RIM's latest BlackBerry Bold 9900 heralds a new era for the famous BlackBerry: it is the first Bold to combine a touchscreen and a physical keyboard in a standard candy bar design. The Bold 9900 has a fantastic industrial design that feels superbly constructed, its keyboard is the best we’ve ever used on a smartphone, and its screen is vivid and bright. However, in the age of the iPhone, Android and even Windows Phone 7 smartphones, the Bold still offers little incentive to switch from rival platforms.
Check out our guide to the best BlackBerry smartphones on the market.
BlackBerry Bold 9900: Design and display
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a superb piece of industrial design, and without doubt the best-looking BlackBerry ever released. The brushed metal edges scream premium, while the carbon fibre-like battery cover on the rear adds weight to the Bold’s great looks. The Bold 9900 measures just 10.5mm thick, making it the thinnest BlackBerry ever.
The top mounted lock button, and the volume controls and shortcut button on the right are perfectly positioned and click reassuringly when pressed. Though it’s still very much a BlackBerry, we feel the Bold 9900’s styling should offer immense appeal to both corporate users, and regular consumers.
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the first BlackBerry to combine a touchscreen and a full-sized physical keyboard while keeping the famous candy bar shape. It has a 2.8in capacitive touchscreen that is responsive to press. The screen itself is vivid, bright, and clear, but compared to its iPhone and Android rivals, the 2.8in display feels small and cramped. Below the screen sits answer and end call buttons, menu and back keys, and BlackBerry’s optical track pad. Although this is a touchscreen smartphone, we still found ourselves making good use of the track pad for general navigation.
The best feature of the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is its keyboard. It’s without a doubt the best keyboard on a smartphone we’ve ever reviewed. The keys are slightly wider than its predecessor, the Bold 9780, and more akin to the original Bold 9000 — a phone that was widely credited with the best keyboard ever tag when it was released. If your primary use of a smartphone is e-mail, the Bold 9900 is on its own planet when it comes to text input.
BlackBerry Bold 9900: Software
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 runs the latest BlackBerry 7 OS, which is a very minor upgrade from BlackBerry 7. The major new feature is the ability to separate corporate data from personal data using a function called BlackBerry Balance. It’s a nice addition, but unless you’re a corporate user its hardly worth getting excited about.
BlackBerry 7 looks remarkable similar to BlackBerry 6. The home screen remains attractive, and uses a handy notifications bar that drops down when you select it. This shows all your notifications including e-mail, calendar, text messages, and social network updates. The "Social Feeds” app aggregates feeds from Facebook, Twitter, RSS and BlackBerry Messenger among others. BlackBerry has spruced up the look of some of the icons in the menu, and the vivid screen does make them look rather attractive.
Next page: Software and conclusion
Applications on the BlackBerry Bold 9900 are stored in draws. Swiping across the screen access’ different draws; all of your applications (main menu), your favourite apps (user definable), media, downloads from BlackBerry App World, and frequently used applications. Unfortunately, these drawers can't be edited or modified, apart from choosing what to place in each one. You can choose not to display any of the draws in the settings menu if you wish, however.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in BlackBerry 7 is the Web browser. There’s still no Flash support, but load times have noticeably improved over previous models, pinch to zoom is effective despite the cramped display, and you can open Web pages in tabs then scroll through them by swiping across the display. Scrolling is also fluid and feels very natural: a far cry from the clunky feel of previous BlackBerry browsers. Despite all these improvements, the Web browsing experience remains inferior to most competitors.
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 has an excellent universal search tool that’s now aided by the inclusion of voice search. Like all voice activated functions, its hit and miss but can be surprisingly accurate at times. It’s a little strange though that you have to tap the “done” button once you have finished speaking: we feel it should automatically begin searching.
Ultimately, despite the presence of a touchscreen, we still feel the Bold 9900’s interface is often confused between the old and the new. It’s clear this operating system has been built with a track pad and physical buttons in mind, and then tweaked to become compatible with a touchscreen, resulting in some rough edges. As an example, some icons and text on the screen are too small, making them hard to press with a fingertip, but easier to access with the use of the track pad.
Being a BlackBerry device, e-mail support is as strong as ever. The BlackBerry Bold 9900 supports email services through the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) and BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES). Microsoft Word and Excel documents can be edited and viewed thanks to the on-board Word To Go and Sheet To Go applications. In addition to 3G connectivity, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 has Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth capabilities. It also has Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, but this is more for future proofing than anything else: there are no NFC payment systems currently active in Australia to make use of the technology. The Bold 9900 lacks HDMI-out connectivity.
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 provides access to BlackBerry App World, RIM's third-party app store. It doesn't boast the same number of apps as Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market, but paid apps can be purchased in Australia (using PayPal) and most of the popular apps (such as Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Windows Live Messenger) are available.
The Bold 9900 is also a capable media player that features a refreshing interface, and the 5-megapixel camera also doubles as a video recorder. One real positive is the BlackBerry 9900's battery life. It often lasted over two days during testing, placing it far ahead of most of its rivals and making it a handy device for road warriors.