BlackBerry Bold 9700 review
The new BlackBerry Bold 9700 is slimmer and better than its predecessor and has a razor sharp screen to die for.
Verdict: The latest Bold update is a winner.
Price: Free with contract or £380 SIM-free
Pros: Beautifully sharp screen, fine QWERTY keyboard, trackpad, GPS, 3.2-megapixel camera, 3.5mm headphone jack
Cons: Smallish screen, browser could do with an upgrade,
Design: Classic BlackBerry, but slimmer
Operating System: BlackBerry 5.0
More Info: BlackBerry website
The Bold drew a line in the sand for RIM when it launched a year or so ago, indicating that the company synonymous with efficient but dully functional corporate handsets was on the move from boardroom to high street. The second incarnation is more of the same, with a slimmer look, razor-sharp screen, upgraded navigation system and an improved camera.
At 109mm x 60mm x 14mm and 122g the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is noticeably slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, though it's retained the full QWERTY keyboard and four-button layout just above it (call start and end, back, menu). In between these, however, the trackball has been replaced by an optical track pad, which responds to the subtle movement of your thumb. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but fortunately the trackpad works very well, responding to even slightest movement, and you can adjust the sensitivity level if you find it takes a bit of getting used to after the more tactile trackball.
Around the sides are a volume rocker and camera shutter button (both covered by a strip of rubberised plastic à la the BlackBerry Curve 8520, a programmable key that defaults to voice control, a micro USB power/sync slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack, plus touch-sensitive mute and lock keys on top.
The screen is only 2.4in but offers outstanding HVGA 480 x 360 pixel resolution with 65,000 colours. This means it's quite shockingly sharp, despite its limited real estate. Pictures and movies look a treat on the display, which goes some way to belying its relatively small size.
The QWERTY keyboard has the same four-line layout as its predecessor but it's been shrunk by around 6mm in width. BlackBerry has got around the potentially fatal breakdown in usability that titchy keys might entail by making them exceptionally easy to find and use with the thumbs. They have a unique sort of ridging towards the edges which makes distinguishing the individual keys surprisingly easy and the amount of give required is just enough to register, but not enough to slow you down when you're typing at speed.
The latest BlackBerry 5.0 operating system is on board and RIM has apparently been working hard to ensure that it's fast and efficient in operation. Whatever they've done, it seems to have worked, since we were always able to nip between functions in a twinkling, and there was no noticeable delay even when we were running several apps at once and watching full-length films.
BlackBerry's push email service is still state of the art, and doesn't appear to put as much strain on the battery as you might expect from an always-on service. It's now augmented by onboard apps for Facebook and Twitter which allow you to send and receive messages from your favourite social networking services. This helps the Bold 9700 to keep up with the latest trend in mobiles, though it might have been better if they'd been more closely integrated into the BlackBerry messaging system.
The BlackBerry browser is pretty good and quick too with a broadband connection accessed through WiFi or even HSDPA 3G, though we'd have preferred a more nuanced zoom control (you can make it just one step bigger or smaller by pressing the trackpad and back buttons, otherwise you need to go into the menu). Web pages look beautifully sharp, but we'd have liked to see support for Flash video and the ability to open several web pages at once, and okay, web browsing always looks better with a bigger screen, but those niggles aside, it's a fine browser.
The 3.2-megapixel camera is a step up from the original Bold's two-megapixel affair and offers an LED flash and autofocus too. It starts up admirably quickly in just two seconds, which makes it ideal for quick snaps, though the autofocus will generally slow you down by another three or four seconds.
Maximum picture resolution is 2048 x 1536 and quality is generally very good, considering the relatively low pixel count – so long as you've got good light, it's fairly easy to get decently sharp images with fairly accurate colour balance. There are also quick options to send your images via not just email or MMS but also to Facebook or Twitter.
Movies on the Bold 9700 look just about as good as they could on a smaller screen like this. The high resolution means images are pin-sharp, but the fact that the screen is so small simply makes it too taxing to watch for any length of time.
Playing music is better with BlackBerry's usual good-looking and practical interface and surprisingly good sound quality through the supplied headphones, though the 3.5mm headphone jack and stereo Bluetooth on board make it easy to upgrade the headphones if you feel the need. It can handle MPEG4, H.263, H.264 and WMV3 video files, MP3, WMA9/10, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ for audio and while there's a not very impressive 256MB of memory on board, it comes with a 2GB microSD memory card as standard under the back cover.
Battery life was reasonably good with the Bold 9700, allowing us a good day and a half of fairly heavy use, including always-on WiFi and push email. For a high-specced handset like this that compares fairly well with most of its rivals
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is a terrific little messenger with a top-flight email service and an excellent QWERTY keyboard, but it also offers some very decent multimedia capabilities with a fine browser and music player.