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:
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A common problem with product reviews is that the reviewer will often use a few days to evaluate the performance or usability of a device and give judgment based on that. While it is possible to write a reasonably accurate review of a product after a few days’ use, in reality some of the kinks of a device appear after a bit more time of using it.
I was handed the BlackBerry Torch 9800 over a month ago and since then I’ve learned to appreciate the capability of the device as well as its limitations, particularly when pitted against the Apple iPhone.
OBSERVATIONS
On the point of size (111mm x 62mm x 14.6mm) it is not a small phone but then again it’s not exceptionally large either. It’s actually a comfortable form factor if you compare this to the news HTC HD7 (122mm x 68mm x 11.2mm) with a monstrous size frame. Indeed I often keep it inside my pant pocket, and while you can notice the bulge, it doesn’t look outwardly bulky. It’s not lightweight either at 161.9 grams but it’s just heavy enough for me to remember it’s there when I leave it for long periods of disuse.
I noticed reviewers of the 9800 call the phone’s screen resolution a deplorable 3.2″ 480×360 pixel when compared to the iPhone 4’s 3.5″ 960×640 pixel or the HTC HD7’s 4.3″ 480×800 pixel resolution. To be honest the 480×360 resolution is just sufficient enough for me to comfortably watch my favorite TV programs without causing me to squirm at the thought of seeing pixilated images. And given that I don’t have a habit of zooming at photos (as the iPhone ad suggests) I think I can live with this. After all the purpose for my favoring the 9800 over an iPhone or a HTC phone is to send messages.
After weeks of using the 9800, I finally managed to buy a case designed specifically for the 9800’s slider design. This means I can finally protect the outer shell of the phone. The new case adds 1.5mm to 9800 making it feel bulky. While I could accept the bulk in favor of better protection for the phone, it makes typing on the physical keyboard a little annoying (see photo) because of the reduced space between the upper keys and the screen.
When Apple launched its first generation iPhone, there was much speculation about RIM’s implementation of a touchscreen for the BlackBerry. History tells us that RIM’s choice of the SurePress technology for its first ‘touch’ phone didn’t quite get the acceptance the company hoped for. So the choice of a capacitative touchscreen for the 9800 is welcome news, indeed I still wonder why some phone makers are opting to use resistive touch screens on their devices when it’s already proven that capacitative offers better user experience. Maybe they are just trying to keep the cost down.
When I got the 9800, one of the first things I looked at was the CPU. At the time, the Qualcomm snapdragon clocking in at 1GHz was setting the standard for the core processor of most smartphones. So I was dismayed to find out that the 9800 only had a 624MHz CPU. Certainly from a pure spec perspective, the 9800 quickly looked old and outdated. Today, I don’t even quibble about the CPU.
The 9800 is the first BlackBerry to sport the much anticipated new operating system – BlackBerry 6. It is, without doubt, the best implementation to date and one can only expect further refinement of this operating system in future Blackberry phones. The user interface is nice, clean and customizable (to a certain degree).
Multi-tasking is the ability to do two or more things at the same time. For those of us who own an iPhone or an iPad with IOS 4.2, we are condemned to suffer Apple’s interpretation of multi-tasking: only the application that is immediately visible to the user is running, all others are sitting in suspended animation ready to pounce back to life when picked from a roster of apps. Like other BlackBerry phones, the 9800 supports true multi-tasking, meaning all applications that have been picked to run will continue to run until ‘closed’. This means that with a 624MHz CPU and 512MB of internal flash memory, the 9800 may eventually run out of steam unless you close some of the applications you don’t really need to be running at that moment. (more…)

A month ago I got myself a Palm Treo Pro (850 unlock) and I thought I would finally get rid of my Windows mobile phobia. As you will have note from previous entries I have tried my hands on other Win Mobile 6.1 devices: Samsung Omnia i908 and HTC Touch Diamond. This is not my first foray into a Windows Mobile device. I do have a HTC Touch and an O2 XDA Atom Life.

