BlackBerry Bold 9900 in-depth review -

Look and feel

The slimmest BlackBerry at 10.5mm, the Bold Touch 9900 maintains its elegant build quality and super comfortable QWERTY keyboard. The 2.8-inch touch-screen makes navigating the new BlackBerry 7 OS natural and intuitive

Ease of use

The five panels make organising apps really easy, while the touch-screen/keyboard combination works fluidly

Features

The Bold Touch packs a 1.2GHz chip with a newly high-res, liquid graphics screen, a sped-up full HTML browser, the trademark BlackBerry email, excellent Facebook integration and – uniquely – an NFC chip for contactless payments (when the technology goes mainstream)

Performance

The browser is one of the highlights of the Bold Touch, clocking up load speeds faster than phones on other OSes in our tests. The preloaded Facebook app offers desktop-like use, and BlackBerry Messenger now integrates with other downloaded apps. The universal inbox collates events, Facebook messages, emails and texts for the ultimate organiser

Battery life

Trademark BlackBerry style with well over a day of Wi-Fi, GPS and HSDPA use

 BlackBerry Bold 9900 Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/24/2011 4:18:26 PM

10

out of 10

Performance

8

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

8

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Fastest browser of any smartphone OS, excellent integration of touch-screen and QWERTY keyboard, universal inbox, phenomenal ease of use

Cons:

App World still puny compared to Android and iOS, average camera

After a year of radio silence, RIM has come back with a new OS and three flagship handsets that it must hope will take on the Androids and iPhones of this world. The BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 is the first to launch - and RIM's if-it-ain't-broke-why-fix-it design philosophy is alive and well in this apparent doppelganger of predecessors the Bold 9780 and 9700. But with a touch-screen dragging its tried-and-tested QWERTY candybar form into these modern times, there's a fair bit more than meets the eye.

Design

RIM's most popular handset has evolved with the times to be sleeker and more streamlined - in fact, at 10.5mm thick, this is the slimmest BlackBerry ever.

 

It's no iPhone 4 (9.3mm) or Galaxy S II (8.5mm) - but it does feel slinky and easy in the hand, all while maintaining the same comfortable, full QWERTY keyboard. The build is sturdy but elegant; this is a phone you wouldn't want to drop, but could. The meaty upgrade here is the 2.8-inch touch-screen, up from the 2.44-inch standard display of the Bold 9780.

 

A capacitive screen that beats the alternatives RIM has toyed with in the past, it's responsive and a great interface for the new BlackBerry 7 OS.

 

Under the hood it's packing a 1.2GHz processor, 768MB of RAM, five-megapixel camera with 720p HD video and a Liquid Graphics screen. The leatherette back that was reminiscent of power brokers in cigar lounges has given way to a shiny plastic cover that houses an NFC chip. Yes, contactless payments and other wireless activities will be possible with the 9900 - when the infrastructure springs up - which makes it one of the most future-friendly phones.

 

BlackBerry phones have always excelled at the basic functions a busy professional might ask of their phone - and now that smartphones are the hot new consumer gadget, these functions are equally necessary to the average punter. We love the notifications bar across the top of the screen that shows calendar events from Facebook and synched email accounts, Facebook messages, emails and texts. Tap on this bar and you'll be taken to a universal inbox housing all these notifications. It's incredibly efficient, and the grouping of these core events is unique compared to  notifications features found elsewhere. Making a call, typing a message, and searching the web are all intuitively designed features.

 

Unfortunately, BlackBerry App World is way behind the Android Market and Apple App Store - not only is it clocking in at around 15,000 compared to 400,000+, it lacks many of the fun, sillier apps and games.

 

BlackBerry 7 OS

With its new OS, BlackBerry is leaving the non-touch world behind. Rather than the Menu button being the centre of all activity, you can now hold down on most icons for a pop-up options menu, as you can on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 devices.

But BlackBerry 7 looks very much like BlackBerry 6, with five panels organising the apps on the phone in different ways - Favourites, All, Media, Downloaded and the automatically populated Frequent.

 

It's actually a really useful way of divvying up the phone's contents, and touch-screen navigation along with a bigger display means this is a far slicker effort than the similar-looking interface of the Bold 9780.

 

You can move icons around though, but it's a slightly unintuitive process that harks back to olden 'Berry: you hold down on an icon, select 'move' from the menu that pops up, then slide it around the panel using the trackpad instead of the touch-screen.

 

One major new feature is the comprehensive new Facebook app, which now syncs friends' profile pictures with your contacts book - a small but cosmetically important tweak that brings the 'Berry closer to its smartphone peers. The full lineup of features you'd get on desktop is all here. Friend requests, new messages and notifications display in the top right corner with the main news feed taking up most of the screen. Pressing the Menu button on a particular post brings up a slew of options to interact with it, or the person who just wrote it. Just about the only missing feature is that you can't send photos direct from the camera app to Facebook.

 

One of our biggest gripes about earlier BlackBerrys concerned the browser, which was lackadaisical at the best of times. That's been given a shot in the arm with the new OS boasting benchmark speeds RIM says are 40% faster than OS 6. We set our 9900 against the HTC Evo 3D and it impressively managed to load our website at least a third faster.

 

The new screen tech makes webpages look better too, with clearer, brighter colours than on previous models.

 

Non-mobile-optimised sites will autofit to the screen, while double-tapping specific areas autofits specific columns or sections. The touch-screen makes it infinitely easier to navigate the web with pinch-to-zoom, accurate input recognition for those fiddlier links, and copy-paste. This works a little differently to iPhone and Android - when holding down on the bit of text you want, our familiar BlackBerry menu pops up with options to go back, refresh, go home, switch apps and, yes, 'select' - which brings up two tabs you can drag to cover what you want. Holding down on the selection then gives you the option to copy; holding down in another text field lets you paste.

 

One missing feature is Flash - yep, no embedded video, à la iPhone. This could be a deal-breaker for some, but we've never been convinced of the necessity of Flash on mobiles.

 

Camera and more

BlackBerrys have never been known for their cameras, and this is one area where the Bold Touch 9900 hasn't really improved. The five-megapixel lens takes pictures that are mediocre compared to real masters of the mobile camera, with faded colours and noise, especially in low light. The flash overexposes on light objects, so it won't be great for portrait photography - a.k.a your mates on a night out - and the shutter has a lag of around a second, so you need to be sure of a steady hand to avoid a horribly blurred shot. There are lots of little extras though, including face detection, settings modes, and geo-tagging. We like the fact that you can take the picture with the trackpad.

 

The music and video players only support the standard formats - which doesn't include DivX or Xvid, so those downloaded movies most likely won't play on your device. Not that a 2.8-inch screen is ideal anyway, or if you're considering this phone, your top priority would be HD cinema.

 

The internal memory of 8GB is pretty generous, expandable by up to 32GB in a microSD slot, and as with all BlackBerry 6 phones, this can sync with both iTunes and Windows Media Player so you can easily transfer your music library and keep it up to date on the mobile.

The verdict

The Bold Touch 9900 is a bigger leap from its identical-looking predecessors than you'd think. Its touch-screen means the panel home screens finally make sense on the device, while the universal inbox is a phenomenally efficient and well implemented feature that keeps integral features - events, messages and email notifications - at the centre of everything you do. It's a pity the app store still trails well behind the Android and iOS markets, as it's the biggest factor keeping this device from being the business and pleasure phone it could be.

Natasha Stokes