Earlier this month, Research In Motion (RIM) began shipping a newgeneration of BlackBerry smartphones running the brand new BlackBerry 7mobile OS. The most anticipated of these new BlackBerry smartphones,the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, is currently available in the UnitedStates through Verizon Wireless (9930), Sprint (9930) and T-Mobile(9900). And AT&T said it too will release the Bold 9900, thoughit hasn’t specified exactly when.
I’ll come right out and say it: I love the new BlackBerry Bold. I’ve used manysmartphones in my day–in fact, I have access to just about any deviceI could want. But when it comes right down to it, I’d pick the new Boldover 99 percent of them without even a second thought. (Yeah, I’mtalkin’ about you, iPhone.)
I know that’s a “bold” statement–poor pun shamelessly intended. Butit’s true. Chances are, you’ve already read a few Bold 9900/9930reviews, since the device was officially released a couple of weeksago. For this review, however, I spent a great deal of time with thedevice putting it through some rigorous/heavy testing. And myevaluation is aimed strictly at the tech-savvy, business user, or theBlackBerry “power user,” if you will.
Here are the details on why I feel so strongly about this device, aswell as a few reasons the BlackBerry Bold still isn’t as functional asit could be.
First up, the good stuff.
Why I Love the BlackBerry Bold 9930 Hardware–and You Will Too
The best thing about the new BlackBerry Bold 9930 is its form factor.It’s simply fantastic. The new Bold is the first “candy bar” styleBlackBerry with both a traditional, “physical” QWERTY keyboard andtouch screen. The device also features the common BlackBerry Send/Endcalling keys, Menu and Return/Escape buttons and the BlackBerrytrackpad for additional modes of navigation. All of these elements workseamlessly together to provide a wonderful navigation experience.
The keyboard on the new Bold 9930 is without question the best keyboardRIM has ever shipped on ahandheld. And it’s the best smartphone keyboard I’ve ever used. Ifmessaging and typing are of the essence to you–and I know they are formany business users–you’ll want to consider the Bold 9930 for thekeyboard alone.
I was a bit skeptical of the new Bold’s combined trackpad/touch screennavigation, but have discovered that it works very well. I find myselfmostly using the touch screen for scrolling through message lists,selecting and deleting e-mail, zooming in and out in the browser andfor other general navigation. If I want a bit more precision to, say,click on a link within some tiny text on a webpage, I can simply jumpover to the trackpad, which activates a cursor for a bit more controlthan just clicking with the larger surface of a thumb or forefinger.
I easily and quickly got used to the touchscreen/trackpad navigationcombination. After just a week or so, I was hopping back and forthbetween screen and trackpad, where appropriate, without even thinkingabout it–a good indicator of a well-designed UI experience.
The Bold 9930 is RIM’s thinnest BlackBerry ever, and it fitsunobtrusively into a pants or shirt pocket. A brushed, realstainless-steel bezel adds both style and durability. The glassy-epoxybattery cover not only looks cool, it’s functional as well, since itcontains a key component that enables the Bold’s Near FieldCommunications (NFC) support. (I do have a few complaints about thebattery cover and NFC, but I’ll elaborate in the following section.)And I’d be remiss to not mention the cool, new backlit trackpad, which,along with the backlit keyboard, makes the device easier to use in darkenvironments.
Anyone who is familiar with the BlackBerry devices of the past fewyears should immediately see similarities between the new Bold 9930 andRIM’s original “Bold” smartphone, the BlackBerry 9000. And that’s forgood reason. RIM basically took the best design elements of the Bold9000 and combined them with a touch screen, trackpad, faster processor,a much thinner profile and a vastly improved software experience, tomake the Bold 99xx.
About that processor: The Bold 9930 packs a 1.2GHz, single-core Snapdragonprocessor from Qualcomm, which is significantly more powerfulthan the 624MHz processors found in the last generation of BlackBerrys.The processor, along with some software enhancements in BlackBerry 7,does speed up the overall UI and navigation experience, but I’m stillnot thrilled with this processor. (More on why in the next section.)
