In a land of Android-powered smartphones that all look alike, Motorola has plunked down a new model with a twist.
The Flipout MB511 stands out first and foremost for its unusual shape and it’s cute. Square with rounded corners, the Flipout looks and feels like a travel alarm clock that fits snugly in your palm and transforms into a phone: the screen swivels from a corner to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard underneath. Or as Motorola probably envisions us saying, it just “flips out.”
I was skeptical of the form-factor at first. The swiveling screen looks like a gimmick, and the display is tiny — only 2.8 inches (7.1cm). The design seemed to be all about looks, with its array of changeable back covers in seven bold colors including bright green and magenta. (All are included with the model sold in Taiwan.)
Photos courtesy of Motorola/Pilot PR
But after a week of using a sample model on loan from Motorola, it became clear that the Flipout was more than a fashion accessory. As a smartphone, this slightly chubby little thing does the job pretty well.
The Flipout handles most tasks with ease. I noticed very few lags when browsing the Web, searching through hundreds of contacts or using Google Maps around Taipei.
The phone uses Android 2.1 as its operating system and comes with a reliable set of customized “gadgets” for the home screen. There’s a music player, several gadgets for live weather updates, MySpace and Facebook feeds, an alarm clock and toggle switches to turn WiFi and Bluetooth on and off instantly. None of these apps were particularly flashy, but they were all straightforward and easy to use.
The arrangement of the home screen makes it easy to access most functions, whether you want to search the Web or turn on the camera.
Motorola designed a set of home pages that are similar to the “Sense” interface found on HTC phones: Just place gadgets and app shortcuts anywhere on one of seven pages, which can be switched with the slide of a finger. With dedicated buttons on each page, you always have access to your contacts, apps or phone calls.
If you use SMS messaging or type on the phone a lot, you’ll appreciate the keyboard. Because of its wider shape, the Flipout is easy to hold with two hands, and in fact this is the most comfortable way to type. It’s not as buttery smooth as a BlackBerry, but it’s still much faster than using the touchscreen. (The standard Android touch keyboard appears when the Flipout is closed.) Each key is slightly rounded and gives a nice, solid click when pressed. The full row of dedicated number keys allows you to punch in numbers quickly.
If you write in Chinese, the keys are marked with BoPoMoFo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ), and there are other input methods, including Cangjie (倉頡) and Hanyu Pinyin, which unfortunately only works with simplified characters.
The Flipout has a few glaring drawbacks. The most disappointing is the low resolution screen (320 x 240 pixels), which makes the phone look it came from the year 2005. (It’s certainly a far cry from the doctored photos of the Flipout on Motorola’s Web site and advertising.) The 3.1 megapixel camera is also outdated — it’s a little slow to load and doesn’t have a flash.
That said, the camera will do in a pinch for both stills and video as long as there’s ample light. As for the mediocre screen, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment when playing the game Angry Birds. The touchscreen functions, such as scrolling up and down and zooming in and out, work very smoothly.
Syncing the Flipout with a computer was a mixed experience. Like all Android phones in general, the Flipout does not come with software to sync apps, music and other multimedia with your computer, but doubleTwist (www.doubletwist.com) takes care of this task nicely. The latest version of this free software even lets you sync any Android phone with a computer over WiFi. (You have to purchase the app for your phone, though.)
Motorola also has a nice app installed on the Flipout that connects phone and computer via WiFi. Moto Phone Portal, which is accessed via the Web browser on your computer, also lets you transfer multimedia files back and forth, and does a few things that doubleTwist can’t.
With Moto Phone Portal, you’re essentially controlling your phone through your computer. You can view all your contacts and call histories or change the ringtones. My favorite feature: You can also read and respond to incoming text messages through your computer. This is handy for those who find it a chore to keep picking up the phone for a text message conversation.
The app also works when connected with Motorola’s not-so-common micro USB cable. As for other specifications, the Flipout comes bundled with a 2GB SD storage card, and it can take cards up to 32GB. Battery life is average — I eked out a day and a half using the phone with the WiFi on all the time.
Its faults aside, the Flipout is a phone anyone can learn to live with and even learn to like pretty fast. An iPhone or HTC Desire user might bemoan the small screen and resolution, but even though you won’t want to read e-books on this device, it’s perfectly fine for a quick Google search or reading the news.
The Flipout is best suited for those who want some of the nicer conveniences of a smartphone, such as a fast way to check e-mail messages or post a Facebook update, but don’t always need to have the latest and greatest app.
The bonus is you get a little more pocket room. Not bad for a cute phone that “flips out.”
The Motorola Flipout MB511 is available at most electronics retailers in Taiwan without a call plan for NT$10,500, or through Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信).
Popular and notable Android apps
Here a few of the hottest new apps on Android:
KiK Messenger (www.kik.com/)
Kik is a free, real-time texting app that uses a 3G or WiFi connection. It is a potential money-saver for avid users of SMS messaging and those wanting to keep in touch with Kik users in other countries. Also available for iPhone and iPod touch.
Tom the Talking Cat (www.facebook.com/TalkingTom)
This chart-topping app, both on Android and iPhone, is a total time-waster, and a lot of silly fun. Stroke Tom’s ears and he purrs. Poke him and he gets annoyed. Talk to him and he repeats what you say like a parrot.
Advanced Task Killer
Too many apps running at the same time on your Android phone take up memory and slow it down. The well-rated ATK takes care of this problem by listing all apps running in the background and lets you choose which ones to stop.
Train Timetable (火車時刻表)
This high-rated app provides real-time schedules for Taiwan Railway Administration (台鐵) trains, the Taiwan High Speed Rail (台灣高鐵) and Kuokuang Bus Company (國光客運). In Chinese only.
Call Log Plus (通話記錄)
This popular app helps Taiwanese users keep track of their call and text messaging charges. Choose the carrier and plan you use (the app lists all of the nation’s carriers), and it lists your call history along with the costs you have incurred. In Chinese only.
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