Research In Motion's (RIM) hotly anticipated successor to the Bold 9780 is finally here. Packing some of the latest tech in mobile and a brand new OS, this promises to be the best and boldest BlackBerry yet. But with the iPhone and Android dominating the scene, does it warrant your hard-earned handset buck? uSwitch Tech’s in-depth review reveals all.
There’s something deeply endearing about BlackBerrys that makes them aesthetically pleasing to millions, despite their relatively bulky dimensions compared to the likes of the iPhone and countless Android phones. This is no different in the case of the Bold 9900, which is an impressive bit of kit from the first glance and feels just as good in the hand.
With sleek curves and a silver and black colour combo, it’s hard not to appreciate the 9900’s executive, masculine appeal. In the brief time I’ve carried the device around, few handsets have drawn as many admiring glances as this baby.
To all intents and purposes, the Bold 9900 is arguably the most stylish phone RIM has created yet.
Billed as the thinnest BlackBerry yet, the Bold 9900 measures a respectable 10.5mm in depth and weighs in at 130g - that’s just light enough to carry around in a suit or jeans pocket without compromising the brawny look and feel the Bold range is typically known for.
Taking its design cues from the Bold 9700, the Bold 9900 features a very similar front-facing QWERTY keyboard with all-white characters that give it a much slicker appearance and an optical trackpad that’s become a hallmark of BlackBerry handsets.
A steel band very similar to the iPhone 4 braces the entire edge of the phone. This is a welcome addition as it makes the device feel a lot easier to grip than the silver plastic bezels of its predecessors.
Although not much can be done to keep fingerprints away from the beautiful, glossy screen other than to give it a careful wipe every now and then, the clever textured design of the battery cover does a great job at hiding even the most unsightly smudges.
The 9900 is packed to the brim with features. But perhaps the most standout of the lot is that for the first time in Bold’s history it rocks a capacitive touchscreen. Despite its relatively small real estate at 2.8-inches, it's remarkably responsive to touch and an excellent substitute for the trackpad for navigating menus and browsing the web.
This feeling of real snap is augmented by the equally nippy 1.2GHz processor, which launches applications near-instantly and kept several running simultaneously without so much as a hitch.
Alas, the five-megapixel camera with LED flash is not as sharp as we’d have liked for a snapper of this resolution. However, it's decent nonetheless for the amateur photographer and is actually much better at recording videos at 720p HD with crisp playback results on the vibrant display.
Taking care of your storage needs is 8GB of internal memory, which is expandable by a further 32GB via the microSD slot.
And that’s not the end of it. RIM has also added in Near Field Communications (NFC) support in the 9900, which, if as we hope takes off as a standard, will allow the handset to be used wherever you go for making instant, contactless payments for low-ticket items.
Hardware enhancements aside, perhaps the biggest highlight of the 9900 is its software: the latest, version 7 of the BlackBerry operating system.
This has been retooled from scratch with a new and improved UI that works brilliantly with the touchscreen and takes care of many of the nagging absences of BB6, such as the ability to manage panels, add to existing contacts and so on.
BlackBerry ID is now baked right into the software, meaning you no longer have to re-enter your deets each time for third-party apps. The new universal voice search allows you to simply speak and receive and, finally, you can add custom search engines, which makes life a whole lot easier.
Browsing is up to 40 per cent faster than BB6. We put the browser through its paces in Acid3, a test designed to check for compliance with established web standards and it emerged triumphant with a perfect 100 out of 100 score.
Although there’s no Flash Player support, the browser is compatible with HTML5 video, so you can still access all the major video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.
Of course, no BlackBerry review would be complete without mentioning its always-impressive messaging and emailing capabilities. This has not changed with the Bold 9900, which comes with latest BlackBerry Messenger and email client for secure and instant e-missives all-round.
Sadly there aren’t a lot of great things to be said for the BlackBerry App World, which pales in comparison to the Android Market and Apple’s App Store. In most cases you’re likely to find an app for essential needs, but the lack of a Spotify app, to name just one glaring omission, pains us greatly.
BlackBerrys have been lagging behind the likes of iPhone and Android for some time now and while BlackBerry 7 is a considerable improvement over its predecessor, there’s still much left to be desired from the platform from a user experience point of view.
That said, we can’t help but be impressed by how great the Bold 9900 itself is. It looks great and it feels great, too. The addition of a touchscreen brings fresh life back into the Bold line and it is positively a joy to use for browsing the web and navigating menus.
The keyboard, as is the always case with BlackBerrys, is incredibly comfortable for tapping out long emails and documents. Sure, there is room for improvement. A dedicated button for frequently used punctuations would have been nice, for example. But it’s not something you can’t quickly get accustomed to.
The extra processing power combined with the performance tweaks of BB7 also means everything just runs faster. And we really mean fast. Most apps launch within a second and can be switched easily by long-pressing the BB button.
If you’re looking for a device mainly for its entertainment capabilities, you’re better off getting an iPhone or Android. But if you need a business and messaging focussed smartphone to stay on top of your agenda and in touch with important contacts, you’re looking at it.