While the BlackBerry Bold 9650 delivers a fine overall experience, Research In Motion's latest smartphone breaks no new ground, delivering a form factor and features already seen time and again. While the Bold 9650 does offer a nice bump in memory that lends hope for future enhancement, the vagaries of carrier upgrade patterns indicate it is probably not a wise time to invest in a new BlackBerry until more details are revealed about the new OS iteration already in the pipeline.
In terms of style and form factor, the Bold 9650 is most analogous to last year's BlackBerry Tour 9630. The Bold 9650 is almost identical to the Tour in size, shape and layout and offers similar world-phone capability, with support for both CDMA/EVDO and GSM/UMTS networks. Over the now scrap-heaped Tour, the Bold 9650 adds an updated operating system revision, an increase in Flash memory, WiFi connectivity and an optical trackpad.
With the Tour making way for a new member of the Bold family, I find myself confused how RIM is positioning the entire family. When the original Bold 9000 launched, RIM marketed the device's screen quality and horsepower, and they delivered a comparatively large (and manly) device. Customers found that BlackBerry too manly, perhaps, so RIM slimmed down the form factor, retreated a tad on a few critical specs and came out with the Bold 9700, hoping to attract a more diverse customer base. Now, with the launch of the Bold 9650, the first thing RIM advertises on the Bold family page is exceptional battery life.
When I think of the BlackBerry Curve portfolio, I think affordable multimedia. For the Storm, I think touch screen. For the Bold, I think leatherette back plate, which remains one of the few remaining unifying traits of the family.
Size-wise, the Bold 9650 rests firmly between the Bold 9000 and Bold 9700. At 4.43 by 2.4 by 0.56 inches and 4.8 ounces, the Bold 9650 is noticeably longer, wider and heavier than the slim Bold 9700 (4.29 by 2.36 by 0.59 inches and 4.3 ounces), and slightly narrower than the Bold 9000 (4.48 by 2.6 by 0.59 inches and 4.8 ounces).
The Bold 9650 is currently available in the United States for the Sprint network, with a Verizon iteration anticipated in the near future. The Sprint version retails for a list price of $450 (or $200 after rebates with a two-year contract).
The Bold 9650 comes with the BlackBerry-standard 802.11b/g radio implementation, leveraging the same software and tools as RIM's other recent WiFi-enabled devices. Given that the Bold product line was once a place for WiFi innovation-the original Bold 9000 was the only BlackBerry I encountered with 5 GHz band support-I was disappointed to find that legacy does not extend to the Bold 9650. Instead of including its first 802.11n radio in the 9650, RIM chose to plant its 802.11n flag with the forthcoming Pearl 3G instead.
Like the Tour, the Bold 9650 is designed to be a world phone. The 9650 supports the 800 and 1900 MHz bands for CDMA and EVDO Rev A for coverage in North America. For international coverage, the 9650 offers quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support in the 850/900/1800/1900 MHz bands and 3G UMTS support in the 2100 MHz band.
The Bold 9650 comes with the same optical trackpad that first appeared on the Bold 9700. While I never used a trackball-enabled BlackBerry long enough for the pointer to start to falter, I understand the trackpad holds up better under extended use. Out of the box, the trackpad is accurate and easy to use, although I still find myself longing for inertial scrolling capabilities that would alleviate the need to push and push and push to navigate a long document or Web page.
RIM did not publish the specifications for the processor used for the Bold 9650, but the unit comes with 512MB of Flash for device memory and application storage, compared to the 256MB delivered with the Bold 9700. Users can add additional storage via the MicroSDHC slot, which supports cards up to 32GB. The device comes with a 2GB card already installed.
The Bold 9650 ships with the same 1400 mAhr battery-the D-X1-used in the Storm, Storm2 and Tour, whereas the Bold 9700 and Bold 9000 shipped with the longer-but-thinner 1500 mAhr M-S1 battery. The Bold 9630 is rated for five hours of EVDO talk time, or 13 days standby time.
I found the battery quite difficult to remove from the Bold 9650, as the top part of the back frame kept me from getting a good grip on it. Thankfully, I found it easy to swap the MicroSD card without removing the battery (I could also remove the SIM with a little more effort), so the snug fit shouldn't hinder users at all day-to-day.
The Bold 9650 has a similar high resolution 480x360 backlit, light sensing, transmissive TFT LCD screen as that of the Tour and the Bold 9700. In a side-by-side comparison, I found the physical screen on the Bold 9700 slightly larger (by no more than 1/16 of an inch) than that of the Bold 9650, but the actual image size is exactly the same size and equally sharp on both.
Like the Tour, most of the Bold 9650's ports and buttons can be found along the right side of the device, including the 3.5 mm headset jack, volume controls, one convenience key and the Micro USB port. Meanwhile, another convenience key and the speaker are located on the left side, with lock and mute controls found along the top edge.
When used around our San Francisco offices, I found the call sound quality on the Bold 9650 to be typically clear through both the speakerphone and the earpiece, although I did experience a few calls with slightly clipped incoming audio. Report callers reported no issues with sound quality.
The Bold 9650 also comes with a 3.2 MP camera with auto-focus, automatic flash and 2x zoom. Like the Bold 9700, the device also provides video recording functionality.