First impressions of the RIM BlackBerry Bold

My AT&T SIM has been bouncing back and forth between the Nokia E71 (see my review) and Palm Treo Pro (see my review and with these two devices I have confirmed that QWERTY devices are my preferred form factor. Another couple of new devices recently launched with this same form factor, including the Samsung Epix and the BlackBerry Bold. I was just sent a BlackBerry Bold evaluation unit to spend time with and wanted to post some of my initial thoughts and experiences, along with an image gallery of the hardware and some of the software aspects of this new BlackBerry device.

My AT&T SIM has been bouncing back and forth between the Nokia E71 (see my review) and Palm Treo Pro (see my review and with these two devices I have confirmed that QWERTY devices are my preferred form factor. Another couple of new devices recently launched with this same form factor, including the Samsung Epix and the BlackBerry Bold. I was just sent a BlackBerry Bold evaluation unit to spend time with and wanted to post some of my initial thoughts and experiences, along with an image gallery of the hardware and some of the software aspects of this new BlackBerry device.

 Image Gallery:A walk around the RIM BlackBerry Bold from AT&T.  
Image Gallery: BB Bold retail box
Image Gallery: BB Bold keyboard

Josh posted his hands-on take of the BlackBerry Bold early last week and after playing with it for four days he was quite happy with the device. I also just spent four days with the Bold on my trip back to the East Coast and was so taken with it that I bought my own while on the trip. I have to say it is the BEST BlackBerry device to date and since I am a much bigger fan of QWERTY keyboards than touch screen devices I will be skipping the Storm and staying with my new Bold instead. The decision is also a bit easier given the fact that the Storm will only be available on Verizon. If you aren't really a BlackBerry fan, then there are other sleaker devices on the market that may satisfy you more than the Bold. However, you just may want to try out the Bold and I know it swayed me to extend my AT&T contract and fork over just over US$300.

In the box: The BlackBerry Bold 9000 package includes the device, 3.5mm stereo headset, BlackBerry travel charger, USB to miniUSB cable, 1500 mAh lithium ion battery, User Tools CD (Desktop software and Media Manager), Getting Started Guide, and Quick Start Guide. The prongs of the travel charger fold up to make it easier to take along on the road.

Out of the box first impressions: After opening the plain white shipping box, a fairly standard orange and white AT&T box was revealed. I opened up the box (it was already opened by the PR firm to install the SIM, some apps, and an 8GB microSD card) and pulled out the charged up BlackBerry Bold. I turned it on and it took about 3-4 minutes to get fully up and running on the AT&T network. My first thoughts on the hardware was that the device was wider than I thought it would be, but still felt good in my hand. I like the back faux-leather cover and think it adds a bit more of a professional look to the device. The device feels VERY solid in my hand and the metal frame around the outside looks great. The standard 3.5mm headset jack and miniUSB port are very nice to see on the device too. I have used the keyboard quite a bit over the last few days and have to say it is the BEST QWERTY keyboard I have used on a mobile phone. I would have to say before this that the Treo 800 was probably the best device keyboard until now. Unlike the Treo Pro or even the E71 where the compact sizes make me have to type with the sides of my fingers I haven't had to make any compromises on the Bold keyboard.

After turning on the device, I saw that it is loaded with OS 4.6 and has the look of what I saw on the BlackBerry Flip. However, the high resolution display was absolutely FANTASTIC and blew away what I have seen on other BlackBerry devices before. The keyboard and display were the two major factors that pushed me over the line to pick up the device.

