What if RIM's ( RIMM) BlackBerry made a great small-business phone and nobody knew? It raises the proverbial question: Did it make the phone at all?The oddly effective, grossly overlooked BlackBerry Style 9670 ($99 with a plan, and rebate) from Sprint ( S) poses just such a question. It is no secret that these are far from Canadian phone giant RIM's salad days. The company's hammer lock on business-class text communications has been broken by the great army of Google ( GOOG) Android, Apple ( AAPL) OS and WiMo mobile devices. And RIM's flagship smartphones, such as the Torch and the Bold, cannot compete with the likes of the Apple iPhone, HTC EVO or Motorola ( MOT) DroidX. But deeper in the line, RIM is managing to make some intriguing business-communications tools, particularly the Style 9670. This throwback flip phone -- which makes a limited attempt at being a true smart phone -- manages to marry telephony, texting and basic apps to create an attractive, easy-to-use business device. What you get This is a smart, multi-function communications device for business that still manages to be a great phone. If you're like me, and you make money talking on the phone, the Style might just be the phone for you. This gloriously small, 2.3-inch-by-3.7-inch unit provides what might be the best voice-calling experience on the smartphone market to date. Unlike most multi-function portables, the Style is easy to carry and allows for legitimate one-hand calling. You really can pull the phone from your pocket, open it and dial without the need for both hands. Just try that with an iPhone and see how that works for you. And the Style craftily supports just enough advanced functions to be business-worthy. The unit, not surprisingly, supports BlackBerry's rock-solid keyboard, which allows for excellent text messaging and robust e-mail. The Style also offers high-quality Wi-Fi connectivity, a surprisingly good 5-megapixel camera and a nice assortment of media tools. Access to most business-class apps like Microsoft ( MSFT) Office also work well. Particularly for road warriors who carry a laptop and use their phone mostly for voice calls and e-mail, there is something compellingly simple and effective about the BlackBerry Style.
What you don't get The Style isn't close to a real smartphone. Yes, it offers a nice balance of certain business functions and telephony, but if you want a legit multi-function smartphone, look elsewhere. The screen is far too small, there is no touch control and 3G access is limited. And while apps work well enough, there is none of the rich user experience of, say, an Apple or Android smartphone. Even basics, like surfing the Web, is way clumsy. The Style is nothing compared to even an entry-level smart business device like a Motorola Droid Pro, which offers a full keyboard, a reasonable Web experience and decent app support. Bottom line If you pine for a simpler time when phones were phones and software like word processing and spread sheets were handled by computers, by all means give the Style a test drive. You'll find its svelte, easy-to-use telephony a revelation, and see that it supports just enough functions to augment doing work with an existing work computer. Just don't ask the Style to replace your iPhone. On that scale, I am afraid, the Style has little or no style at all.