I even chucked my BlackBerry Pearl aside to make sure my judgement isn’t clouded by happier memories. But after weeks of fiddling with the Palm Treo Pro I’ve concluded that I am probably not a Microsoft Windows Mobile friend. While the Treo Pro has an elegant external design, a little on the heavy side but solid built, I feel that the operating system is a clunker – requiring too much learning for an average phone user such as myself.

So I took out my trusty old BlackBerry Pearl, charged it and am using it every day now. The Treo Pro is just waiting in a corner – waiting to be traded in for another device – either a Sony Ericsson (for me) or a Nokia (for my wife).

More interesting I was recently loaned a BlackBerry 8900 (the successor to the BlackBerry Curve). After my brief stint with the BlackBerry Bold I had thought that the next device I would love to review is the BlackBerry Storm. The 8900 came a few months after the Bold and is a few weeks ahead of the Storm in Asia. But being a former Curve user, she (8900) is worth the upgrade. 

The 8900 display is about the same brightness and resultion as the Bold. It keys are much better to handle. The device is fast both as a personal information management (PIM) device, and communication is crisp – I haven’t had any signal drops even in my building which is notorious for bad cell signal. 

My biggest hiccup (and remaining one for both the Curve and the Pearl) is the clunky browser experience. You don’t want to use the Pearl or the Curve to surf the Internet. Yes, you can connect to any b or g network but surfing is painful at best.

The 8900 changes the game. I am very pleased that Research In Motion finally updated the software for better surfing experience. To be fair, there is no comparison to the iPhone or iPod Touch when it comes to a portable (handheld) device to surf the Internet (yes, even the Nokia Communicator series isn’t up to the challenge), but RIM has painstakingly updated the BlackBerry so that it is easier to surf.

At the end of the day, we choose ornaments because they fulfil certain functions – they are either beautiful to have, or they are functional allowing us to be productive during moments when we need to be. RIM’s BlackBerry 8900 meets both of these criteria – at least for me.

Bold by any other name

What’s in a name? As a former marketer I have learned to understand and believe the power of brands. Take away the shareholder equation ($$$) associated with brands and what you have at the very core of a brand is Trust. The old adage in IT was “no one ever gets fired for buying IBM”. While this may still hold true in some business quarters in many parts of the world, the “trust” a brand builds over time can easily be thrown out by a single, badly managed incident.

But that is not my point here. My point is that sometimes marketers can get carried away with the exercise of creating a brand name that they lose sight of a deeper goal – maintaining the level of trust a brand has established over the years.

Anyway, you’ve probably read two of my product reviews (Samsung Omnia and HTC Touch Diamond). I would not be surprised if after reading both you’d think of me as being patently pro-BlackBerry. I can assure you that while I like some of the technologies that RIM has created over the years, I am still very much not in favor of some of their current business practices. But this is a another product review so let me get that off the table and come back to my RIM issues towards the end.

I use a BlackBerry Pearl (8120). I’ve used a BlackBerry Curve (8310) earlier this year – sorry it got stolen during a holiday in Manila. Recently I was loaned a BlackBerry Bold (9000) to try out. As before, this is not an exhaustive review. If you want a technical dissertation, click on the list towards the end of this blog.

Likes about the BlackBerrys

  • Rugged form factor (I’ve dropped each model on a few occasions – unintentionally of course – and each survived mostly unscathed – yes, minor scratches – you should see what a 3 foot drop can do to an iPhone 2G – the model with an aluminum case. Imagine what would happen to the plastic iPhone 3G)
  • Simple to understand user interface plus the ability to hide functions you don’t need or don’t use. (I firmly believe that a true test of a consumer device is to use it effectively without ever reaching for the manual)
  • Syncing with MS Outlook is easy as is installing/uninstalling the software – BlackBerry Desktop Manager
  • Screen is crystal clear – but the Bold beats everyone – iPhone, all previous BBs, SonyE, Nokia, HTC, MotoQ, in fact everyone except the Samsung Omnia i900 series.
  • Power-up is almost instantaneous (except when you remove the battery)

(more…)

Finally decided to unbox the HTC Touch Diamond that a friend loaned to me to test. The packaging is catchy although I, personally, don’t like the design on the back – whoever designed this must have thought he or she was being imaginative. The HTC Diamond design is unique but not innovative (in my humble opinion).