The new Bold packs more internal storage and RAM than any otherBlackBerry, except the brand new Torch devices, with 8GB ofbuilt-in storage, expandable up to 40GB via microSD memory cards. Italso features 768MB of RAM.
The Bold 9930 packs a pile of different wireless radios, which isdefinitely a boon for enterprise users. The unit I tested runs onVerizon’s 3G CDMA network in the United States (dual-band 800/1900 MHzCDMA/EVDO Rev A), and in my experience, Verizon’s network is one of ifnot the most reliable cellular networks where I live and in the areasin which I travel most frequently.
The Bold 9930 is also a “world phone,” meaning it not only supportsVerizon CDMA bands, but GSM/UMTS/HSPA bands so it can hop onto othernetworks, inside and outside of the United States, if necessary–ofcourse, you’ll need a SIM card and an active account with anothercarrier to use its network. (More specifically, the Bold 9930 supportsdual-band 2100/900 MHz UMTS/HSPA, with maximum upload speeds of 5.76Mbps and max downloads speeds of 14.4 Mbps; along with quad-bandGSM/EDGE support for the 850/900/1800/1900 MHz frequencies.)
Combined with stereo Bluetooth 2.1, and Wi-Fi support(Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n [2.4 GHz]; and dual-band 802.11 a/n [5GHz]), that’san impressive array of radios. And business users who are constantlyjumping from Wi-Fi network to Wi-Fi network, and continent tocontinent, will surely appreciate them all.
The device has standard headset- and micro-USB-ports, which means youdon’t need any sort of proprietary headphones or charging cords, and Icertainly appreciate that.
The Verizon and Sprint versions of the Bold 9930 cost $249.99 alongwith new, two-year service agreements. And though that may sound a bitpricey for a BlackBerry, it’s actually reasonable when you consider thequality of hardware you’re getting–and when compared it to the $300after rebate that T-Mobile is asking for its 9900. The new Bold alsocomes with a holster, which costs $39.99 on RIM’s ShopBlackBerry.com.I’m not really a holster guy, but I know that many business users are.And you really do need some kind of case for the 9930. (More on whycoming up shortly.)
Now, onto the new software.
The BlackBerry Bold 9930 and BlackBerry 7 Software: Pros Overall, RIM’s new BlackBerry 7 software feels very much like its BlackBerry 6 software, just running on more capable hardware, which leads to a smoother, more fluid, or “liquid” BlackBerry software experience. While there are some major enhancements, the overall layout and general functionality of BlackBerry 7 is just like BlackBerry 6. Because both versions are so similar, it was very easy to get used to and make the transition to the new 7 OS.
The most significant improvement in BlackBerry 7 relates to the overallperformance and what RIM has named “Liquid Graphics.” Due to the fasterprocessor, a new graphics chip set and some “tighter” code, BlackBerryusers will see much less lag on the BlackBerry Bold 9930 than onprevious BlackBerry smartphones. Most BlackBerryowners are probably painfully familiar with the dreaded spinning clockicon, which appears when the device is overloaded and can’t keep upwith all the processes running at a given time. I wish I could say youdon’t see the clock icon at all on the Bold 9930, but unfortunately,that’s not the case. However, the overall BlackBerry 7 navigationexperience is much smoother.
The BlackBerry Browser also got some valuable modifications inBlackBerry 7, and it shows. The Webkit-based browser now fully supportsHTML 5 video. It’s faster and smoother, and simply a better overall Webbrowsing tool. The Bold 9930’s touch screen works seamlessly with theBlackBerry 7 browser, making touch-based scrolling and zooming apleasure.
Another notable feature in BlackBerry 7: Voice-activated universalsearch, lets you search just about anything on your device, includingmessages, contacts, browsing history and various applications, as wellas query various online services, without ever having to touch yourdevice. Universal search isn’t new to BlackBerry 7, but thevoice-activation part is unique to the new OS. In my tests, the voicesearch function worked quite well.
From a business perspective, the behind-the-scenes BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES),which connects BlackBerry smartphones to corporate resources, is justas important as the handheld software. And, as expected, I had notrouble at all connecting my BlackBerry to my corporate BES. It reallycouldn’t be easier to get most BlackBerrys connected BES; for themajority of users, it’s as simple as launching the e-mail setup processand then entering in an access code provided by your IT department.
