Web experience is also good, though the relatively small screen of the Backflip means that you’ll have to do quite a bit of scrolling in order to see everything.
Quickoffice works well if you need to view Microsoft Office files on the go. Google Maps and AT&T Navigator are both included, and I much preferred Google Maps; I found it to be faster and more accurate in my testing than AT&T’s navigation service. Strangely enough, the phone could only narrow down my location to within 600 meters, though the Incredible could get within a 300-meter distance. I’m not sure if that’s a limitation of the GPS hardware, the older version of Android, or some other issue.
Since this is an AT&T device, it doesn’t have the standard Android Music application. Instead you have to choose AT&T Music from the application list, and then choose from the Music Player, AT&T Radio or MusicID. It’s a little clunky and weird, especially since Music ID and AT&T Radio have separate application icons in the list. Why was only the Android Music application stripped out?
AAC and MP3 playback are supported, and music sounds OK on the external speaker, but not great. Volume levels are acceptable, but not as loud as I would like. The gaming experience was somewhat lackluster, because the display isn’t as large or crisp as I would like, and the external speaker is somewhat underpowered.
If you put the Backflip on a desk or table with its screen flipped up at an angle, the device launches Android’s suite of “bedside” software, which features an alarm clock and the music player.
The 5 megapixel camera takes fairly good photos, and would be an acceptable substitute for a standalone camera in most everyday situations.
But there is a problem with how slowly the camera actually captures each shot; I had a hard time staying still long enough, and sometimes ended up with blurry shots because I moved the phone before the camera took the shot.
There are also a few issues with the zoom. Macro shots work better than trying to get closer to something far away, like a squirrel in the middle of a patch of grass. There were also some issues with overexposure in shots taken early in the morning, about half an hour after sunrise.
Battery life is also disappointing; the Backflip requires me to charge it each night because the battery seems to drain quickly.
My worst experience with the device came the time I charged it overnight and unplugged it at 6:30 am, just before I headed to the office. By 11 a.m., the phone was completely dead, even though I had done nothing more than take four or five photos and read a few Twitter posts on the way to work.