Again I am not doing a comprehensive review of the Diamond. You’d be better of going to one of the sites below. I’m here to tell you what a non-geek would like and dislike about the new product from HTC.

What I like about the HTC Touch Diamond

  • Small form factor, fits my hand and my pants pocket (also shirt pocket) very nicely
  • ActiveSync software ran very smoothly and syncs my Outlook data to the Diamond (no worries)
  • Bright screen
  • Windows platform means, in theory, I can open standard office apps when I have to (and for once Windows Mobile 6.1 worked better than its predecessor the Windows Mobile 6 on the HTC device).

I have a HTC Touch (gen 1) and when you load even a small excel spreadsheet, the phone runs like a snail pulling a dead weight. With the Diamond, I ran the picture slideshow, open a spreadsheet, called another phone number, and ran Bubble Breaker and the phone still worked “almost” flawlessly.

What I don’t like about the HTC Touch Diamond

  • It is designed to power-off (you can program it for up to 5 minutes). I think this is to save battery but the during first day I used the phone, I tell you it freaked me out that the phone kept switching off. I had to run through the innards of the operating system to come to the conclusion that there is the built-in power off mode. Just to be safe I asked a friend to call my number to see if the phone rang when it was “powered off”. The Diamond wakes up when a call comes in.
  • The Diamond touts the new TouchFlo 3D but I tell you the version I got, (ROM 1.93.707.1 WWE), is quirky to say the least. There are times when I had to keep repeating movements to get the darn thing to do what I want it to (doesn’t always though so I had to keep pressing the HOME key every now and then).
  • I can’t use my standard headset with mini-jack to listen to the music although bluetooth was ok.
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • The processor can, at times, be slow (like trying to watch some photos, scrolling through the favorite phonelist).

Other HTC Touch reviews
Geek.com – Review: HTC Diamond
CNET Australia – HTC Touch Diamond
MobileTech Review – HTC Diamond

My first product review was the Samsung Omnia – another Windows Mobile 6.1 device. After holding this HTC Touch for a couple of days I have to admit that the Touch wins hands-down versus the Omnia. GSM Arena has done a great comparative review of the Omnia versus the HTC Touch Diamond. Read it if you are trying to decide between these two devices.

Personally which one would I consider buying? If I really have no choice I would pick the HTC Touch Diamond. But if I have to choose a new phone to replace my BlackBerry Pearl, I’d probably try the new BlackBerry Bold first before I make any commitments. In case you are thinking I’m overly biased towards the BlackBerry, I was once an avid Sony Ericsson customer with the P900 being my last SE smartphone. I am curious to try the SE Experia but that would be for another day. I’ve also used the Nokia E70 – that was also a painful experience.

One last point to ponder. The true test of a consumer product is the ability to use it out of the box without reading the manual. To be fair I was able to switch the Diamond on and make a call. But to do other stuff like look for a phone number, send SMS, or get connected to the web, those took time to figure out and get used to the way the Diamond wants to be handled. Beautiful it may be but the HTC Touch Diamond is not as intuitive as the vendor makes it out to be.

Oh well, back to my BlackBerry Pearl – the no fuss, no hassle, smartphone.

PS: I recently met up with Mark Russinovich. He asked if I switched off TouchFlo to see what my experience would be like. At the time of review, I wasn’t aware this was possible. Oh well, my lost.