I have a pearl flip w/out the data plan(in fact all four of my family have that). Its good, but not perfect. Have had no luck with gmail on the phone except through a browser(the google apps all require data plans AFAIK). SMS is your friend, though. I have my email and twitter and facebook sent via SMS and can post that way too. Wifi works in some situations, but the browser experience on BB sucks.
1. Yes you can get a flip w/out data
2. SMS is awesome.