Also featuring a touch-sensitive trackpad in an unconventional position, the handset scores points for trying to be different, but we feel the Motorola Backflip's design isn't as practical as the company intended to be.
The Motorola Backflip is quite possibly the strangest mobile phone we've ever had through our offices. It is classified as a clamshell phone, but opens like a book — when closed both the screen and the Backflip's full QWERTY keyboard sit on the outside. The keyboard is the rear of the phone when it's closed, and Motorola has also implemented a rear trackpad that sits behind the display. Sound confusing? It is. Once you grasp the design, however, it is fairly functional. As the keyboard forms the entire rear of the phone it is spacious and comfortable, and the design means the Backflip can easily sit on a table or desk for video watching.
Despite the odd flip mechanism, the Motorola Backflip smartphone is fairly compact, even if it is quite thick when closed. Build quality is excellent, though we aren't sure how the keyboard will hold up over time given that it forms the back of the handset when closed. External volume controls, dedicated camera and lock screen buttons and Android's standard menu keys (menu, home and back) make the Backflip relatively straightforward to navigate. We aren't a fan of the rear trackpad though — it is awkwardly positioned, so you have to stretch your fingers around behind the display to use it. Although the keyboard is spacious, each key is flat and lacks the travel of most BlackBerry keyboards, for example.
The Motorola Backflip's 3.1in display is bright and clear, but it uses resistive technology rather than capacitive, so its not as responsive as the iPhone or even Motorola's own Quench smartphone. If you aren't a fan of the physical QWERTY keyboard, Android provides the regular on-screen keyboard. Despite the small keys, auto-correction and haptic feedback make typing relatively intuitive.Other than the unique design, the Backflip isn't a terribly exciting smartphone. Like Motorola's DEXT, the Motorola Backflip runs an older version of Android (1.5), and Motorola hasn't announced any plans to update to the latest version (2.2). The older software means the Backflip doesn't support multitouch (so you can't pinch the screen to zoom in) or Flash.
All the features and benefits of Android are present on the Motorola Backflip but it's Motorola's MotoBlur service that the company is touting as a key feature. MotoBlur is a widget-based system that combines multiple social networking and communications accounts into one portal. For example, you can view Facebook status updates, read tweets, check your Gmail and update your MySpace profile without the need to log into separate applications. You'll need to create a MotoBlur account to use the service, but it's free and all content and data is pushed live to the handset.
Though the idea of MotoBlur certainly has its merits, we feel Motorola's execution isn't perfect. Setting up Facebook, Twitter and Google log-ins resulted in a very cluttered phone book — and that's with only three out of a possible 10 services selected (others include MySpace, LastFM, email, Picasa, Photobucket and Yahoo Mail). MotoBlur automatically synchronises your contacts, but the problem is that it adds every contact from every social-networking service you use, including Twitter. Though you can sort by regular contacts, it's still overwhelming; we can't think of anyone who would want Twitter contacts in their mobile phone book. The MotoBlur service also quickly becomes hard to follow if you have a large number of Facebook friends or followers on Twitter — it's not as advanced as many Twitter iPhone apps, for example.
Among the more positive features of MotoBlur on the Backflip is the unified "happenings" menu, where you can see at a glance updates from all connected social-networking services, and a universal message inbox that displays SMS, Facebook messages, direct Twitter messages and emails. We were particularly impressed with the last of these, although it can become cluttered if you are using more than one email address.
The Motorola Backflip has a 3.5mm headphone jack, but features only a basic music player; Android is still lagging behind the iPhone in terms of a polished music experience. A microSD slot handles memory cards of up to 32GB in capacity. A 5Mp camera with a single LED flash doubles as a video recorder but photos taken are only good enough for the odd happy snap. The camera's positioning means it blends into the keyboard, and the unique flip design makes taking portrait photos quick and easy. Being an Android phone, the Backflip naturally provides access to the Android Market for third-party applications — though it doesn't have as many apps as Apple's App Store, common applications are readily available.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>
See also: Group test: what's the best smartphone?