Saturday, November 19, 2011

BlackBerry Bold 9900 Review

RIM’s newest flagship smartphone is the BlackBerry Bold 9900, sometimes also referred to as the BlackBerry Bold Touch. RIM’s back with a fresh new Bold that’s undoubtedly the best BlackBerry RIM has ever made. Read on and see our full review of the Bold 9900 after the jump.

I have to admit that I have not been a huge fan of the BlackBerry — have not bought one before either and the only time I get to use them is when I get a review unit to use for 2 weeks to a couple of months.
Having tried the Bold 9900 has rekindled my love for full-qwerty smartphones. It reminded me of how much I liked the Samsung BlackJack & Nokia E71 when I first bought them many years ago.

I have long since moved to bigger screens and full touch interface. The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the total opposite — full qwerty (the physical kind) and relatively small screen. But allow me to take the case of the Bold — because, at the end of the day, either you’re the full touchscreen type of person or the full-qwerty keypad type.
In some ways, the Bold 9900 did not really depart from the usual design mantra of RIM. It’s classic and elegant, ergonomic for fast texters and does the job as you’d expect from any BlackBerry device.

Yes it’s thinner, it’s faster and it’s bolder.
If you’ve tried any of the previous models of BlackBerry handsets, you’d agree that they needed a little work-out to trim down their waistline. The Bold 9900 did just that — it’s fit and sexy, not the thinnest of all the smartphones but definitely the thinnest among the BBs.
The design is minimalistic yet elegant — a metallic silver lining along a curved edge, power button on top, volume control (with pause/play in the middle) on the right side along with a dedicated camera button, microUSB port on the left along with the 3.5mm audio jack, and camera with flash at the back.

The back panel’s got a chiseled edge with what could be polished glass and transparent, embossed polymer covering a woven pattern on the battery lid. Great idea putting a nice piece of solid hard glass on top of the camera and flash — helps keep the scratches off the lens and makes it easier to clean the smudge off when you want to take photos later.
The SIM card and microSD card slots are both found under the battery compartment. There are no speaker grills to speak of but seems like the sound is coming from the battery compartment and the little latch to open the lid serves as a small opening for the speakers.

Up at the front, the 2.8-inch display seems very small but that’s what you get when you compromise in favor of a physical keyboard. Nevertheless, the screen looks great with very high pixel density of 286ppi (the iPhone 4 has 330ppi while the SGS2 has 217ppi) — rich, vivid colors and images are crisp and clear. It’s got very good viewing angles as well, perhaps in the 178-degrees range.
The usual touch panel menus are found just below the screen with the optical trackpad right in the middle. Between the touch screen and the optical trackpad, I found it was way easier for me to navigate using the latter.

The full-qwerty keypad on the Bold 9900 is probably the best keypad I’ve ever used on any handset. It’s soft, easy to type on and the keys are chiseled in such a way that it fits very well with both your opposing thumbs. No individual keys are alike as they are shaped and fitted to the contours of a curved layout.
Performance of the Bold Touch 9900 has improved a lot compared to the previous model, thanks to the powerful 1.2GHz processor and the generous 768MB RAM. And since BB 7 OS has also improved, this added to a better user experience. The UI is very responsive, apps load fairly quick, HD video playback is smooth and web browsing is generally fast with efficient page rendering (no Flash support though).
The 5MP camera on the Bold 9900 is surprisingly good — takes decent to very good pictures even if it’s just fixed focused, and fairly quick in between shots. I’d say it’s pretty much in the same league as the Nokia E6 in terms of quality. The downside is that in might not perform as well on low-light environments and close-up subjects.

The video is also pretty good at 720p although the footages are noticeably over-sharpened. See sample video taken with the handset below — sharp, good frame-rates and well saturated. The camera quality really reminds me of the one used on the BlackBerry Playbook though I’d say the one on the Bold is a better shooter. The dedicated camera button is a bit awkward to use but it beats any on-screen, touch shutter anytime.

BlackBerry Bold 9900 specs:
• 2.8″ capacitive touch screen display @ 640×480, 287 dpi resolution
• QWERTY keyboard, optical trackpad
• 1.2 GHz processor
• 768 MB RAM
• 8GB on-board memory,
• microSD slot supporting up to 32GB
• NFC technology
• 5MP camera w/ 720p HD video recording
• Orientation Sensor (Accelerometer)
• Digital Compass (Magnetometer)
• Proximity Sensor
• GPS with aGPS support
• Dual-Band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n @ 2.4 GHz and 802.11 a/n @ 5GHz
• Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
• 1230 mAh Li-Ion battery
• BlackBerry 7 OS
The BlackBerry 7 OS has definitely added a bit of enhancement coming from the previous OS. The navigation and UI might seem a little confusing at first (especially if you’re a new user) but you will soon find it pretty easy to use. Sometimes though, you get too much options you feel like drowning in menu options. But if you’re already a BlackBerry user, you’re in familiar territory.

Availability of apps is something a lot of people consider when getting a smartphone and luckily, the BlackBerry App World has enough of them for you to download. A total of about 14,000 apps listed on the App World should be enough, right?
The top apps I’d download on any other smartphones are there — Twitter, FourSquare, Facebook, Dropbox. There are games as well but I noticed most of the apps here are paid instead of free. I guess developers think BB users can afford to buy apps than most other smartphone users.

The NFC feature is cool to have but because there aren’t any NFC-capable devices/services around to pair it with, it remains just that — a nice, un-usable feature.
Call quality is very good but the audio is just average (as mentioned earlier, the speaker was positioned at the back beneath the battery lid.) The absence of an FM tuner isn’t a biggie but some might still want that feature in their handsets.
Battery life is decent, not the very best, but is expected of any BlackBerry Bold before it. If you’re not heavy on the apps, it will last you 2 to 3 days of regular use. Just wondered why they didn’t bump it to at least 1500mAh though.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 isn’t perfect — it’s obviously targeted to a niche group of people, those who prefer functionality, speed and organization more than gaming, multimedia and screen real estate.
It will be hard to sell the Bold 9900 to someone who’s used to large screens and virtual keypads but it’s an easy sell, and I’d even dare say, a top choice for those looking at a qwerty smartphone. That, plus the fact that BBM still rules in some segment of the market.

When RIM said that the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the best BlackBerry they’ve ever made, I’d easily agree and say yes. But that nod practically ends there. If you’re not into the BIS and BBM, there’s the cheaper Nokia E6, the HTC Chacha and the Samsung Galaxy Pro.
The handset is out in the market with a suggested retail price of Php31,690 and was released last week (some stores sell unlocked units for as low as Php28,500). I’d suggest getting it with a postpaid plan so it’s free or subsidized.

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