As for preloaded enterprise-oriented software, the Bold comes alongwith a number of valuable applications, including the full, premiumversion of the Documents to Go mobile officesuite. The last couple of generations of BlackBerry smartphones alsoshipped with Doc to Go, but they included only the free, limitedversion that lacked some “advanced” options, such as the ability tocreate new documents. Docs to Go Premium also includes a full PDFreader, which isn’t available in the free version. I’m a big fan ofthis software, and it’s a must-have for all BlackBerry totingbusinesspeople.
The Bold 9930 also supports RIM’s BlackBerry Balance technology,which helps IT secure corporate data on BlackBerrys without putting toomany restrictions on users’ devices.
I know, I know, that’s a lot to like–and a lot of information to takein. But that’s just the positive stuff about the Bold 9930. Here’s theflip side.
Bold 9930 is Almost the Perfect BlackBerry…But Not Quite
As stated early on in this evaluation, I really, really like theBlackBerry Bold 9930. And as such, I have many more good things to sayabout it than I have criticisms. But that’s not to say I found it to beperfect, here’s why.
The number one flaw I currently see in the Bold 9930 is battery life. And unfortunately,that’s a very significant flaw, especially for business users whodepend on their handhelds to last them at least a full day beforeneeding another charge. In my tests, the Bold 9930 got about 6 hoursand 20 minutes of talk time, while in an area with full 3G coverage.
Well, that’s not bad at all, you say? You’re right, six hours of talktime is average or better for a modern 3G smartphone.
The problem is that the Bold 9930 barely makes it through my work daywith moderate to heavy use. For example, if I unplug my fully-chargedBold 9930 at 8 AM, and then use it regularly throughout the day,sending and receiving e-mail and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) messages,occasionally checking Twitter and placing a phone call or two, the Boldwill be dead by the time I get home around 5 PM.
Again, in comparison to some other devices I use–ahem, Motorola Atrix–this battery lifeisn’t bad at all. However, RIM spoiled me with the BlackBerry Bold9780, and to a lesser extent, the Torch 9800, which can easily last 10hours or more of heavy use on a single charge. For me, it’s frustratingto have to get used to a device that offers significantly less batterylife, especially since BlackBerrys are typically known to have greatbattery life.
RIM could certainly release software updates in the future that improveoverall 9930 battery life, but the fact that actual “JM-1” battery packin the Bold 9930 has a lower capacity (1230mAh) than the Bold 9780(1550mAh) and the Torch 9800/9810 (1270) is probably the bestexplanation for this decrease in battery life.
On the upside, the Bold 9930’s battery is removable, so you can buy afew extras and stash them in your travel bag, though right now, you’llhave to shell out another $35- $50 each.
My second complaint relates to the Bold 9930’s camera. Though all of the newest BlackBerrys, and even a few of the older devices, have 5.0 megapixel digital cameras, some of them have different focus mechanisms. My issue with the Bold 9930 is that it doesn’t focus very well on close-up objects, and as a result, it takes photos of notably lower quality than both of RIM’s new BlackBerry Torch devices and even the original Torch 9800.
I believe RIM used a different camera lens or at least a differentfocus mechanism in the Bold 9930, probably due to the fact that thedevice is so thin, and the end result is that the new Bold doesn’t takeas high quality images as my old Torch, which is an unfortunatedowngrade.
As stated earlier in this post the BlackBerry 7 software experience isvastly improved over the last generation of BlackBerry 6 devices;however, after using the device for a few weeks now and loading up mostof usual applications and services, the Bold 9930 still lags justenough that it warrants mentioning. I definitely see the BlackBerry”clock icon” far less often than I did on BlackBerry 6 devices, but itdoes show occasionally. And I find the Bold takes its time “waking” upsometimes after I haven’t touched for a while, leaving me furiouslytapping the standby key atop the device or the keyboard until it turnsback on.
