I will be the first to admit that Research In Motion is having problems… from reliability of service, to aging technology, and a loyal customer base that is starting to question the extent of its loyalty. But this is not what I’m here to talk about.
My first encounter with the BlackBerry Bold was with the 9700. Back then I was unimpressed. I found the 9700 to be too big in my palm and too heavy in my pocket. I also found it clunky when it came to Web surfing but then again all BlackBerry devices including my favorite, the BlackBerry 9800 Torch, appeared to be designed with zero intention to surf the Web. Its saving grace is the same as with all BlackBerry devices, including the Bold and Torch, its single-minded focus on messaging.
So it is that this time around I am reviewing the new BlackBerry 9900. The spec says its not much small than the original 9700 but for my money it is a slick, solid device that feels good in the palm of my hand.
OBSERVATIONS
The 9900 is taller than the original 9700 but not as wide making it a better fit for small hands like mine. I like the stainless steel band that wraps around the 9900. The carbon-fiber-lace back cover reminds me of one of the newer Montblanc pens. This phone exudes quality and a solid high-end product.
There are five metal buttons – one on the top and four on the right side. The slightly recessed top button is the lock/unlock button. The mute button (middle) is flanked by a volume up button (top) and volume down button (lower). The buttom-most key is the camera shutter button.
On the right side there’s a volume up button up top, a mute key in the middle and a volume down button — all made out of metal, I might add. Below that you’ll find the camera shutter key.
The micro-USB charging/sync port is just below the 3.5mm headset jack on the left side of the phone.
I did a little research and apparently RIM has a charging dock for its BlackBerry phones and the two charging contacts at the bottom of the phone are just for that purpose. I’ve never seen the charging dock though.
The 9900 comes with a 2 MP, 1600×1200 pixels rear-facing camera with a tiny LED flash. Like its predecessor, the 9900 doesn’t have a front-facing camera so forget about video conferencing service on this device.
The 9900 comes with a 1.2GHz processor, 768MB of RAM, 8GB internal memory, and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. This is my first review of a BB device running on OS7. To be honest I am not overly amazed at the new GUI but, admittedly, the enhancements are everywhere.
WHAT I LIKE
I don’t know how RIM managed to shave off 4mm from the previous model. It made it easier to grip the device. RIM chose to stay close to its heritage of great typing experience with the 9900. It feels very comfortable thumb typing on this device – with one hand or two.
Speaking of typing, the 9900 follows the design and layout of its predecessors, including sculpted keys making for easy text entry and chrome bars that divide the rows of buttons. The addition of a capacitative touchscreen makes for significant improvement in navigator to specific parts of the screen especially if you are typing a long email message and want to do some touch ups.
With a screen resolution of 640 x 480 pixels on a 2.8-inch display you get a pixel density of 285ppi. I remain an admirer of the the Bold series despite the small screen. The screen is bright with very respectable viewing angles, and I didn’t squint whilst typing a message outdoors.
One of the biggest enhancements that came as part of OS7 is the universal search which starts working the minute you start typing.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
I am not sure what RIM chose not to have an autofocus function for its camera so forget about taking portrait shots with this phone. But then again, this is not really a camera so the photos are decent if you need to take a quick snap of something but not meant for quality archiving.
More serious problem is the touch-trackpad combo. You can use the touch function for instant navigation around the visible area of the screen and the trackpad to screen to areas not immediately visible. At times I often mistakenly try and use both and it gets annoying sometimes.
One of my favorites about early BBs is the battery life. Somehow you don’t get as much out of the BB9900 as you do with earlier versions. I am guessing it may have to do with the faster (and usually more power hungry) processor. I also suppose its all the added software features that come with the OS 7.0.
Its odd to put the mute button between the volume up and down button. The tendency, especially when you are not looking or in a hurry, is to either increase or decrease the volume, accidentally of course.
ONE MORE THING
The back plate hides the antenna for NFC-based (near field communications) applications. I’venot had a chance to use this feature so I won’t say more than this.
RIM continues to refine the first and foremost strength of all BB devices: messaging workflow. The menu system remains very intuitive with a laser-like focus on text or/and email messaging.

The best BlackBerry Bold ever? Perhaps it is. The core features of BlackBerry are still compelling, the keyboard will let you skip over keys rattling out messages, with a rock of the thumb here and a glancing prod there, in ways that only BlackBerry users understand.

