RIM's BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone is great for email addicts

RIM's BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone is great for email addicts

With every smartphone manufacturer under the sun scrambling to produce touchscreen devices, it's almost shocking to see a smartphone arrive without one.

What most BlackBerry devotees demand, however, is seamless email integration and a decent hardware keyboard, and in the Bold 9700 that's exactly what RIM has delivered.

In line with previous Bold and Curve handsets, the 9700 boasts a hardware Qwerty keyboard that stretches the full width of the 60.5mm-wide chassis and curves gently along its length.

As with the original Bold, the keys are all subtly shaped, sloping up to a point, which makes them easier to type on. And the rows of keys still have those attractive silver "frets" between them to space them out a little.

The major changes RIM has made to the Bold are to its size and the navigation control. The first is a potential stumbling block, for where the original measured a broad 66mm, the 9700 is half a centimetre narrower.

On the plus side, this makes the phone feel much more pocketable than its porky forebear, and it looks nicer too: there's lots of chrome trim to complement the smart black plastic, and the leatherette on the rear is a more subtle touch than on the first Bold.

Amazingly, in the slimming down process, the keyboard hasn't lost too much. The keys still feel solid and responsive, and we were able to get up a decent turn of speed too.

It's very good for its size and far better than the keyboards on Nokia's E71 or E75, but there's no getting past those narrower dimensions. We were never quite as comfortable typing on it as we were with the original Bold.

We have no such reservation with the next big change - RIM's replacement of the Bold's clickable trackball with a touch-sensitive thumbpad. This sounds as if it could be fiddly, but in practice we found it much easier to use.

Sweeping a digit across its surface to control the cursor feels absolutely natural and, since it has a flat surface, it's a lot easier to click than the old trackball. The BlackBerry browser may still not be up to the quality of Android's or Mobile Safari, but this seemingly insignificant introduction means it's a good deal easier to control than before.

The new touchpad makes a big difference to the overall feel of the Bold 9700, but it isn't the only contributing factor. The phone's incredibly fast performance has just as big an impact.

Nipping around from application to application, email to instant messenger, and web browser to contact list instigates barely a pause. Even firing up the camera takes only a second or two.

And that camera is half decent - it will never match a proper digital compact, but with autofocus, an LED light, image stabilisation and a 3.2-megapixel resolution, it's perfectly good for snaps.

The screen is good for viewing them, too. Measuring 2.44in across, it may be 0.16in smaller than its predecessor's but it boasts more pixels.

The resolution of 480 x 360 is high enough to read text at tiny point sizes and it's just as bright as that on the original Bold. An ambient light sensor makes sure it doesn't suck up too much power from the 1500mAh lithium-ion battery when it isn't needed.

Elsewhere, a proximity sensor, GPS with A-GPS support, HSDPA, Wi-Fi and a 3.5mm headphone socket complete an impressive feature set. The only thing missing is a digital compass, which increasing numbers of phones seem to be sporting these days.

Despite the all-singing, all-dancing nature of the phone, we were pleased with its battery life. While a day of intensive browsing, calling and media playback will kill many a modern handset stone-dead, the Bold just keeps on running. We found it lasted longer than the HTC Touch2 with 70% capacity left after a day of tough tests.

That's on a par with the best smartphones around, and the most impressive bit is that this is with push email turned on - you can't switch it off on a BlackBerry. We test other handsets with push turned off, since it tends to drain the battery rather quickly.

The main area of contention, apart from the browser, is BlackBerry App World's range of apps.It isn't as good as the iPhone's repertoire, nor Android's burgeoning library of widgets and tools, most of which are free.

But the Bold counters this with email collation and delivery that other smartphones can't match, and the fact that Gmail contacts synchronisation has recently been added to BlackBerry Internet Server (BIS) should increase its consumer appeal.

Add good battery life, a lovely screen, excellent build quality and a no-stone-unturned feature set, and you have one excellent smartphone. Better still, over 18 months you'll pay considerably less for one of these than you will for an iPhone 3GS. Not everyone will be swayed by its non-touchscreen display, but the Bold 9700 certainly has us convinced.

RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700
5 6
Beautifully built, with a good keyboard; an excellent smartphone for intensive emailers
Features & Design
Value for money
This review appeared in the March, 2010 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

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