BlackBerry returns with an update of the classic 9000 – but is the Black Berry Bold 9900 for you?
The original Bold 9000 was big and suffered horrendous battery life – but who couldn’t love that keyboard? It was also the first 3G BlackBerry, which many people have forgotten.When the next Bold came along, RIM managed to squeeze everything down into a much nicer package and it was deemed acceptable to get a slightly narrower keyboard to get something that was far more pocketable, and more reliable, too. The 9780 then came along and improved the camera, but RIM did nothing to the phone design at all. What it did was introduce the new BlackBerry OS (V6), which was far more revolutionary. Now that the 9900 has come along, it’s like returning to the original 9000, but with nowhere near the same thickness. In fact, the Bold 9900 is the thinnest BlackBerry smartphone, at just 10.5mm. What a difference that makes, as it now seems perfectly fine to go back to a wider keyboard that, obviously, widens the whole phone. Original 9000 users won’t take long to type a few words on the 9900 and wonder why they ever swapped.
BlackBerry Bold 9900: Fresh features
The 9900 has a number of new features too, like HD video recording, a much bigger screen that now adds touch, NFC and the latest version of the OS, BlackBerry OS 7. The latter isn’t really much different to OS 6, besides some new icons. Touch was added to the Torch 9800 when it also had OS 6, so it could have just as easily been called 6.1. A touchscreen is probably the least exciting update to the new Bold for long-standing BlackBerry users, but the increase in screen resolution is amazing. Nokia may have beaten RIM to put a 640×480 pixel display in the E6, but there’s little comparison between a Symbian-based Enterprise device and a flagship BlackBerry.
The ability to touch icons isn’t likely to seem much of a big deal. You’ll probably forget it even has a touchscreen at first, but as time goes on you will find it a convenient way to speed up menu navigation, or select an app without having to roll your finger around on the optical pad.
BlackBerry Bold 9900: Where are the apps?
The new icons and the addition of touch is presumably there to entice other smartphone users over to the RIM camp, but if the company thinks iPhone and Android users will suddenly jump over to BlackBerry, it is sadly mistaken. There are still far too few apps available to download and extra eye candy isn’t really going to make much difference.The Bold 9900 is really a flagship device for existing BlackBerry users, or someone who may one day get a job where it’s essential to have a BlackBerry – possibly in addition to another phone. It’s definitely out of the price range of most young BlackBerry Messenger fans, although the good news is a new Curve model is on its way and should be announced later in the year. Of course, even though many BlackBerry devices are secondary phones for users, it works just fine as a phone and is equally good for text messaging and especially BlackBerry Messaging.
Other standard BlackBerry applications haven’t really changed. Not a problem for the email inbox, which is what everything else centres around, or the official Twitter and Facebook apps, but more of a concern when it comes to things like BlackBerry Maps, which is still nowhere near as good as Google Maps, or the iPhone Maps app.
Even apps like YouTube and iPlayer are nothing more than links to the respective websites. Being able to finger-swipe left and right to go through preset menus such as ‘All’, ‘Favourites’, ‘Media’, ‘Downloads’ and ‘Frequent’ certainly speeds up doing things on the home screen, as well as jumping to other parts of the screen to change the ring tone or connectivity options. You can still use the optical pad to do everything, too, giving you the best of both worlds. I have to wonder if future models will ditch the optical pad, just as HTC did as soon as people got used to exclusively using touch. I hope not, as there’s still a level of precision you can only get from the optical pad.
BlackBerry Bold 9900: Camera issues
With slimness comes compromise, and that has impacted on the camera. Although the 9900 has the same 5-megapixel resolution as the 9780, it has lost the autofocus, limiting your focal range. It can’t cope with fast movements either, suffering from the effects of a rolling shutter that skews anything that moves quickly when you take a picture.
The sensor also picks up a lot of noise in photos, even in good lighting conditions. However, thanks to the more powerful chipset and the 1.2GHz processor, the phone can now record HD video (at 720p) and for video, the problems are greatly lessened. The noise, for example, isn’t as noticeable on moving images.
For storage, RIM has included 8GB of space, in addition to adding a memory card slot. Thank goodness RIM wasn’t tempted to go down the Apple route of locking down the storage space, or doing anything dumb like releasing a load of different models with varying amounts of storage. One thing I’ve yet to mention is the web browser, which has always been another weak point. It seems like every time RIM updates a device or OS, it makes a big deal of showing how much faster the web browser is. And in nearly all cases, it turns out that the browsing experience is still a total disappointment. Even the Bold 9780 can struggle to render a page quickly, while on occasion you find yourself unable to load any web pages at all.
RIM has once again stated that the new 9900 browser is much better, and for once I can honestly say it is. Pages now actually load, which is always a bonus, and they render quickly too. Thanks to the addition of the touchscreen, it’s quick and easy to scroll around and zoom in and out with a pinch or pull. The increased resolution also means you can view an entire web page in great detail, even when viewing the whole width at once. I always thought that the previous Bold screens were good, but it’s going to be hard to go back to the old 480×320 pixel screen now. That has to be good news for RIM, as there must be some really reasons to want to upgrade. With the improved keyboard and screen, there probably is.
BlackBerry Bold 9900: Future proofed
The added support of NFC (near field communications) on the Bold 9900 probably won’t be of much interest, but over time it will allow you to scan smart tags on posters and products, most likely taking you to a specified web link. Think of this as being quicker than scanning a QR code with your camera today, but not something you’d be really bothered about either way. In the longer term, it will also be possible to pair your BlackBerry with an accessory simply by touching it, as well as make secure payments as a possibility after that. For these uses, NFC is certainly worth having, to be ready for the future.
It’s not all good news, though. Besides the slimmer image sensor, RIM has also sliced a chunk out of the battery – reducing it from 1,500mAh to 1,230mAh. Given this powerhouse is running at 1.2GHz and now has a much larger screen to power, this is potential suicide for a company that produces devices people rely on.
RIM has made its new BlackBerry operate like most other smartphones, meaning it now needs far more regular charging. Of course, in the last year or two, we’ve all become used to this and now look to give the battery a top-up wherever possible. Even when travelling, there’s often access to a power point – or you can buy a portable battery charger. But, as someone who can remember when a BlackBerry could last well over a week – and even the 9780 can go for three or four days between charges – it’s a shame that you’ll now feel compelled to keep charging so as not to lose access to your whole life by early evening. Now, if you’re wondering whether to buy the 9900 or perhaps pick up a significantly cheaper 9780, I’d accept the poorer camera and weaker battery, simply for the awesome keyboard and the screen. The time you’ve saved entering messages and texts may just offset the reduction in battery life!
Life is about compromise, and for a while we made do with a slightly inferior keyboard on the Bold 9700 and 9780 in order not to lug about the huge brick that was the Bold 9000. But RIM has come up with a slimmed-down smartphone (the thinnest BlackBerry ever, in fact) and it is time to welcome it back with open hands. However, the battery is smaller and the thin design means an inferior camera, too. But, with the addition of touch and a VGA-resolution screen (and readiness for NFC), it’s still a firm winner and the BlackBerry everyone will surely want.
What Mobile Test Verdict 5/5
PERFORMANCE 4 / 5
FEATURES 4 / 5
USABILITY 4 / 5