RIM's new BlackBerry Bold offers top-of-line hardware wrapped around a BlackBerry 7 OS with a familiar experience.
Research In Motion finds itself in something of an
unenviable quandary these days. The company that helped pioneer the whole
concept of a smartphone, and which retains an audience of loyal users within
businesses worldwide, is under marketplace assault from a legion of determined
competitors: not only Apple's iPhone, which is rapidly working its way into
corporate life, but also a rising tide of increasingly sophisticated Google
The wild card in this particular poker game is Windows
Phone, which can draw from the combined resources of both Microsoft and Nokia,
and has the potential to make a substantive enterprise play of its own.
Faced with those issues, RIM has chosen to embrace a
strategy of leapfrog. Over the past few months, company executives have started
to talk up a series of QNX-based "superphones" that will supposedly barrel
their way onto the market a few quarters down the road, complete with hardware
and software capable of taking the most powerful rivals head-on. This great
leap forward, they say, will realign RIM as the smartphone manufacturer to
In the interim, as a sort of stopgap measure, RIM is pushing
a new line of BlackBerry devices running its new BlackBerry 7 OS. These include
the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 with a sliding
keyboard, and the touch-screen-only BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860. Sprint recently
gave eWEEK a BlackBerry Bold 9930 unit.
If you're a RIM fan who's in the market for a BlackBerry
with a physical QWERTY keyboard, and don't really care if the smartphone's
operating system is a radical departure from your old BlackBerry, then the Bold
9900/9930 could be your huckleberry.
RIM claims the new Bold is its thinnest smartphone ever, and
at 0.41 inches deep it certainly does present a slim profile. It feels
comfortable in the hand, substantial yet not heavy (it weighs 4.59 ounces).
Moreover, the body is well-built: there's nary a wiggling keyboard or back
panel threatening to pop loose, unlike some of the supposedly high-priced
Android smartphones on the market. You can argue whether the exposed metal rim
along the outside of the Bold is a design cue borrowed from the iPhone 4, but
you can't deny that RIM put a lot of thought and care into the look of this
Between the trackpad and the keyboard, the 2.8-inch screen's
touch capacity feels almost superfluous. That being said, RIM has taken drastic
steps to improve its touch experience, making it responsive and accurate. The
screen's VGA 640 x 480 resolution is adequate for playing video and
Web-cruising, although its relatively small size means that, if you're
purchasing a smartphone solely as a multimedia device, you might want to cast
your eye elsewhere.
That's not to say the new Bold is without its perks in the
audio-visual department. The five-megapixel camera is well-suited for the
casual shutterbug, and the camcorder function captures HD video at 720p.
Available scene modes for the still camera include Portrait, Sports and
Landscape; those who take photos of documents for work and/or corporate
espionage will be delighted in the option to better capture lettering on white
The keyboard has always been a RIM strong point, and the
latest Bold carries on that tradition. The keys are raised in such a way that,
despite their small size, error-free typing is a easy feat. The keyboard's
backlighting is useful in those dim situations, like when a hurricane comes
ripping through New York and deprives your apartment of precious electricity.
As previously mentioned, RIM's BlackBerry 7 OS isn't a
radical departure from the company's previous operating-system versions. It
comes with preinstalled applications such as the enhanced BlackBerry Messenger
6, and offers access to the BlackBerry App World-which, while not nearly as
large as Apple's App Store or Google's Android Marketplace, still has 5,240
apps and 331 games on offer.
According to RIM, BlackBerry 7 OS includes a faster browser
and speedier navigation, and for the most part this seemed true. The
application folders are a nice touch, and the interface offers the usual
staples: YouTube, maps, and the like. On a more foundational level, though, the
screen feels a bit small to accommodate this burgeoning collection of apps and
functions; the interface sidesteps this issue a bit with its sliding app tray
along the bottom.
Calling was flawless, with crystal-clear reception. Although
BlackBerry devices don't have the iPhone or Android's reputation as a
multimedia device, the Bold's music player is loud and clear.
The integrated voice search accurately guessed my queries,
which included "Pizza," "Chinese food," "Time Warner Center," "grocery store,"
and "Seventh Avenue Subway Stop." However, you have to physically tap the
little microphone icon to activate voice search, then tap an app (Bing,
YouTube, Facebook, Google Local Search), which sort of prevent this function
from being truly hands-free.
As with previous BlackBerry generations, the Bold offers
battery life superior to many other smartphones on the market. On paper, the
9930 boast up to 6.3 hours GSM talk time (as does the GSM-only 9900) and 6.6
hours CDMA talk time. In practice, I found the Bold went for nearly two days of
moderate use before it needed recharging.
Overall, the new Bold offers the quintessential "BlackBerry"
experience. Those who like RIM's smartphones will probably be happy with this
one, particularly the hardware. But if this doesn't draw in those users who've
already embraced the iPhone or Android, RIM will have to hope its QNX
"superphones" actually change the game.
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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.