The addition of a touchscreen does make a difference, but the overall experience isn’t a huge evolution from BB6. Whilst BB7 is familiar, there isn’t much here that really drives things forward into the competitive arena. The camera results are behind the rivals, the app offering still has holes in it and sometimes the touch response slopes off. It isn’t a multimedia timewaster in the way that the latest phone from Samsung or HTC is, it’s core offering is communication, in which it mostly excels, but it’s in the extras where it doesn’t make huge progress.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a device that will appeal greatly to die hard BlackBerry fans, returning the Bold to a premium look and a size that makes a little more sense than the 9700 models. Business users will find themselves with a more interactive device and a better browsing experience, but outside of keyboard and email experience, consumers may find they get a lot more smartphone for their money elsewhere.

CONCLUSION
The experience you get with the BB9900 follows the tradition handed down from the very first BB so long ago. RIM continues to refine the performance of the OS and thus enhances the experience you get using this device. Make no mistake, this remains a BlackBerry and therefore it would be unfair to compare it to the new generation of Android, IOS or Windows smartphones. The BB remains a category all it’s own. If you ever own an IPhone or Android or Windows 6.5 device, you won’t like the BlackBerry unless all you really do, apart from making calls, is sending messages either through SMS or email. If you are doing a lot of emails, the BB9900 is the device you got to have. All these touch phones have typing accuracy close to that of a drunk.
Technical Spec:
Other Reviews
I’ve been clamoring for a chance to test drive a Windows mobile 7 phone for several months now. Much of this interest comes on the heels of reasonably good reviews of the product even from those I feel are traditionally Microsoft Windows haters.
So it was with gusto that I accepted the offer by HTC’s PR agency in Hong Kong to review the recently released HTC HD7 mobile phone. The review units tend to arrive on my desk with very little ceremony and packaging. The HD7 came cocooned in bubblewrap and nothing else. No manual, no cable, no nothing. So I pulled out the micro-USB charger of my BlackBerry 9800 and started to charge the HD7. I left it charging for overnight just to be safe. I also discovered that the last reviewer didn’t bother to erase his data so I proceeded to look for the RESET option with the full intention of wiping out the phone’s data before I proceed with the review. Needless to say, this is where the trouble started.
This is NOT an iPhone. One of the qualities that make for an excellent beginner’s experience on the iPhone is that you don’t need a manual to get started. This, alas, is lost with most other smart phone manufacturers. In most cases, whether its a Sony Ericsson Xperia or an HTC or a Samsung Galaxy, you need to read the manual to use the phone for purposes other than making phone calls. What’s worst, its becoming a fad now not to print the manual to appear to be “green”. Most users will not quibble about this when buying the phone at the local retail store but soon after they switch on the device, owners will start to wonder how to (1) set up the phone; and (2) move data from the previous phone to the current phone. OOPS! No manual. What do I do now?
In my case I had to Google it to find the user manual. The manual says out of the box, you get a phone, battery, USB cable, 3.5mm stereo headset, power adapter, start here guide, quick guide, and safety and regulations guide.
OBSERVATIONS
The HTC HD7 phone follows the current cream of smartphones in terms of physical attributes: large, reflective screen; minimalist physical buttons (in this case, one for power, a rocker for volume and a camera shutter); three soft buttons near the button front of the panel; a micro-USB port and a 3.5mm stereo headset port. The back of the phone hides the battery and SIM slot. A 5 megapixel camera is flanked by two LED flash and a tiny speaker. There is also a kickstand that props the phone in landscape mode when all you want to do is watch a video.
A year ago, I’d argue that setting up accounts on a mobile phone was a pain. My view of this changed with the Android phones and now with the Windows 7 mobile phone. I set up my gmail, hotmail, yahoo and Facebook accounts with ease.
WHAT I LIKE
