RIM fans throughout the UK have been eagerly waiting to get their hands on the BlackBerry Bold 9900. As well as featuring some design tweaks, it’s the first smartphone to run Blackberry OS 7, until the Torch 9860 and 9810 land later this year.
What we like
Immediately what strikes you about the Bold 9900 is the 2.8-inch TFT LCD screen. Redesigned icons are sharper, far more colourful and eye-catching than the previous white line icons of the Bold 9780. In addition the screen is much brighter, due to a resolution boost from 480x320 to 640x480 pixels.
Text appears sharper than the Samsung Galaxy S (which is no surprise considering the resolution is 218dpi compared to 287dpi here) and some colours (red in particular) seem bolder than the iPhone 4. Load it with a good-quality movie and playback is smooth with good contrast; in short it's infinitely watchable despite the screen's comparatively small size.
Just 10mm deep the Bold 9900's design exudes class. The stainless steel trim around the edge contrasting with the plastic body, glass front and accented keys. The latter are generously sized making typing a joy even if you have large fingers.
Control the Bold 9900 using a combination of touch-sensitive four-way controller, solid buttons and by tapping the screen. We found we used the touchscreen to select an application and browse the web, and the four-way controller for scrolling through menus.
There are some neat time-saving shortcuts. Tap the top of the screen adjacent to the time to access connectivity options (such as Wi-Fi), while a tap of the notifications bar lets you view unread messages (including App World updates) and calendar entries.
Universal Search continues from OS 6; press the magnifying glass, enter a term and it will instantly scour the phone or perform an Extended Search via YouTube, BlackBerry App World and Google Local Search (among others). Tapping a microphone icon lets you perform a voice activated search which we found to be accurate around 80% of the time.
Powered by a QC 8655 1.2GHz processor, the Bold 9900 feels very fast, whether scrolling between homescreens and up and down web pages. We occasionally found tapping on the the Facebook and Twitter icons didn’t get an immediate reaction and when browsing the page often takes a second or two to load, but it’s not really a problem.
Facebook and Twitter apps are simple to use. A neat feature is the ability to upload directly from the Bold's Photos app within the Facebook app. At the time of going to press the Facebook app is being updated, so we'll update this section as soon as possible.
BlackBerry fans won't be disappointed with email. We like the synchronised Inbox, which displays messages from multiple accounts, although you can choose to display this individually. More useful Compose Other lets you choose to send a Text BBM, IM, Twitter or Facebook message, without having to open individual applications.
With the inclusion of NFC RIM is ensuring the Bold 9900’s connectivity options are future proofed, especially because places that use the technology are few and far between at the moment. Enable it via the Networks and Connections tab and 'N' icon appears on the status bar.
RIM's equipped the Bold 9900 with a 720p HD video camera, which captures fairly smooth footage and is pretty good at dealing with movement from light to dark, although footage is a little soft.
We should mention the Bold 9900’s music player, which is very impressive. Plug in a good pair of headphones (we used the Sennheiser CX281) and you get a good balance of bass and treble, along with 12 EQ options, although some (such as Treble Boost and Treble Lower) are more niche. File support is wide-ranging too, with Flac and Vorbis, alongside MP3, and we even managed to play back WAV files.
The on-board speakerphone produces a powerful sound and you also get the option to activate the handset speaker, which is far quieter.
What we don’t like
Blackberry OS 7 is not a revolution from OS 6. The interface looks virtually identical, with the five homescreens (All, Frequent, Downloads, Media and Favourites) as before.
Commands that are within a few swipes using other operating systems, take much longer here. For example: moving the position of something on the homescreen involves pressing down, selecting ‘Move’ and tapping in the direction required. Favourite is the only screen you can customise, with shortcuts, contacts and music tracks.
There are other disappointments. There isn’t a dedicated YouTube app, instead it just links you to a mobile optimised web page and BlackBerry Maps isn't as good as Google Maps either.
Social Feeds pulls in your IMs, Twitter and Facebook, along with RSS feeds and Podcasts, letting you view as many or as few as you like. It does what you’d expect, but partially due to the layout, it’s just not as good as HTC Sense. Instead of being able to do things via the app, clicking through to reply just launches the Facebook and Twitter apps. In addition things like uploading extra content aren't as integrated as HTC's version.
Despite the screen bring bright and sharp, white's aren't quite as crisp as we'd like and off-angle viewing is poor, although granted the Bold 9900 isn’t the type of phone you are going to be crowding around to watch a movie.
Flash video isn’t installed out of the box either, restricting online video choice, hopefully this is something that can be rectified in the future.
The BlackBerry App Store has a long way to go before it’s anyway near as good as the Android Market and Apple App Store. Despite having 4000 apps, the selection is North America centric (in particular looking through the GPS options) and expensive. Lots of apps you take for granted on Android and iOS just aren’t here, such as: Angry Birds, What’s App, Ebay, Amazon Kindle and Shazam - although arguably Angry Birds might not fit in with the Bold’s business ethos
RIM has boosted the resolution of the camera from 3 to 5-megapixels, which is more than enough for most people, but the pictures just aren’t very good. While we welcome the dedicated shutter there’s slight lag causing a delay when capturing action shots and without autofocus some shots appear soft. The lack of ISO for controlling the sensitivity means noise even in sunlight, you do get a flash though.
With its faster processor and greatly improved screen the Bold 9900 is the best BlackBerry to date and well worth an upgrade for existing users. It looks and feels premium with a generously sized Qwerty and refreshed interface, while NFC is a bonus.
However it’s not perfect. There’s no Flash, the camera is poor and the OS is still restrictive next to Android and iOS - ultimately isn’t really a revolution from OS 6. Although we need to remember the Bold 9900 is a different type of phone to the Apple iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S2; whereas those handsets offer an all-rounder multimedia experience, this BlackBerry is still aimed at the business user.
We can’t help feeling the Bold 9900 is a bit of a bridge until the first BlackBerry QNX phone arrives (although this could be well into next year), but that doesn’t stop it being a great BlackBerry and a fantastic business handset.