Specifications: The high end mobile phones of today pretty much have all the same standard wireless radios and specifications on paper, but it is the way it is packaged and presented that sets it apart. The BlackBerry Bold 9000 specifications include:

  • UMTS/HSDPA: 2100/1900/850 MHz and GSM: 1900/1800/900/850 MHz
  • BlackBerry OS 4.6
  • Intel 624 MHz processor
  • QWERTY keyboard and trackball
  • Integrated GPS/A-GPS reciever with photo geotagging support
  • 802.11 a/b/g WiFi
  • Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support
  • 2.75 inch VGA (480x320 pixels) display
  • 1GB internal flash ROM memory and 128MB flash RAM for running applications
  • microSD card slot for storage (SDHC support)
  • 2 megapixel camera with flash
  • 3.5mm standard headset jack
  • 1500 mAh battery


  • Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Length: 4.48 inches
  • Width: 2.6 inches
  • Thickness: 0.59 inch

A walk around the hardware: There are two things that make this device "POP" to me and that is the display and keyboard. After you turn on the device, the vivid 480x320 half-VGA display will blow you away with its clarity and definition. It is the same resolution as the iPhone, but with a smaller size and higher pixel density it looks absolutely fantastic. I watched the Speed Racer trailer and then put on Ironman for my last flight and thoroughly enjoyed the video experience. The wallpaper and photos also look amazing and this is definitely a major improvement for a BlackBerry device. I really wish the Nokia E71 had such a nice display and if it did use high resolution then I may not have gone for the BlackBerry Bold.

The keyboard and hardware buttons take up the rest of the front of the device. The hardware buttons (send, end, Menu, and Back) are flush, but quite large so they are easy to press accurately. The trackball is pretty much the same as it is on the Curve and Pearl and actually seems like it could have been a bit bigger on the larger Bold. I am still very happy with it and think it is one of the best navigation controls used. My T-Mobile G1 also has a trackball and I really find it to be a compelling solution for navigation.

I have only been using the Bold for a few days, but IMHO this is the BEST QWERTY keyboard on a mobile phone I have ever tried out. I am able to fly on the Bold with very little practice. The keys are well spaced, decently sized, and have low points curved in towards the center so you don't hit multiple keys with your thumbs. My only complaint is that I would like to have seen dedicated @, period, and comma keys like Nokia has on the E71. I really don't like to have to press two keys to enter one of these characters. The space bar is almost the width of 4 keys and there are right and left shift keys. It is very well backlit too and I can't express how fluidly I can enter text on the Bold. The display and keyboard sold me on the device and pushed me over the edge to go pick one up for myself this past weekend.

Also on the front of the device you will find the headset speaker and indicator light (upper right). I like that you can control the indicator light and I have it turned off for signal indication so it only flashes when I have an alarm or other notification (new email) activated.

Moving over to the left side you will find the opening for the left stereo speaker up at the top with the standard 3.5mm headset jack and standard miniUSB ports below the speaker. These two ports are actually indented a bit to keep them well protected and the design neat and tidy. Just below this indented area you will find the left convenience button that you can assign to applications/functions. I have mine assigned for the application switcher. Below this is the cover for the microSD card slot that supports the high capacity cards. I tested out an 8GB microSD card and it worked well.

Another stereo speaker opening is found on the upper right side with the volume button just under and towards the front of the device. Down below the half way point is the right convenience button that I have assigned to the camera (this is also the default assignment). You will also see some kind of design feature on both the lower right and left hand sides, but I haven't yet found what these are used for.

The back cover is removed by first pressing the cover release button found in the center of the bottom. There is a microphone opening on the left side and a lanyard opening on the right side (I think this is what this right opening is used for).

Jumping now to the back of the device you will find a leather (maybe it is fake leather/plastic) back cover that takes up the entire back of the device. The camera lens and flash are positioned in the center top part of the back surrounded by a professional looking stainless steel frame. The BlackBerry logo is etched on the lower portion of the camera frame. Under the cover you will find the large 1500 mAh battery and SIM card slot. I haven't conducted any timed testing yet, but I was able to go have it up and running with email for 9 hours, 30 minutes of calls, and watched the full Ironman movie (2+ hours) and still had some juice left.

The device is very professional looking and is also quite masculine with its rather wide design and silver/black accents. It isn't that thick, but the width makes it seem bigger than you might imagine. It actually feels extremely solid and I like holding it. It does sort of have a rather brickish look when you hold it up to your head and is probably better used with a Bluetooth headset.

