What’s this, BlackBerry has release the new 9720 into the wild, which sports BBOS 7.1 and a design we became accustomed to until everything changed at the end of 2012, but why is it here now? Let’s take a look.
Cookie cutter design
Haven’t we been here before? Apparently not, but it’s difficult not to get a sense of déjà vu when ogling the Blackberry 9720 for the first time. Unlike to Q5, with which it shares a classic BlackBerry hardware keyboard, the 9720 mimics the more premium BlackBerrys of last year, combining hardware keys, optical trackpad and touchscreen as its primary means of interaction.
One of the press material highlights is the inclusion of a dedicated BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) key on the phone’s left side. In truth both this key and the convenience key on the right side are programmable, adding a little flexibility to the hardware layout of the 9720, despite the letters ‘BBM’ embossed into the side of the handset.
Being a low end BlackBerry, it feels pretty cheap, albeit nice and light in the hand, with a plastic body and an unusually patterned, rubberised back plate that offers good grip at the expense of pleasing aesthetics. In essence, form is most definitely following function with this latest offering from BlackBerry.
While the bodywork is nothing to shout about the 2.8-inch display is a rather attractive HVGA panel with a respectable 214ppi and a nice vibrant colour palette at its disposal. It’s size it its biggest weakness, a problem somewhat rectified on the pricier Q5.
Old OS, same problems
With an 800MHz single-core processor and 512MB of RAM, we weren’t expecting anything close to the slick BlackBerry 10 experience we’ve seen thus far in 2013, but the 9720 takes an awkward step backwards.
Running BBOS 7.1 you’re getting the latest pre-BB10 experience, which admittedly comes with a number of handy features for BB fans, such as Social Feeds, Multicast and BBM with BBM Voice functionality playing to the phone’s social strengths, however, navigating and using BBOS 7.1 reminds us why the company put so much effort into developing a new alternative.
The primary UI is a tangle of drawers and icons, with a generous amount of lists and pop-up menus to scroll through too. BlackBerry App World is also dominated by low quality or over-priced apps that do little to expand the capabilities of the 9720. What’s more, having to restart the phone any time you uninstall an app is an unacceptable compromise that is unique to BlackBerrys running BBOS 7.1 and older.
Snappy or sluggish?
Apps launch quickly enough, but UI lag can frequently rear its head, usually as a result of an unresponsive touchscreen, leaving the optical track pad as a less-than-stellar alternative.
The 512MB of storage granted to the 9720 out-the-box also won’t serve you particularly well, with a microSD card (up to 32GB in capacity) being a must, particularly if you want to shoot video, which simply won’t work without one.
The 5-megapixel snapper on the back produces usable shots in natural light, although macro photography is pretty much off the cards. Low light environments breed heavy noise, although the in built LED flash works wonders to fill out a shot. The lowly internals also limit video performance to 480p SD recording with very weak audio recording capabilities.
Wrong phone, wrong time
The 9720 is a basic, traditional BlackBerry; it has strong messaging, email and phone capabilities as you’d expect. The same can also be said for the similarly specced BlackBerry Curve 9360 – a device which came out two years ago. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table beyond touch input and with feature phones like the Nokia 301 now offering email support too, such basic functionality doesn’t cut it in the world of smartphones.
It's not a bad device, but it will confuse consumers, which the company should be bombarding with the benefits of BBOS 10, not the older ecosystem that represents the many troubles the company has been trying to leave behind.
The final sting in the 9720’s tail is the price. At £170 it’s far too pricey for an entry-level BlackBerry, especially when there are far better, cheaper alternatives like the new ZTE Blade V, the Nokia Lumia 620 or if you’re willing to pay up to £60 more the quad-core flagship Nexus 4.