I’ve never been fond of the voice command function of phones because most require that you train the phone and half the time the software isn’t accurate. The HD7 changed my view of this. To use the voice command to make a call, you press and hold the START button and then say “Call” name. In the five times I tried it, it was flawless.
The primary purpose of a phone is to make calls. My earlier experience with NOKIA and Motorola is that finding names can be troublesome if you have more than a few hundred contacts in your database. In my case, its closer to 3,000. On the HD7, this can get complicated once you’ve created your multiple contact accounts as the software will automatically pull the contacts from your different accounts. Imagine if you have a name listed in five accounts. That person can appear five times in your People list. The good news is that on the HD7, you can link multiple contacts together.
I like the use of Tiles on the home page to make navigation to different applications very easy. Some of the best apps I’ve taken to really like, and wish other vendors would shameless copy, is the People hub. People was built to make social networking and micro-blogging a seamless and enjoyable experience.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
The first time I was handed the phone, I immediately didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t get it to work. My years of intuition wasn’t sufficient (I wasn’t intelligent enough) to get the phone to work. I was puzzled why the phone didn’t have a micro SD card slot (It turns out the phone came with 16GB of built-in storage). So after a few days of playing around with the phone, I’ve finally nailed down what it was I didn’t like most about the HD7 – the battery life.
The other less annoying is the power button. HTC has this button flushed so close to the chassis I often find it hard to press when I need to.
It can be argued that part of the iPhone’s apple is the 300,000+ apps designed to specifically for the phone. This is what every major phone manufacturer from Sony Ericsson, to RIM, to NOKIA, to Samsung, to Google, and now Microsoft is trying to emulate. As of writing, the Windows Marketplace for Mobile has about 5,100 apps on it although most have a price tags ranging from US$8 and up. The most expensive one I’ve seen so far is from MerchantPlus costing US$120.
By far, proponents of the iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and iPad will say that Microsoft is still ways behind in creating a more acceptable user interface when browsing the Internet. Yes, on the HD7 Web browsing is a bit slower. Not sure if this is a caching or rendering issue. But at the same time, this is far more pleasurable than surfing even on the BlackBerry Torch (hands down).
ONE MORE THING
Windows Mobile 7 clearly shows that Microsoft has been studying the Apple iPhone strategy. I understand that Microsoft is forcing phone manufacturers to customize as little of the operating system’s user interface – a strategy that mimics Apple’s approach of closely integrating the hardware with the operating system (OS). Earlier versions of the Microsoft Windows mobile approach was to let mobile phone makers freely customize the user experience, making base OS upgrades difficult.
One of the things I like about my BlackBerry is that I can copy over photos, videos, music and files to the device simply by dragging the dropping the aforementioned files using Windows Explorer. With the HD7, and I was told all Windows Mobile 7 phones, the only option is via Zune, Microsoft’s implementation of iTunes. While it is annoying that you need Zune to move files in and out of the phone, the one thing Microsoft has done well was make the Zune experience more intuitive and enjoyable – try it. This is a big improvement over iTunes’ very staid and uninviting user experience. I’m guessing you will like it… eventually.
I will regret returning this phone to the PR agency but as with all good things, everything has an end. I am sure the next iteration of Windows Mobile 7 will be even better. And you can ‘almost’ safely say that with WM7, Microsoft has ‘almost’ finally come to understand what mobility is all about. Watch our Apple and Google, Microsoft is back in the game.
As for the HTC HD7 phone itself, there is nothing not to like with this phone except maybe the lack of a case to house the unit and protect it from accidentally pressing the sensitive capacitative screen. Otherwise I’d be happy to consider it a replacement for my current phone – BlackBerry Torch 8900… IF…
OTHER REVIEWS
Windows 7 mobile
USA Today
HTD HD7
Gizmodo
Stuff UK.TV
PHOTOS
Homepage of the HTC HD7

Homepage of the HTC HD7

Back panel of the HTC HD7

Back panel of the HTC HD7

Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons

Side view of the HTC HD7 showing buttons

Zune user interface on the HTC HD7

Zune user interface on the HTC HD7

Awhile back I posted my take of the Sony Ericsson X10 mini and I indicated I would follow-up the review with its sibling the X10 mini pro.

I had high expectations for the X10 mini pro when I took it out of the box. My initial impressions on the physical aesthetics of the phone were justified. The X10 mini pro looks bulkier than its sibling but this is justified by the inclusion of a physical keyboard – with ‘real’ keys that you can touch and press.
Setting up the phone after a full reset (so I could clear any existing data settings by the previous user) was simple. This time I did not bother to look for a manual for the phone, instead I groped my way through the selection of menus, found what I needed, and kept on going.
Typing experience. Although this is a qwerty keyboard, some of the keys (numbers and special characters) have been moved around so it takes some getting use to it. When I first started typing I was concerned that my large thumb would make typing difficult. For the most part I was impressed that typing was easy EXCEPT when I was going for the E, R, T, Y keys as I always kept bumping into the edge of the display screen. The physical keys themselves need to be depressed with an effort to make the connection. I am not sure if this would change as you use the phone over time. But in my four days of using the phone, I found the effort to be unchanging.
In case you don’t feel the urge to slide out the keyboard, the T9 virtual keyboard is there for you. Personally I didn’t like my experience with the T9 keyboard, it kept interfering with my abbreviated SMS typing. I found it so annoying that I forced myself to slide out the keyboard each time I needed to send a text message. This can be a distraction if you are walking about town and you need to respond quickly to an incoming message.
More annoying, and I was unable to disable this function, is the appearance of the language bar on lower left hand corner of the tiny 2.55 inch screen. With so tiny a real estate, why did the engineers at Sony Ericsson keep this virtual button there. Did they think that a person typing a text would want to change language mid-entry? In fact this language bar quickly became a nuisance for me as it actually hampered my typing 50% of the time.
At 90×52 x17mm and weighing a mere 120g, the Sony Ericsson X10 mini pro is cute, distinctive and easy on the pocket. The 2.55 inch screen means the engineerings weren’t expecting owners of this phone to surf the web. Writing cryptic messages on Facebook or Twitting is not a problem but this is not the device for reading a full article from your favorite blogger or making a blog entry of your own, for that you really need a bigger screen.
I also didn’t notice it as much but watching a video from this phone quickly becomes impractical not because the screen is small but the reflective glass makes it hard to watch in a bright light setting (yes, even bright indoor lights).
As with its smaller sibling, the X10 mini, the pro has shortcut icons on the four corners of the screen. Changing these is easy. You can only have one widget per screen but that only makes sense since you have such a tiny screen. You can flick or swipe left or right to skim through these widgets.
If you Twit a lot or always want to know that’s happening in your Facebook account, Timescape streams these short messages with the avatar of the author lightly superimposed as a background for the message. Same goes for your sms messages.
Sony Ericsson phones are on par with the best multimedia gadgets out there. The X10 mini and X10 mini pro follow this tradition very well. The music player is excellent and despite the diminutive phone, you can still crank up the volume to hear it without headphones. (more…)

Hands up if you carry more than a phone with you when you are out and about!

Apart from keys and wallet, my pockets hold a BlackBerry 8900 and an iPod Touch. Most executives I met have with them a phone and a BlackBerry (in this case used primarily for emails).

My wife has, would you believe it, three cell phones (no BlackBerry) everywhere she goes. These are all stuffed in her bag which if used properly can knock the wind out of you very easily (I think her bag weighs about 3 kg).

Every piece of portable electronic device requires regular battery charge depending on usage. At home we’ve got 2 sets of charges for my wife’s Nokia phones (all 3 of them) and I’ve got one charger for the 4 iPods I’ve collected. My daughter has a charger for her HP TX2 tablet PC, her mobile phone and her iPod nano. My son has a charger for his Nintendo DS Lite as well as his mobile phone. Between us, we’ve amass quite a collection of chargers. At times the collection of chargers can be very annoying as these tend to tangle every time.

I’ve always wished to have one appliance that would charge all of our devices regardless of make and model. The problem is that most devices don’t have the same power requirements and the makers also have different ideas when it comes to designing how to charge these devices.

A number of vendors like Targus, ESI and Griffin have come up with portable charges primarily designed for laptops and devices with USB connectors. But in most cases you can only charge 1 or 2 devices at a time. To do this, they also have to provide as many ‘tips’ as possible to match the various devices out in the market, including those for the Apple, Creative Technologies, Blackberry, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. For mobile phones the end to these different ports may be in sight.

The European Commission has managed to get agreement from 10 companies, including Apple, LG, Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, to agree to manufacture future phones based around an inter-chargeable design. But what about your MP3s, video players, portable video game consoles, laptops, and now ereaders?

 A few vendors have been working on a universal charger for as many devices as possible. One such vendor is Powermat with its Powermat Home & Office Mat and Powermat Portable Mat. Both models include a Powercube with includes 8 ‘tips’ for the most common mobile devices, including DS LIte, DS, Sony PSP, Samsung, LG and Apple. It also includes tip for a micro USB and mini USB. Optional accessories include receivers (adapter may be less confusing) for BlackBerry, iPhone and iPod (dock). (more…)