Motorola Flipout preview

We know you're excited -- the Nokia Twist finally has a legitimate competitor in the square-shaped pseudo-smartphone space! Motorola snuck up on us with its Flipout unveiling yesterday, so today we diligently trudged along to its local offices to get properly acquainted with this new Android handset. Running version 2.1 (Eclair) on a 600MHz processor might seem like a recipe for trouble, but it's the same Cortex A8 (TI OMAP 3410) as used in the Droid, and our time with the little quadrangle revealed it could handle itself with aplomb. The Flipout also boasts a freshened up Motoblur implementation and 512MB of both RAM and ROM, but only 150MB for user storage -- time to bring on Froyo, eh? With interchangeable back covers (two will come in the retail box) and that handbag-friendly form factor, the Flipout is unashamedly flirting with being a phone for style-conscious lady-geeks, but let's see if it doesn't appeal to gruff old types like us as well. Join us after the break for our full hands-on impressions.%Gallery-94308%

You might think from looking at pictures of the Flipout that it's quite the chunky device, but it is in fact rather on the small side. It comes with a 2.8-inch screen and a relatively frugal bezel, making for a 67mm (2.6 inches) squared footprint and an ability to fit into almost any pocket. There is also, of course, that quirky method of opening and closing the device -- the screen pivots around a point in its bottom right corner and flips around, rather than sliding in the conventional manner. We found the movement reassuringly solid and there was no evidence to suggest that it won't last for the handset's full lifetime. We don't know if it's necessarily a functional improvement, but it's certainly a lot more fun to do than your usual slider's predictable old shtick.

Naturally, when moving to a smaller form factor, sacrifices have to be made, and the biggest one -- relative to other Android handsets -- is in the screen itself. Setting aside the minor niggles that viewing angles are less than ideal and the display on offer looked of a relatively cheap variety, the 320 x 240 resolution simply doesn't seem to cut it. A big feature Motorola is pushing with the Flipout is a refreshed Blur implementation, with filtering options and resizable widgets, but there simply isn't the real estate to capitalize on these improvements. What good is widget customizability if you can only really fit one per screen? The web browser renders Engadget's full homepage alright, but zooming out for a wider view leads to pixelation and you find yourself feeling a lot more comfortable on the bare naked mobile-optimized version.

The 3 megapixel camera is capable of recording video at a laughable 352 x 288 resolution, which pretty much tells you all you want to know. Video and pictures will be just fine while sitting on the phone itself, but don't hope for anything awfully useful beyond its quadratic boundaries. Which is fine. Though Moto remains mum on pricing and a release date, European markets should be getting the Flipout relatively soon, and its meager specs would suggest the company is aiming to undercut the likes of the T-Mobile Pulse and HTC's upcoming Wildfire.

We'd be remiss if we didn't take a moment to praise Motorola for what it's done with the Flipout's keyboard. While it doesn't quite earn the sort of praise RIM's luscious BlackBerry keyboards deserve, this boxy little number still has one of the better QWERTY pads we've had the pleasure of fiddling with. In spite of its miniature dimensions, our oversized fingers found their way around the keys with ease and we quickly gathered pace in our typing. If only there was a screen big enough to justify doing extensive writing on. Still, the Flipout has a top notch set of buttons, which is a critical achievement for a phone that will seek to grab the imagination of the young, messaging-heavy crowd.

Motorola was adamant that we couldn't yet shoot any video with this handset, in spite of our cajoling and protestations, but promised us that we'll get a review unit soon enough, which is when all remaining mysteries may be revealed. Right now, we find the Flipout to be a well designed and well executed phone, with a few budget-enforced cutbacks that may be offputting for power users, but could be trivial for people after a fun and uncomplicated phone to stay in touch with.