My final “significant” complaint relates to the BlackBerry applicationecosystem as a whole. It simply doesn’t stack up to iPhone or Androidapplication ecosystems. This isn’t a new problem. And the issue stemsfrom a number of reasons that I won’t necessarily elaborate on here,but the bottom line is that both iOS and Android, the BlackBerryplatform’s two top rivals right now, currently offer a drasticallysuperior application experience to BlackBerry. And businesspeople likeapps, too.
I love the Bold 9930, but due to its inferior application selection, Istill find myself also carrying an iPhone or Android device. And Ireally wish I could just carry one smartphone for a change.
I also wish the Bold 9930 packed a dual-core processor, since manycomparable high-end smartphones are currently hitting the market withdual-core chips. I should note that I haven’t seen extensive lag or anyof the other common indicators that the 9930’s single-core 1.2GHzprocessor can’t keep up with me. Given that, a dual-core processor maynot be necessary in this case. But I still contend that the 9930 mayend up feeling a bit outdated in the not-so-distant future, asdual-core processors become the norm instead of the exception to therule.
And though the Bold 9930 does support NFC for short-range wirelesscommunication, Verizon decided to launch the handheld without NFCenabled. Future software updates could, and probably will, enable thisfeature, but I really hoped to be experimenting with NFC now,especially since RIM touted the features when it first unveiled the newBold last May.
The Bold 9930’s epoxy-glass battery cover looks really nice, but itscratches and scuffs very easily. I carried my case-less Bold 9930along with a similarly “naked” Motorola Atrix in the same pants pocketfor two weeks, and the Bold’s battery cover is covered in scratches andscuffs, while the Atrix is fine. (Check out the included image to seefor yourself.) If I had been using a case or holster, I probablywouldn’t have scratched up the device as much, so I strongly recommendpicking up some sort of protective covering for the Bold 9930.
A few more minor complaints: I really wish the 9930 had a seconduser-programmable convenience key–it only has one. But a number ofapplications do exist that allow you to assign multiple functions toone convenience key, so the lack of an additional key isn’t a hugedeal. Also, the volume up/down and mute keys already feel slightly”loose” after using the device for just a few weeks, and that may notbode well for future durability.
Sooooo, to sum that all up…
BlackBerry Bold 9930 Business-Oriented Review: Conclusions
The BlackBerry Bold 9930 is one hell of a business smartphone. You needonly look at the lengthy list of things I love about the device, and myrelatively short list of complaints, to see that the positivedrastically outweighs the negative when it comes to RIM’s new Bold9930, at least from a business user’s perspective.
I’m infatuated with the form factor and UI. BlackBerry 7 provides amuch better user-experience than any RIM OS has in the past. And theBold 9930 is actually very good-looking–something I haven’t reallybeen able to say about too many BlackBerrys.
Sure, it has its shortcomings, namely the fact that the BlackBerryapplication ecosystem isn’t as robust as some competitors’ ecosystems.Battery life isn’t what I’ve come to expect from RIM. The digitalcamera is lacking. And the Bold really can’t compete with rival deviceslike the iPhone, from a multimedia perspective, due largely to thesmaller screen size. But the target Bold 9930 user doesn’t much careabout all that; the ideal Bold 9930 owner wants, first and foremost,high performance; top of the line messaging components–like a greatkeyboard and best of breed messaging application; security; andreliability. The rest is just icing on the cake.
If you fit that target Bold 9930 user profile, the 9930 is one of, ifnot the, best smartphones available to you today.
Will this device draw loyal iPhone or Android users towards RIM andBlackBerry and away from Apple or Google? No, probably not. But it’ssure to wow current BlackBerry users, who have stayed with RIM for areason: BlackBerrys are still the best messaging andenterprise-oriented devices on the market today. The Bold 9930 may alsolure former BlackBerry users who recently jumped ship back toBlackBerry–and I believe they’ll be satisfied upon return. And again,the device is really good looking, so much so it may scoop up somesmartphone users who are still on the fence.
RIM and BlackBerry have been catching a lot of flak from variouscritics in recent days, but the Bold 9930 is a perfect example of why Istill remain a loyal BlackBerry user.