It's been a while since we've seen an intriguing gimmick, a design quirk to break the monotony of glossy black monoliths we see week in, week out. The opportunity to review the Flipout with its unique swivelling display should be cause for celebration, but the party ended pretty quickly.
When we ripped the Flipout from its packaging, this quirky cube had so much promise. Its milky white battery cover and subtle grey logos are classic Motorola; a company that manages to deliver a stylish handset regardless of price. The real magic happens when you push on the edge of the screen, rotating it 90 degrees and exposing a full-QWERTY keyboard underneath. This is where the problems begin.
The keyboard is packed as tightly as can be, which is to be expected when you try and squash 45+ keys into a 6.5x6.5cm space. Each key is raised into a small hump and is taller than it is wide. This, of course, is the opposite to how our fingers are shaped, being wider than they are tall. The result is a very difficult keyboard to type on — your fingers will likely cover three keys at once and where typos are a frequent annoyance.
More troubling than the cramped keyboard is the low quality of the display Motorola has used in making this phone. The Flipout employs a 2.8-inch capacitive touchscreen showing a QVGA resolution and it is a stinker. Not only do the logos and fonts look jagged, but the poor viewing angle of this display polarises the display even when the screen is only on a subtle angle to your eyes. The result is a poor-looking display giving the Flipout a decidedly cheap feel.
On the back of the Flipout is a 3.1-megapixel camera with a self-portrait mirror where you'd expect to find a flash. The SIM card slot is under the battery cover and there's also a microSD card slot on the side, which Motorola has generously filled with a 2GB memory card. The phone's charging and headphone sockets are separate, with a microUSB port on one side, and a 3.5mm headphone socket on another.
Though Motorola's CEO has confirmed that the company will ditch its MotoBlur social-networking interface, it lives on in the Flipout, perhaps for the last time. MotoBlur is a personal information aggregate that pulls in data from a number of sources which make up our online lives. These sources can include Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Gmail and MySpace. MotoBlur pulls updates from these services to a home screen widget called "Happenings", allowing you to view them all in one place, or filter the feed to only see the services you actually use.
Unlike previous MotoBlur phones — the Dext, Quench and Backflip — Flipout runs on Android 2.1, but otherwise features pretty similar hardware. It sports HSDPA for fast web access, wireless N-compatible Wi-Fi, A-GPS and Bluetooth with support for A2DP wireless stereo headphones. In the box you get a charger, a grey-coloured alternative battery cover and an EcoMoto USB cable, which we believe means the USB cable was made from recycled materials.
By virtue of the fact that the Flipout runs Android 2.1, you can expect a decent user experience, but don't make the mistake of thinking this equates to lightning fast processing and a responsive touchscreen experience. Mostly the Flipout performs OK, but the experience is far from the silky experience of using a more expensive Android model.
Photos taken with the Flipout aren't spectacular.
The music experience stands out as one of the phone's best uses, besides making calls and sending messages. The music player isn't particularly attractive, but it works and the music sounds good through a pair of decent headphones. Our experience with the camera wasn't so cheery, the lack of both a flash and auto-focus are good indicators that the end result is far from exciting.
Without an impressive list of features, the Flipout relies on its good looks to impress, and our informal poll of friends and family has given this phone a thumbs down. The swivel concept works, but nothing else about this design considers our hands and how they use mobile phones. The keyboard is cramped and the screen is small and of a low quality. Having the Android OS means you can set-up push email, sync the calendar with online services and backup your contact with Google, but you can say exactly the same thing about so many phones these days.