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.
Fast Application Start and Switch Times
Under the covers, the Bold 9700 features the same 624MHz processor as its predecessor, but doubles the included flash memory to 256MB, making for fast application start and switch times. (During my tests, the only noticeable lag happened when using the camera, for some reason.)
Unfortunately, there is not a similar bump in on-board storage-the Bold 9700 has none, whereas the Bold 9000 came with 1GB (and the Storm2 comes with 2GB). While the MicroSDHC slot supports cards up to 32GB in size, the Bold 9700 comes only with a 2GB card inside.
Due to its smaller form factor, the Bold 9700 has a smaller screen than its predecessor (2.44 inches, compared with the Bold 9000’s 2.75-inch screen). However, RIM has upped the screen resolution on the Bold 9700 to 480 by 360 pixels, delivering clean text and excellent quality for still pictures and video. Due to the small screen size, however, the screen’s quality can be somewhat compromised when viewing letterboxed content, as the picture can be very small.
The Bold 9700 comes with a 1,500mAhr battery, a bump up from the 1,400mAhr battery in the Storm2, Tour and Curve 8900 devices (and matching that in the Bold 9000). The Bold 9700 is rated for 6 hours talk time or 17 days standby in 3G mode, compared with 4.5 hours talk time and 13.5 days standby for the Bold 9000.
The Bold 9700 comes with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, delivering the same excellent wireless security features, performance and troubleshooting tools I’ve come to expect from Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerrys during the last two years. The Bold 9700 lacks the 802.11a support that differentiated the Bold 9000, although most users probably won’t miss the support for 5GHz.
Included with the Bold 9700 is the Standard Edition of DocumentsToGo, allowing users to read or edit existing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. However, users must upgrade to the Premium edition to create new documents on the device. Users can also select a different document editing application from BlackBerry AppWorld, which is not included by default on the T-Mobile iteration and must be downloaded and installed separately.
The Bold 9700 is the second device I’ve tested running the new BlackBerry 5.0 OS (following my October review of the Storm2). Like the Storm2, the Bold 9700 integrates with BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 to provide enterprise users with features on top of the already rock-solid e-mail and calendaring capabilities for which BlackBerry is known.
As with the Storm2, with the BlackBerry 9700 and BES 5.0 I was able to view a list of attachments to calendar entries and to preview the files. I also verified that I could manipulate my Exchange Inbox folders. I could create, delete, move or rename folders in my e-mail, with those changes reflected quickly in Outlook or Outlook Web Access.
I could also remotely access Windows file shares using the Bold 9700 with BES 5.0. BlackBerry 5.0 comes with a Files application preloaded on the device, which consumers can use to search for locally stored files. When activated to a BES 5.0 installation, I was also able to input the server and share name on a protected Windows Domain, and log in with my domain credentials to access those Windows shares to which I had permission.
The available files and folders within a share appear as a navigable list. From this list, items can be selected and perused. There is also a search tool at the top of the screen; during tests, search would occur in the open folder but not in any down-level folders. With a document selected on-screen, I could choose to view the contents or copy the file locally.
By default, BES 5.0 is set to limit downloads from Windows shares to 1MB per connection, but mobile administrators can increase that limit if need be by editing the MDS Connection settings using the BlackBerry Administration Service.
I was a little disappointed that RIM doesn’t offer a policy-based way to publish available shares to users, however. As a user, I was required to enter the UNC (Universal Naming Convention) into Files the first time, but on subsequent attempts, accessed shares would appear in the Network History.
Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.