Pricing and availability: The AT&T BlackBerry Bold 9000 is available now for US$299.99 after signing up for a 2-year contract and US$100 mail-in rebate. The full retail price if you don't want to extend your contract is US$549.99. The BlackBerry unlimited data plan is US$30 per month and you will also need a voice plan of at least US$39.99 per month. I did have an upgrade discount available so as an existing customer with an existing contract I had to pay US$299.99 plus tax and an US$18 upgrade fee. I have now seen T-Mobile and AT&T charging this upgrade fee, which appears to just be a way to scam a few more bucks from us and makes very little sense.

Experiences and final first thoughts: I was able to take videos in MPEG H.264 format that I encoded for my E71 and pop them right on my microSD card and enjoy them on the Bold. The BlackBerry Bold supports DivX 4, H.263, H.264, and WMV video formats and MP3, WMA, MIDI, and AAC audio formats, among a few others. With the amazing display and long battery life, I plan to now use my BlackBerry Bold as my mobile media player and already loaded up my microSD card with some music I purchased from the Amazon MP3 store.

I actually got lost a couple of times this past weekend and since I didn't have the Dash Express with me at the moment I just went to Google Maps and used the Bold with GPS to get accurate directions. I found the GPS receiver to pick up my location and get a fix within seconds every time I tried it out and was very impressed with the responsiveness.

I also connected via WiFi (using the new free AT&T offer) at the airport in DC and it connected quickly and easily using the included wireless connection manager. I have a BlackBerry Curve with WiFi and it connects to my T-Mobile @Home router for UMA calls. I tried this with the BlackBerry Bold, but while it will connect for surfing and email it will not connect via UMA for phone calls. I need to look around and see if there are any VoIP solutions for BlackBerry devices.

I've been sending text messages, updating Twitter, and composing email with the Bold and as I have said a couple of times in this first impressions article I find the keyboard to be wonderful to use.

I now have an Exchange server at work and one great feature I found on my Curve with the BlackBerry Internet Service is that you can actually have emailed pushed to you through the BIS and your Exchange server via the Outlook Web Access (OWA) utility. I have my email synced this way and my calendar synced via the Google sync clients for Outlook and BlackBerry through Google Calendar. I sync contacts locally to my PC and Outlook since I rarely change those and don't find the need for constantly syncing contacts.

I have already loaded up over nine 3rd party applications, including Google Talk, TwitterBerry, FlyCast (streaming audio content), Opera Mini (not sure I need this with the current browser), Facebook, Windows Live Search, Windows Live Messenger, Google Maps, and Google Sync. I also plan to load up and try Qik, Premium Documents To Go, and SlingPlayer. So far every application has performed well and the device meets all my needs and desires so far. Do you have any other recommend applications I should try out?

I also discovered a very handy site that has a ton of shortcuts and other tips and tricks for maximizing your usage of the BlackBerry Bold (and other BlackBerry devices) and recommend you visit the Stinson Dog site and check it out for yourself.

I spent time in Washington, D.C., Baltimore area, Delaware, and Pennsylvania and was amazed by the constantly strong AT&T 3G signal in every area I traveled. I need to check it out in my daily stomping grounds, but if it keeps this up then I will have to award it with the best RF reception award out of all the devices I have tested (and that has been quite a few).

It is still early in my evaluation of the Bold, but now that I purchased my own and sent back the evaluation unit I will be able to spend lots of time with it and customize it to my heart's desire. I still think the Treo Pro is an excellent Windows Mobile device and the Nokia E71 is a fantastic S60 device and if I wasn't a writer and reviewer for mobile devices it would be extremely difficult to settle on just one of these three devices, but the keyboard and display on the Bold may be the features that place it at the top of my list. I plan to post a more thorough full review after a couple weeks of usage and would like you to post any questions or other things you want me to try out here on my Talkback section.


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