I have this standing policy which I’ve developed over the years – where possible never buy first generation electronic products. Why? Its simple! Most first generation electronic products have an invisible sticker on them that shouts – ‘our experiment. your risk’. What I mean is that most first generation of any electronic product will likely have a number of flaws in them. Whether its the iPod, iPhone, or Asus EeePC model 700 – to name a few – all lacked a number of features that eventually creeped in on succeeding generation. In my opinion, it is a tactic to subtly coerce early adopters to get hooked on the first generation and move on quickly to the second generation.

Awhile back I hinted about my disklike for the BlackBerry Bold (first generation). While the first BlackBerry Bold had leather upholstery on its back panel, I found it heavy (136g versus 109g for BlackBerry Curve 8300). While the screen on the Bold was great it wasn’t a compelling enough feature for me to give up the smaller, lighter and almost the same feature-set Curve 8300.

That said I know many executives who do love the Bold because it felt very solid and truth be told, the leather exterior made it scream – luxury! The Bold also stayed true to its tradition of physical qwerty keyboard because working executives don’t want to waste their time thumbing three times to get to the character they want or even more time retyping a character because the iPhone keeps sensing the wrong key being pressed. After testing HTC, iPhone, Nexus, LG and Samsung touch phones, I can tell you, it pisses me off trying to send an SMS on any of these touch phones because people can’t decipher my short messages or complain how long it takes for me to send a short message.

There is a lot of things to be thankful about the BlackBerry Bold 9700 (I personally prefer to call it Bold 2). RIM took great pains to make this light (16g), smaller (6mm narrower, 5mm shorter, 0.9mm thinner). This last bit tells you the vendor had a hard time trying to figure out where else to trim the phone off. The only thing that the Bold 2 lost out to the Bold 1 is the smaller keyboard. I’m still trying to adjust to this change and it shows because I still fumble when sending sms even though I have a physical keyboard on the Bold 9700. That said the prismic design of the keys may help you adjust faster to the narrow but taller keys.

If there is any feature on the BlackBerry that has kept it the envy of Nokia and other contenders to the business smartphone device is the qwerty keyboard. Thankfully despite some experiments in the curvature and texture, RIM has kept the keys intact.

One thing I am grateful that RIM has finally decided to throw out is the trackball. If you’ve ever used one of those early mouse pointing device (or trackball in my case) you soon discover that the ball collects dust, dirt and introduces these to the contact points inside the device itself. I’ve had my Pearl jam on me many a times – often when I am in harried situations.

Apart from this, the Bold 9700 is a Bold 1 on steroids. It’s got a faster processor, and is a 3G phone so now I can use it in Japan and maybe Korea. Its got one of those HVGA-class screens only found on the HTC Magic.

The Bold 9700 comes with the new BlackBerry 5.0 OS. This is a much more powerful OS. Because this is not a touchphone, navigation is restricted to the touch-sensitive trackpad. RIM has kept most of the applications you’ve come to appreciate from previous generations of BlackBerry phones. By now you will have noted that I’ve used or tested a number of phones. By and large I return to the BlackBerry because the user interface is easy to understand. You don’t need a manual (unlike HTC) to personalize the settings of any BlackBerry to your specific needs. in a way it reminds me of the Apple iPhone. A key success factor to the iPhone is its simplicity of use. You don’t need an engineering degree to use most of its features. The same is true of the BlackBerry phone.

On the BlackBerry this simplicity might irritate those who want to see a face to a name when going over their phonelist. While you can add photos to your contact list, you won’t see the face until you actually dial the number.

Connecting to a WiFi network is easy, as is finding and pairing to a BlueTooth device. And this is where RIM still needs a lot of work to do. Surfing the Internet using the BlackBerry’s default browser is difficult particularly if you are accustomed to a touch interface like that of Apple. You will probably start to feel your thumb getting numb if you surf on the Bold. Still most of the websites I visited load relatively fast. Its just navigating with a small trackpad can be a trying experience. But if you have ever used the trackball on earlier generations of Blackberry, this new trackpad is a godsend.

Rumor has it the days of the BlackBerry Browser are numbered. RIM recently purchased Torch Mobile, the developers of Webkit browsers. We can expect that future enhancements to the BlackBerry browsing experience to include technology from this new acquisition.

The 3.2MP camera of the Bold 9700 may not compare side-by-side with those of the Sony Ericsson but I’ve managed to take decent photos with this camera, granted these just won’t do if you want high quality, high resolution photos. A photo journalist’s friend the Bold 9700 is not. But most other phone cameras don’t either.

My biggest gripe about some of the software bundles like the instant messaging apps or facebook, is that the programs are looking for a BlackBerry service. But if you happen to be out of service like in an office area where cellphone coverage is weak, tough luck trying to tweet or update your facebook.

Many phones suffer from poor audio reception or broadcast. The Bold 9700 comes equipped with an audio enhancing software to boost the audio quality when you find yourself struggling to hear the other party (like when you are next to Hong Kong people talking loudly). I love to send SMS messages and the Bold 9700’s new software makes it very easy to follow your SMS conversations. It groups all messages according to the person your are messaging to so you can easily look at the history of your sms to one person. Great job RIM!

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 carries on with the tradition that you’ve come to expect of the BlackBerry family of smartphones. It is certainly faster than previous generation, its more user friendly in terms of the OS and the apps, and the trackpad is a godsend. It may not cost like a Vertu but it certainly looks like one (physically).

BlackBerry Curve specs
BlackBerry Bold specs
My earlier review of the BlackBerry Bold
TechRadar review
CrackBerry review

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