Research In Motion's newest GSM/UMTS smartphone, the BlackBerry Bold 9700, a slimmed-down update of the original Bold, will be headed to carriers around the world in November, RIM announced Oct. 21. In the United States, it will be offered by T-Mobile and AT&T.
The Bold 9700 weighs just 4.27 ounces, down from its predecessor's 4.8 ounces, and measures 4.29 by 2.36 by 0.56 inches, versus 4.48 by 2.60 by 0.59 inches. The track ball has been replaced with a faster-navigating trackpad, there's a zippy 624MHz processor and its looks have been refined with a dark chrome frame, soft-touch sides and a back panel covered in what RIM calls "leatherette," to boost its in-hand appeal. Literally, it's a feel-good device.
The smartphone supports 3G HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) networks around the world and offers built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g-a change from the original Bold, which supports 802.11a as well, in addition to dual-band 900/1800Mhz GSM/GPRS networks.
AT&T seems particularly excited to be offering the 9700. "AT&T was the first choice for BlackBerry in the United States and we remain the best," said Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices AT&T. "When you combine the BlackBerry Bold 9700 with the nation's fastest 3G network, access to the nation's largest Wi-Fi network and best coverage worldwide, it adds up to an unparalleled customer experience. We are proud AT&T is ranked No. 1 in customer satisfaction among smartphone owners."
Avi Greengart, an analyst with Currently Analysis, indicated that he views the excitement as warranted. "The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 ... is quite simply the best BlackBerry RIM has ever built. While the Bold will not dissuade anyone from buying an iPhone or Android device if they are looking for a touch-screen smartphone, it should keep the BlackBerry faithful very happy," Greengart wrote to eWEEK, offering a preview of a report he'll be releasing on the topic.
"The original Bold combined three things that had never been on a BlackBerry up to that point-HSDPA, Wi-Fi and GPS-along with a much higher-resolution screen, faster processor, higher-resolution camera and improved aesthetics," Greengart continued. "The Bold 9700 adds 1,700MHz HSDPA to a mix that already included 850/1900 (for AT&T's 3G network) and 2100 (for most international markets); that means that this is the first 3G BlackBerry for T-Mobile USA, and it allows RIM to sell a single SKU around the world."
There's a desktop manager for both Macs and PCs, a media player for videos, pictures and music, support for BlackBerry Internet Service and Enterprise Server, and of course access to BlackBerry's App World-a mobile application store that RIM, like Google with its Android Market and Palm with its App Catalogue, is hurrying to fill with more and more offerings. (To that end, on Oct. 6 RIM announced a new BlackBerry Widget SDK, or software development kit.)
Still additional features include a 3.2-megapixel camera; A-GPS, which in addition to providing directions can be used to geotag photos with location information; a 3.5-millimeter stereo headset jack; and a MicroSD and SDHD memory card slot.
While its slim proportions and trackpad are the biggest changes to the Bold 9700, the biggest drawback, wrote Greengart, is the lack of storage: "The Bold 9700 has 256MB of system memory, and T-Mobile is throwing in a 2GB MicroSD card, which is not nearly enough for extensive media storage. At the $199 price point, consumers have been conditioned to expect at least 8GB of storage (and Apple is offering twice that on the $199 iPhone 3GS)."
Despite his overall high praise, Greengart also said he finds the Bold 9700, like all BlackBerry devices in his opinion, to come up short on Web browsing, finding that even with BlackBerry OS 5.0 the browsing experience isn't as strong as with Opera Software's Opera browser. "The iPhone set the standard back in 2007, and RIM has yet to match it," he wrote to eWEEK.
Both T-Mobile and AT&T will offer the Bold 9700 for $199.99 with a service contract and a $100 mail-in rebate.