It's been a good six months since Research in Motion first announced the RIM BlackBerry Bold (aka RIM BlackBerry 9000). Originally slated for a summer release on AT&T, the launch date kept getting pushed back...and back. Frustrated with the delays and wooed by other new smartphone releases, we moved on (and so did many of you) and nearly gave up on the Bold. However, now that we finally have it hand, the love affair has begun all over again.
The BlackBerry Bold delivers on a number of fronts. Its half-VGA display is one of the sharpest screens we've seen on a smartphone, which, combined with the stereo speakers, really boosts the multimedia experience. The Bold also ships with the latest BlackBerry operating system, new productivity applications, and support for HSDPA, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. This is on top of all the great messaging capabilities. Of course, it's not perfect. The smartphone isn't the sleekest device on the block, and the Web browser could use more work. It's also not going to have the mass appeal of an Apple iPhone 3G, nor would we recommend it to the general consumer. With its feature set and strong e-mailing capabilities, the BlackBerry Bold is very much a business-centric smartphone, but what is offers mobile professionals is a premium device that can handle work and play. The RIM BlackBerry Bold will be available November 4 for a slightly pricey $299.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts.
When you first lay eyes on the RIM BlackBerry Bold, the words "sleek," "sexy," and "cool" don't exactly to come to mind. At 4.5 inches high by 2.6 inches wide by 0.6 inch deep and 4.8 ounces, the Bold is bulky and wide, making for a bit of a tight fit in a pants pocket. It doesn't exactly take your breath away like the iPhone 3G, but that's not to say it's a bad-looking phone. The black chassis and silver trim are attractive enough and the rounded edges give the handset a streamlined design. Plus, if you turn the phone over, you'll notice that the back has a leatherette texture (no more slick plastic), providing a sophisticated look. If you want to customize your device a bit, RIM will sell replaceable backplates in different colors, including blue, gray, and red, for $29.99 each, which is a little pricey in our opinion.
Now while the overall design isn't particularly flashy, the true beauty of the Bold lies in the display. The smartphone boasts a 2.75-inch half-VGA, non-touch screen that shows off 65,000 colors at a crisp 480x320-pixel resolution. It's quite possibly the best-looking screen we've seen on a smartphone to date. The iPhone and HTC Touch Diamond come close, but we did a quick comparison between the iPhone and Bold and found that pictures on the Bold looked slightly smoother and crisper. Colors pop on the screen and video playback was truly impressive (more in the Performance section).
With such a beautiful screen, we're glad to see that the BlackBerry Bold features an updated user interface, much like the RIM BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220. Some of the new icons are a bit difficult to identify at a glance (e.g., downloads, applications, and settings), but as you scroll over, each item is identified by name along the bottom. As usual, you can customize the home screen with various themes, background images, font size and type, and backlight brightness and time out.
Below the display, you get the standard navigation controls, which include Talk and End/power keys, a menu shortcut, a back button, and a trackball navigator. The one benefit of the phone's wider size is that these buttons are plenty large and easy to press. The BlackBerry Bold has a QWERTY keyboard that RIM likened to a modernized Curve keyboard, but it reminded us more of the BlackBerry 8830. We know some 8800 series users had issues with the keyboard, but we didn't have any problems with the Bold. The keyboard buttons are of a good size and have a nice tactile feel to them. We were able to compose e-mails and text messages with minimal errors. They're also backlit for easy typing in darker environments.
On the left spine, you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a mini USB port, a customizable shortcut key, and a microSD/SDHC expansion slot. The right side holds the volume rocker and another user-programmable convenience key. There's a mute button on top of the handset, and the camera and flash are located on the back.
AT&T packages the RIM BlackBerry Bold with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a wired headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The RIM BlackBerry Bold isn't just bold in looks but also in the features department as well. To start, it's the first HSDPA handset for the company, bringing you data speeds of up to network for a broadband-like connection on your mobile device. There are multiple factors that affect 3G speeds, such as where you live and how many people are on the network at one time, but you can expect speeds around 400Kbps to 700Kbps (with the potential to hit up to 2Mbps). The Bold supports the 850/1900/2100 HSDPA/UMTS bands, so you'll be able to get 3G coverage in other parts of the world, including Europe and Asia.
Just of note, RIM said the reason why it waited so long to bring an HSDPA device to the market is that it wanted to make sure that battery life wouldn't be sacrificed at the expense of including the 3.5G technology. The company also attributed part of the launch delay to rigorous 3G testing in order to avoid the problems that affected the iPhone 3G. So far we haven't had any problems with 3G coverage, but we'll continue to test the phone over the next few weeks (more on this in the Performance section section as well).
Other phone features of the Bold include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, conference calling, voice-activated dialing, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. The mobile also has background noise cancellation technology to help call quality, and you have the option to boost the bass or treble levels when on a call. The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well a group category--business or personal--or one of 32 polyphonic ringtones. Bluetooth 2.0 is onboard for use with mono and stereo headsets and hands-free kits. There's also support for the serial port profile and dial-up networking.
Wi-Fi and GPS are also onboard. The integrated Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g) provides an alternative method for surfing the Net so you don't always have to rely on 3G. You can manually add a network or the smartphone can automatically scan for available networks; our review unit had no problem finding and connecting to our wireless network. There are also Wi-Fi tools, such as diagnostics, DNS lookup, and site survey. The BlackBerry browser has always lagged behind the competition with poor navigation, but there have been improvements over the year. The Bold has a full HTML Web browser, and you can choose from various two views, such as Page View or Column View. In addition to zoom in/out functions, there's also an onscreen cursor that you can move in any direction and place on any part of the page where you can click a link. It's still not an ideal situation and the Web browsing experience is nowhere near the iPhone's, but it's better than previous BlackBerrys.