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Caption by: Sandra Vogel
RIM's BlackBerry line of smartphones is well established as the top choice for businesses. The company has also made a reasonably successful move into the highly competitive consumer market. On rare occasions, RIM has lost sight of what it does best: the ill-fated Storm and Storm 2, for example, were aberrations. However, RIM's latest operating system version, OS 6, has been well received, and makes its second outing in the BlackBerry Bold 9780 — we first saw OS 6 in the touchscreen-equipped Torch.
The Bold 9780 is immediately recognisable as a BlackBerry, with its familiar keyboard design and button layout beneath the screen. In fact, there isn't a lot to distinguish the BlackBerry Bold 9780 from the earlier 9700 model. The differences are subtle, such as the absence of chrome colouring from the bottom and edges of the chassis and less use of faux leather finishing on the back.
The BlacBerry Bold 9780 looks almost identical to its 9700 predecessor
The Bold 9780 and its predecessor have identical measurements and weight: 60mm wide by 109mm tall by 14mm thick, and 122g. These make the Bold 9780 somewhat shorter than the average large screened smartphone, although it's similar in other respects.
Both versions share the same screen dimensions: 2.44in. across the diagonal with a native resolution of 480 by 360 pixels. The display is bright, clear and sharp; viewing angles aren't great, but if you want to read confidential work-related emails on the train at least you needn't worry that your neighbours will be able to read them.
RIM is the standard setter for mini-QWERTY keyboards, and the Bold 9780's is superb. The individually shaped keys are easy to find beneath the thumb, have good travel and feel solid under the fingers. It's amazing how quickly you can type on it.
Between the screen and keyboard is a familiar row of buttons with an optical trackpad in the middle. Flanking the trackpad are the Menu and Back buttons, and outside these are the Call and End/power buttons.
The side edges of the BlackBerry Bold 9780 look the same as the BlackBerry Bold 9700: there are 'convenience keys' on the left and right that you can customise to launch any applications you require. Out of the box they are set to launch the camera and voice commands.
The right edge also has a volume rocker, while the left carries the micro-USB port for recharging and the 3.5mm headset jack. We prefer the audio connector on the top edge of a smartphone chassis because a lateral location can causes the headset to snag in your pocket.
The top edge of the Bold 9780 is made from a curved piece of plastic that extends onto the front of the chassis. It houses screen lock and mute buttons. This looks great, but as far as ergonomics are concerned we'd still like to see the audio jack here.
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 ships with an international AC adapter, a micro-USB cable and a stereo headset with flat in-ear buds. You also get a 2GB microSD card.
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 runs BlackBerry OS 6 and is only the second BlackBerry device to do so. The first was the BlackBerry Torch.
The Bold 9780's 624MHz processor is, on paper, some way behind the leading edge — today's top-end Android and Windows Phone 7 smartphones use 1GHz processors — and we did notice the handset becoming a little sluggish at times.
The new Bold does have 512MB of RAM, double the memory complement of its predecessor. A 2GB microSD card is also provided — the card slot is under the backplate and accessible without removing the battery.
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 has 3G/HSDPA connectivity, but it's surprising that the Wi-Fi only supports 802.11b/g. Top-end smartphones also offer the faster 802.11n, and RIM is arguably missing a trick here.
GPS is present, along with the obligatory Google Maps. However, the Bold 9780's small screen isn't best suited to navigation duties as it doesn't display enough information. Nor is the screen ideal for web browsing, which is a pity because the new WebKit-based web browser, which is part of BlackBerry OS 6, is a significant improvement.
The screen's relatively high resolution means that text is rendered well, and pages load fairly quickly. The browser supports multiple windows, so you can have several pages opened at once and flick between them. The optical trackball allows you to move a zoom icon around the screen; it changes to a pointing finger when you hover over links, and lets you scroll horizontally and vertically simply by dragging the cursor to the edges of the screen.
To serve its consumer buyers, RIM has built a Social Feeds app into OS 6 that aggregates Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk and BlackBerry Messenger communications in one place. Alternatively you can use separate clients for these services. OS 6 still supports the reliable BlackBerry email, including up to ten personal email addresses.
The main screen of the BlackBerry Bold 9780 shows just how much can be efficiently squeezed into a small space. The status bar at the top of the screen can be selected to give you quick access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile network and alarm settings.
Beneath this is a bar offering sound profile changing, message alerts and access to Universal Search. Universal Search also kicks in when you start typing on the main screen. Searching identifies material stored on the handset such as apps, plus contacts and your interactions with them; you can also do a Google, Google Local, YouTube or BlackBerry Apps search by choosing the appropriate app in the finds box beneath this bar.
Towards the bottom of the main screen are application trays offering six shortcuts to apps, from All or subsets — Favourites, Media, Downloads and Frequent. You move between these trays with a horizontal sweep of the optical trackpad. To see the full apps list you either click the All label or choose Open Tray from the list that pops up when you tap the Menu key.
Getting to grips with all this might involve a short learning curve for BlackBerry novices, but it's very efficient once you've internalised the processes.
Performance & battery life
Flitting between applications using the optical trackpad is easy enough, although with touch-screens so popular these days we did miss features like pinch-to-zoom when web browsing. It's also arguable that BlackBerry OS 6 is better suited to touch-screens than to the sweeping and pressing of the optical trackball that's required on the BlackBerry Bold 9780.
The relatively small screen of the BlackBerry Bold 9780 makes it less power-hungry than some of its competition, and the presence of a 1500mAh battery bodes well for long battery life. In fact, if you restrict yourself to just using the Bold 9780 for mobile email you may extend well into a second day of use from a single charge.
The BlackBerry Bold 9780's key new feature is OS 6, as many of its physical and technological specifications are unchanged from its the 9700 model.
The ergonomics are mostly fine, but we'd have preferred to see a faster processor in addition to the internal memory boost.
OS 6 is a real step forward, though, and nobody does a mini-keyboard as well as RIM, so the BlackBerry Bold 9780 should be a winner for mobile email fans.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel