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.
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.
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.