First announced at BlackBerry World in Orlando in May and officially launched this past Wednesday, BlackBerry’s Bold 9900 is the latest in the iconic line of business-friendly phones.
With the 9900 the Bold has gone through a major upgrade in build quality; gone is the plastic chrome and instead we have a solid aluminium exoskeleton and a woven glass back (which is a bit of a fingerprint magnet). The classic Bold shape is present, but is now far sleeker with a more contemporary, premium design that feels as good in the hand as the latest HTC models. At 10.5mm thick, the 9900 isn’t the slimmest smartphone available, but it is at least close, and certainly won’t bulk out your pocket.
RIM has given the 9900 a 5MP camera that’s capable of recording 720p HD video. We’d have loved RIM to have gone to town here; while this is a serious improvement on previous models and still shots are decent (though suffer in low light), the 9900 is priced at the upper end of the market and needs a high-end camera to compete. On more positive note call quality is great, with the speaker bright and clear.
Underneath the Bold 9900 has had a serious tune-up, with a 1.2GHz processor and 768MB of RAM, almost double on the previous model. This power has been taken advantage of everywhere to create a very snappy performance.
The screen size has been increased to 2.8 inches, and to accommodate it the 9900 is wider than previous Bolds. BlackBerry has used this extra space to slightly enlarge the keyboard.
The result is that the almost legendary BlackBerry keyboard is more comfortable than ever, and even easier to bang out long emails or conversations on. The keyboard also has a clean matt finish now which looks more modern and, hopefully, will prevent the curse of letters rubbing away (if the Expansys workers BB’s are any indication anyway).
At only a 800 x 600 pixel resolution you might expect the new screen to be a letdown, but on a 2.8 inch screen this gives excellent pixel density (287dpi) and offers a bright and vibrant picture. We were particularly impressed with videos (thanks it displaying up to 60fps), something that was definitely a weakness before, and though at only 2.8 inches such experiences don’t compare to bigger rivals, the screen quality is crisp.
Of course the big change to the screen is the capacitive touch control. Happily this is also strong; not the incredible snappiness of say the GALAXY S II, but boasting smooth and accurate swiping and selection, plus responsive multi-touch controls such as pinching to zoom. The extra screen real estate makes even more sense when navigating with your fingertips. There’s still the trackball, so switching between control methods for different tasks is instant.
The Bold 9900 comes with the latest iteration of RIM’s operating system, BlackBerry 7. The biggest new feature we enjoyed is what RIM tells us is called Liquid Graphics, which gives the 9900 that really fluid feel when you use the touchscreen to move between menus or in apps such as the browser. The result is really enjoyable and responsive as you use the handset.
The browser itself is another real improvement, with the previous clunky version seriously enhanced; apparently it is 1.6 times faster to load than BlackBerry 6, and in use it certainly feels that way. Over either a Wi-Fi or 3G connection the 9900 gave us one of the comparatively fastest loading times we’ve seen; a huge improvement on the previously often frustrating BlackBerry surfing experience.
There’s also plenty of apps pre-loaded, such as a full version of Documents to Go for those working on the train or last-minute tweaks and an improved social feed app that amalgamates all your social media accounts in one place. We also liked the new Universal Search feature that can use either text or voice entry before searching your handset and the web.
Overall we’ve been very impressed with the Bold 9900, this is the upgrade that BlackBerry desperately needed to make. We really appreciated the far better quality materials used and the rather ‘iPhone 4-esque’ looks that slap the Bold fully up to date plus the much-improved OS and smooth touch integration into the navigation; switching between touch, trackball and keyboard control is very natural.
Of course all the traditional strengths, such as superb push email are still there or, in the keyboard’s case, even improved upon, but the 9900 has more than that to recommend. The 9900 probably won’t convert those who love Android or their iPhone - it’s still defiantly BlackBerry in looks and operation - but it is our favourite BlackBerry yet.