BlackBerry Bold 9700 Review
Since its launch almost two years ago, I’ve considered the BlackBerry Bold to be the ideal smartphone. It was a bit bigger than some other models, but that was part of its charm – and what made it far more useful. The extra size translated into a generously-sized keyboard and a larger display (compared to other BlackBerry devices with keyboards). Combined with the high-quality materials including a leather-like back cover, it was the smartphone equivalent of a precision German sports sedan.
For the past three months I’ve been testing the Bold’s replacement, the next generation BlackBerry Bold 9700. The new Bold shares some characteristics with the original including a leather-like back cover. But the similarities end there.
While the original Bold was only available in the U.S. through AT&T, the new Bold is more widely available and can be purchased from both T-Mobile and AT&T.
The new Bold is noticeably smaller; it’s closer in size to the current Curve and Tour models from RIM. More than once, I inadvertently put a BlackBerry Tour in my pocket and left the office, realizing later that the Bold had been left behind.
The smaller size means it fits in your pocket more comfortably but lacks the original Bold’s supersized screen size (2.44” versus 2.75”). The smaller screen size is noticeable when viewing Web pages but it does not impact e-mail and messaging.
The new Bold uses a touch-sensitive trackpad instead of the pearl-like trackball on the original. The trackpad senses finger movements and acts accordingly. It also adds to the sleek black look of the device and eliminates a moving part that occasionally failed to cooperate and move in the right direction.
I also quickly discovered that the new Bold’s 3.2-megapixel camera makes much better pictures than the original’s 2-megapixel camera. While it’s no substitute for my DSLR, it is a viable alternative to carrying a point-and-shoot camera.
I placed hundreds of calls on AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s U.S. networks in New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as their roaming partners in Munich and Vienna. There were only a few instances of strange noises and they weren’t limited to one particular network. In general, callers reported very good to excellent voice fidelity.
As one would expect from a BlackBerry, the Bold has great messaging capabilities. It comes with the latest BlackBerry Device Software (version 5), which includes enhancements that speed up message creation and calendaring. The browser is faster and supports streaming video, such as on YouTube. Business travelers using BlackBerry Enterprise Server now get the ability to set follow-up reminders, manage e-mail folders, access remote files, forward appointments, and view calendar appointments.
Battery life is greatly improved. The original Bold had 5 hours of talk time and 13 days of standby; the new model offers 6 hours of talk time and 17 days of standby and I suspect RIM’s ratings are conservative. Despite heavy usage, I found myself charging the phone once every two to three days instead of every night.
The Bold paired flawlessly with my BMW’s Bluetooth system and transferred the complete phonebook. The only glitch is that it transfers the names last name first, a glitch BMW says it is working on.
The Bold continues to be the only BlackBerry with a physical keyboard that supports both 3G and Wi-Fi. . Both versions work world wide (with the right roaming plan) for voice and data.
The T-Mobile version supports the placing and receiving of phone calls over Wi-Fi in addition to surfing the Web, useful for places where there is Internet access but poor mobile phone reception. I tested this feature, known as UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) and it worked flawlessly with no discernable difference in call quality.
For the road warrior looking for a versatile smartphone with rock solid messaging capabilities, look no further than the new Bold. I liked the test model I had so much that I ordered my own.
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.