When I first got my hands on an early demo unit of Research In Motion's BlackBerry 9000 smartphone-also known as the Bold-for a few minutes back in May, my immediate reaction was that I had an award winner in my hands. With its impressively vibrant screen, excellent sound quality for music and videos, new 3G data connectivity, and BlackBerry's ongoing mastery of mobile e-mail capabilities, it seemed a foregone conclusion that RIM and the Bold would find great success-whenever they got around to releasing it.
However, in the intervening five months between that time and the Bold's November release, while the Bold underwent extensive and seemingly interminable testing on AT&T's 3G network, the smartphone market saw a series of dramatic shifts that undercut much of the Bold's appeal.
The second-generation iPhone from Apple brought with it a new application marketplace that redefined expectations of what people could do with a cell phone, and T-Mobile and Google reaffirmed this movement with the Android-based T1 with Google device and the accompanying Android Market. In addition, rival Nokia released several phones with loads of features for business users and consumers alike, and even Microsoft's Windows Mobile delivered a few attractive and interesting devices, such as Sony's Xperia and the HTC Touch Pro.
None of this is to say that the Bold is a bad device. While the Bold definitely has a handful of problems that can be pretty irritating, when I used the device during my month of testing, I mostly felt underwhelmed-the device doesn't deliver up to its full promise. Unfortunately, this feeling probably won't change until RIM's forthcoming BlackBerry application market goes online sometime next year.
The Bold seems underwhelming because the device should be capable of so much more. The Bold is powerful for a smartphone, featuring a 624MHz processor, 1GB of on-board storage and 128MB of flash ROM. Via the MicroSD slot, the device can be further expanded with up to 32GB of removable storage.
All that storage will be handy to take advantage of the device's rich multimedia capabilities. First of all, the screen is stunning, albeit a tad small by today's standards. With its 480-by-320-pixel resolution, the 2.75-inch, backlit TFT screen crisply delivers smooth, good-looking video from H.264, and some DIVX and XVID encoded media files.
The Bold's sound capabilities match the video, as the device produces excellent audio using either the twin, built-in speakers or a headset. Thankfully, the Bold-with a headset jack that is a separate 3.5mm connector-bucks the trend of integrating the headset jack with the Mini USB connector that I've seen a lot lately (like with the Palm Treo Pro or the G1 with Google). The Bold also supports Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP for stereo sound.