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Research in Motion (RIM) has recently updated its flagship devices: the touchscreen Blackberry Storm2 was thankfully an improvement on the distinctly flawed original, and now we have an updated version of the popular BlackBerry Bold 9000. Is it, too, an improvement? Our review sample came from Devicewire.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 (also called the Bold2 in some quarters), retains the overall look and feel of its predecessor, but there are some differences when you get down to details.
The Bold 9700 is smaller all round than its predecessor at 60mm wide by 109mm tall by 14.1mm thick, and weighs 122g. The original Bold measured 66mm by 114mm by 15mm and weighed 136g. That slight decrease in size means that both the screen and the keyboard are smaller on the new model.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is slightly more compact than its 9000 predecessor and weighs 14g less.
The Bold 9700's screen measures 2.44in. across the diagonal, compared to 2.6in. on the original Bold. The resolution is slightly higher, though (360 by 480 pixels compared to 320 by 480 pixels), which makes the transmissive TFT display look very sharp and bright. The screen size reduction has little effect on usability.
You may notice the Bold 9700's smaller size when it comes to the keyboard. With slightly less width and height available, the 9700's mini-QWERTY keyboard is inevitably a little more cramped than it was on the Bold. Even so, the keys are still very well designed: we rated the keyboard on the original Bold as the best of its type we'd ever used, and that remains the case with its successor.
The shaping of the keys remains a key usability advantage. Their curved ridges really help with tactile feedback, while each key depresses a fairly long way and delivers a low-volume click. Those with stubby fingers might find the slight reduction in size makes this keyboard more challenging than its predecessor, but we had no complaints.
Elsewhere, the Bold 9700 retains the faux leather backplate, which this time does not slip off as readily as the original Bold's did. The side buttons are embedded in a rubberised band that makes them easy to press. The top edge of the device also curves away from the front, and houses the lock and audio mute keys.
The main difference between the Bold 9700 and its predecessor is the absence of the mini-trackball beneath the screen. This has been replaced by a small trackpad, which is the only method of navigation since there's no touchscreen support. Thankfully, the trackpad is responsive, and we found it comfortable to use. We do miss the bright white backlight behind the trackball, though.
To the left and right of the trackpad are the usual BlackBerry buttons. On the left are Menu and Call keys, while Back and End keys are on the right — the latter doubling as the on/off switch.
There are two user-customisable keys, one on each side. By default these are assigned to voice dialling and the camera respectively. The right-hand side also has a volume rocker, while the left houses a Micro-USB connector for the AC adapter and PC connection, plus a 3.5mm audio jack.
There's nothing drastically different about the button design on this device in relation other recent RIM handhelds (apart from the trackball’s replacement), and that must be because RIM feels it has got things just about right. Certainly the Bold 9700 feels compact and ergonomic in the hands and more comfortable to hold and use than its slightly oversized predecessor.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 ships with an AC adapter, a PC connection cable, a one-piece stereo headset, a slipcase style pouch, a utilities CD, a printed quick-start guide and a (short) printed manual.
RIM is aiming the Bold 9700 at both consumers and professionals, but the headset is unlikely to satisfy the former. The provided in-ear buds are not appropriate for all ears (they never stick in ours well), and a two-piece headset would allow you to substitute a higher-quality pair of your own while retaining handsfree capability.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 has a comprehensive range of features, including Bluetooth (2.0), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), HSDPA and GPS. You can download Google Maps for location tracking, but RIM's App World was not on our review device out of the box. You'll need to download it before you can start to obtain applications over the air.
The user interface is stylish without being too flashy, which should help the Bold 9700 straddle the business/consumer divide. There's just one home screen, with an array of six application icons along the bottom edge. You can customise what's are shown here, and change profiles by selecting the sound icon. Tapping the menu button brings up the main applications menu, which is functional and easy to navigate.
The Bold 9700 is a quad-band GSM device with GPRS and HSDPA support. Naturally, email-handling remains a key feature: the device supports up to ten personal email accounts via the BlackBerry Internet Service, while corporate users are catered for by BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).
Multimedia support has never been RIM's strong point, but the company is trying hard to appeal to consumers as well as its core business market. The Bold 9700 therefore supports a range of music formats including AAC variants, MP3 and WMA, along with album art. Sound quality through the provided headset is quite good, and you also get an equaliser.
The camera is a 3.2 megapixel unit, which is an entry-level specification — although the autofocus has a close-up mode and there is a (small) LED flash. The camera offers an image stablisation feature and a 2x digital zoom that you invoke either via the trackpad or using the volume rocker on the right-hand side. You can adjust white balance settings for different lighting conditions and apply black-and-white or sepia colour tones. You can also geotag your images.
This is a pretty basic feature set for a smartphone camera these days — more consumer-focused devices include extras like face and smile detection, panorama modes and on-device image editing to spice things up a little.
Video is recorded at 480 by 352 pixels in normal mode, or 176 by 144 in MMS mode. There's no front-facing camera for two-way video calling.
Web browsing is something of a mixed bag. The screen is on the small side, but the resolution is good and pages render quite well. The trackpad moves a tiny arrow around the screen with which you can home in on links to select them. When you first load a page, the trackpad offers a zoom function; thereafter zooming is handled via the menu button.
However, the browser offers just a single window and lacks flash support and cut-and-paste functionality. Also, you don't get an overview of a long web page so that you can home in on the desired section. The browser works, but it could do with updating.
There are also Facebook and Twitter applications, which you can download from App World once you've got that up and running. It's a shame that RIM did not see fit to include a few more 'cossover' applications by default, though.
Business users will appreciate the preloaded Word To Go, Sheet To Go and Slideshow To Go document readers. However, you'll have to make do with BlackBerry Memo Pad for document creation until you download something more sophisticated.
There is 256MB of internal memory and a microSD card slot under the battery cover for adding extra storage — our review device came with a 2GB card. The slot is located centrally above the battery rather than on the edge of the casing, and your card sits at an angle with most of it hidden from view. We found it awkward to swap cards in and out, although at least you don't have to remove the battery.
Performance & battery life
The Bold 9700 responded rapidly to selections and trackpad movement. We had no problems with call quality and the speaker is loud and clear.
The battery is a 1,500mAh battery unit that RIM says can deliver 6 hours of talk time or 21 days on standby. We managed to go two days between charges by being very economical with the device, but heavy users of Wi-Fi and GPS will need more frequent recourse to the AC adapter. We'd recommend a battery boost every 24 hours.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is an excellent all-rounder: compact, with a superb keyboard and a good screen, it excels at mobile email and is more than competent at other smartphone tasks.
As a crossover business/consumer device it perhaps lacks the 'wow factor' to compete with more ambitious devices, but for business users seeking a little extra glitz, it's an excellent choice.