Earlier this month, Research In Motion (RIM) began shipping a new generation of BlackBerry smartphones in the US running the brand new BlackBerry 7 mobile OS. The most anticipated of these new BlackBerry smartphones, the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, is currently available in the United States through Verizon Wireless (9930), Sprint (9930) and T-Mobile (9900). And AT&T said it too will release the Bold 9900, though it hasn't specified exactly when.
I'll come right out and say it: I love the new BlackBerry Bold. I've used many smartphones in my day--in fact, I have access to just about any device I could want. But when it comes right down to it, I'd pick the new Bold over 99 percent of them without even a second thought. (Yeah, I'm talkin' about you, iPhone.)
I know that's a "bold" statement--poor pun shamelessly intended. But it's true. Chances are, you've already read a few Bold 9900/9930 reviews, since the device was officially released a couple of weeks ago. For this review, however, I spent a great deal of time with the device putting it through some rigorous/heavy testing. And my evaluation is aimed strictly at the tech-savvy, business user, or the BlackBerry "power user," if you will.
Here are the details on why I feel so strongly about this device, as well as a few reasons the BlackBerry Bold still isn't as functional as it could be.
First up, the good stuff.
Why I Love the BlackBerry Bold 9930 Hardware--and You Will Too
The best thing about the new BlackBerry Bold 9930 is its form factor. It's simply fantastic. The new Bold is the first "candy bar" style BlackBerry with both a traditional, "physical" QWERTY keyboard and touch screen. The device also features the common BlackBerry Send/End calling keys, Menu and Return/Escape buttons and the BlackBerry trackpad for additional modes of navigation. All of these elements work seamlessly together to provide a wonderful navigation experience.
The keyboard on the new Bold 9930 is without question the best keyboard RIM has ever shipped on a handheld. And it's the best smartphone keyboard I've ever used. If messaging and typing are of the essence to you--and I know they are for many business users--you'll want to consider the Bold 9930 for the keyboard alone.
I was a bit skeptical of the new Bold's combined trackpad/touch screen navigation, but have discovered that it works very well. I find myself mostly using the touch screen for scrolling through message lists, selecting and deleting e-mail, zooming in and out in the browser and for other general navigation. If I want a bit more precision to, say, click on a link within some tiny text on a webpage, I can simply jump over to the trackpad, which activates a cursor for a bit more control than just clicking with the larger surface of a thumb or forefinger.
I easily and quickly got used to the touchscreen/trackpad navigation combination. After just a week or so, I was hopping back and forth between screen and trackpad, where appropriate, without even thinking about it--a good indicator of a well-designed UI experience.
The Bold 9930 is RIM's thinnest BlackBerry ever, and it fits unobtrusively into a pants or shirt pocket. A brushed, real stainless-steel bezel adds both style and durability. The glassy-epoxy battery cover not only looks cool, it's functional as well, since it contains a key component that enables the Bold's Near Field Communications (NFC) support. (I do have a few complaints about the battery cover and NFC, but I'll elaborate in the following section.) And I'd be remiss to not mention the cool, new backlit trackpad, which, along with the backlit keyboard, makes the device easier to use in dark environments.
Anyone who is familiar with the BlackBerry devices of the past few years should immediately see similarities between the new Bold 9930 and RIM's original "Bold" smartphone, the BlackBerry 9000. And that's for good reason. RIM basically took the best design elements of the Bold 9000 and combined them with a touch screen, trackpad, faster processor, a much thinner profile and a vastly improved software experience, to make the Bold 99xx.
About that processor: The Bold 9930 packs a 1.2GHz, single-core Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, which is significantly more powerful than the 624MHz processors found in the last generation of BlackBerrys. The processor, along with some software enhancements in BlackBerry 7, does speed up the overall UI and navigation experience, but I'm still not thrilled with this processor. (More on why in the next section.)
The new Bold packs more internal storage and RAM than any other BlackBerry, except the brand new Torch devices, with 8GB of built-in storage, expandable up to 40GB via microSD memory cards. It also features 768MB of RAM.
The Bold 9930 packs a pile of different wireless radios, which is definitely a boon for enterprise users. The unit I tested runs on Verizon's 3G CDMA network in the United States (dual-band 800/1900 MHz CDMA/EVDO Rev A), and in my experience, Verizon's network is one of if not the most reliable cellular networks where I live and in the areas in which I travel most frequently.
The Bold 9930 is also a "world phone," meaning it not only supports Verizon CDMA bands, but GSM/UMTS/HSPA bands so it can hop onto other networks, inside and outside of the United States, if necessary--of course, you'll need a SIM card and an active account with another carrier to use its network. (More specifically, the Bold 9930 supports dual-band 2100/900 MHz UMTS/HSPA, with maximum upload speeds of 5.76 Mbps and max downloads speeds of 14.4 Mbps; along with quad-band GSM/EDGE support for the 850/900/1800/1900 MHz frequencies.)
Combined with stereo Bluetooth 2.1, and Wi-Fi support (Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n [2.4 GHz]; and dual-band 802.11 a/n [5GHz]), that's an impressive array of radios. And business users who are constantly jumping from Wi-Fi network to Wi-Fi network, and continent to continent, will surely appreciate them all.
The device has standard headset- and micro-USB-ports, which means you don't need any sort of proprietary headphones or charging cords, and I certainly appreciate that.
The Verizon and Sprint versions of the Bold 9930 cost $249.99 along with new, two-year service agreements. And though that may sound a bit pricey for a BlackBerry, it's actually reasonable when you consider the quality of hardware you're getting--and when compared it to the $300 after rebate that T-Mobile is asking for its 9900. The new Bold also comes with a holster, which costs $39.99 on RIM's ShopBlackBerry.com. I'm not really a holster guy, but I know that many business users are. And you really do need some kind of case for the 9930. (More on why coming up shortly.)
Now, onto the new software.