Research In Motion's new BlackBerry Bold 9700 seems more than familiar, marrying the solid horsepower and good quality that characterized the original Bold 9000 with a form factor increasingly similar to other recent BlackBerry releases. A typically excellent RIM e-mail, contact and calendaring device, the Bold 9700 works in concert with the latest enterprise back-end software to add more features for enterprise users. That said, some of these new features are a little kludgy.
There are two U.S. versions of the Bold 9700. I tested the T-Mobile iteration, with UMTS/HSPA support in the 2,100/1,700/900MHz bands (making this the first 3G BlackBerry for T-Mobile) plus quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM support. T-Mobile's Bold 9700 should be available by Nov. 27 (the day after Thanksgiving) for $199 with a two-year contract.
The other iteration is for AT&T, supporting the 2,100/1,900/850/800MHz bands for UMTS/HSPA with the same quad-band support for legacy protocols. AT&T's version should also be available later this month.
It's somewhat surprising that the new Bold 9700 bears the Bold moniker at all. Whereas the first Bold's size and textured backplate made the device visually and tactilely distinct from other BlackBerrys, the Bold 9700 adopts a look overly similar to recent releases including the Curve 8900 and the Tour.
RIM representatives indicated that last year's Bold 9000 was a little too butch (one went so far as to refer to it as the ManBerry), so the Bold 9700 was made smaller and given some cosmetic changes designed to make the device a little more appealing to women. The Bold 9700 is significantly smaller than last year's Bold 9000, measuring in at 4.29 by 2.36 by 0.56 inches and 4.3 ounces, compared with 4.48 by 2.6 by 0.59 inches and 4.8 ounces for the Bold 9000.
From a design perspective, the Bold 9700 makes it seem like RIM is running out of design ideas.
While the original Bold 9000 was distinct (because of its size, heft, screen quality and the aforementioned backplate), the Bold 9700 feels pretty derivative. Take the Curve 8900 and tone down the shiny chrome a hair; slap the Tour's flat-keyed QWERTY keyboard and bezel design on it; add a textured, leatherette strip on the back; move the side buttons and connectors around a bit; and reduce the profile with a trackpad instead of a BlackBerry's typical trackball; and voila-you've got the Bold 9700.
As uninspired as the look may be, RIM has made modest changes to enhance the overall experience while at the same time taking away a few things.
The optical trackpad, for instance, is much easier on the thumb than the old trackball. Like the trackball, the trackpad can be pressed for the action key, but cursor movement can be performed with the lightest of touches, and users can adjust the sensitivity of the trackpad separately for both vertical and horizontal movement. (You can also add a clicking noise to indicate trackpad movement.) After a brief period of acclimation, I found the trackpad accurate and easy to use.
However, the Bold 9700 doesn't take advantage of code enhancements made to the BlackBerry 5.0 operating system that allow inertial scrolling on the Storm2. Instead of being able to flick downward-or, failing that, to hold down my thumb at the bottom of the trackpad to maintain a downward scroll on a long Web page or document-I had to push and push and push, just like with the trackball.