Despite its lightweight design, the Bold 9790 feels reassuringly solid and is comfortable to operate
The touch-screen sensitivity is all over the place, but fans of physical keys will love the QWERTY keyboard
The apps store is rather barren still, but there are plenty of great business and social apps to stay in touch
The 1GHz processor copes admirably at all times, even when you're smashing through several tasks at once
Typically excellent longevity, with two full days of regular light use before the battery finally dies
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,11/18/2011 11:33:20 AM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Physical keyboard, worthy business apps, excellent battery life
Ropey touch-screen, stilted web browsing, fewer apps compared to rivals
The BlackBerry Bold 9790 aims to be one of the most usable and responsive business phones yet, combining a capacitive touch-screen with the trademark QWERTY keyboard. Unfortunately the partnership doesn't quite come off, but there's still plenty here to appease business users.
BlackBerry fans will immediately appreciate the lightweight design of the Bold 9790. At 107g it's one of the lightest RIM handsets to date, yet it still feels solid in the hand and is only slightly chunkier than the BlackBerry Curve 9360. The usual BlackBerry design is in place, with a physical QWERTY keyboard stuck beneath a square 2.45-inch touchscreen display.
While the capacitive touch-screen responds well to your pokes and prods, it copes less well with swipes. For instance, entering a meeting time in the Calendar involves flicking a revolving dial, which inevitably spins either far too fast or barely at all. Thankfully, the tiny trackpad works better but is still rather sensitive.
The BlackBerry OS interface will be instantly familiar to fans. Tap the bar at the top (which displays the time, signal strength and battery level) and you get a quick-access menu, for swiftly enabling or disabling your connections (including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC). You can also delve into more complex menus, for fiddling with your account, changing your call settings and themes, and updating your security measures.
The BlackBerry menu system is generally intuitive and impressively deep. Only a couple of options were hard to find - for instance, GPS settings were buried away in the ‘Devices' menu. To be honest, we'd rather have quick access to this in place of the NFC toggle.
Back on the home screen, a tap of the notifications bar brings up a list of any emails, texts and other important bits you may have missed. At the bottom of the screen you have your app shortcuts, grouped by ‘Favourites', ‘Media', ‘Frequent' or ‘All'. You can adjust the shortcuts panel so it's either hidden away, or covers up to three rows. It's a great way of avoiding clutter on the small screen, to keep your desktop looking clean.
When it comes to volume of apps, the BlackBerry App World still lags well behind its iOS and Android rivals. A mere 20,000 are currently available, with plenty of notable absentees such as Skype. However, business users have lots of apps such as Documents To Go to stay productive on the move, and BlackBerry Messenger is a great (and free) way to keep in touch with other users. The Social Feeds app helps you stay connected without loading up multiple apps, and you also get dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps if you'd rather keep your accounts separate. Video conferencing fans should note there's no front-facing camera.
Web browsing is a predictably stilted affair on the Bold 9790. Websites load quickly and you can zoom in and out with a pinch of your fingers. However, skimming through sites isn't exactly smooth, thanks to those irritating response issues. The compact screen isn't ideal for reading text-heavy sites, and the BlackBerry browser can't play Flash video on websites such as BBC News and 4OD (although a dedicated YouTube app is included).
The Bold 9790's smaller screen may make browsing awkward, but also contributes to the phone's excellent battery life. We managed 48 hours between charges with light use (occasional web browsing, texting and taking photos), and easily lasted the day when making lots of calls. Business users who find themselves constantly on the move will get plenty of mileage from this handset. The 1GHz processor handles apps well, with no noticeable slowdown even when ploughing through several tasks at once. We're also impressed by how quick the Bold starts up.
Of course, this wouldn't be a BlackBerry without the trademark QWERTY keyboard. Opinions are generally split on whether the physical keys offer an improvement over a virtual keyboard, and we recommend trying it out in a phone store if you haven't played with a BlackBerry before. We're not big fans of hitting the ‘alt' button to access basic punctuation and anyone with fat fingers will seriously struggle, but at least you get tactile feedback.
A dedicated Camera button on the right edge of the phone launches the Photo app and takes snaps. Volume controls work the 2X digital zoom, while on-screen buttons work the flash and location tracking. You also get various shooting modes, including portrait, party, landscape and a night mode. Results are annoyingly hit and miss however - for instance, we found that snow mode was consistently better at capturing outdoor scenes than landscape mode, even on a sunny day. In decent light our photos came out well, with the autofocus working hard to keep everything sharp. However, if you're shooting in low light you better use the flash, or your photos will be grainier than a bowl of All Bran. A VGA movie mode takes serviceable video.
Of course, you can also copy films onto the 8GB of internal storage (boosted by the MicroSD slot) for enjoying on the move. Unfortunately the compact display isn't an ideal way to take in a movie, especially given its boxy aspect ratio. Media fans determined to try a BlackBerry may prefer the BlackBerry Curve 9380, as the lack of a QWERTY keyboard allows for a lot more screen space. However, the Bold 9790's display is at least sharp and pleasingly vibrant, with no smudging or other issues during playback.
If you're looking for a business phone for email and communication, the BlackBerry Bold 9790 is a worthy device. Unfortunately, the compact touch-screen is iffy and browsing the web is a far from smooth affair. Current ‘Berry owners won't find enough here to warrant an upgrade either.