RIM BlackBerry Bold Comes Up a Little Short

Mobility

RIM’s BlackBerry Bold smartphone is a powerful device with a lot of storage, rich multimedia capabilities and excellent audio. However, it disappoints in several areas and in the highly competitive smartphone space falls behind other devices, such as the Apple iPhone and the Android-based T1 smartphone.

When I first got my hands on an early demo unit of Research In Motion‘s BlackBerry 9000 smartphone – also known as the Bold – for a few minutes back in May, my immediate reaction was that I had an award winner in my hands. With its impressively vibrant screen, excellent sound quality for music and videos, new 3G data connectivity, and BlackBerry’s ongoing mastery of mobile e-mail capabilities, it seemed a foregone conclusion that RIM and the Bold would find great success – whenever they got around to releasing it.

However, in the intervening five months between that time and the Bold’s recent release, while the Bold underwent extensive and seemingly interminable testing on AT&T’s 3G network in the US, the smartphone market saw a series of dramatic shifts that undercut much of the Bold’s appeal.

The second-generation iPhone from Apple brought with it a new application marketplace that redefined expectations of what people could do with a mobile phone, and T-Mobile and Google reaffirmed this movement with the Android-based T1 with Google device and the accompanying Android Market. In addition, rival Nokia released several phones with loads of features for business users and consumers alike, and even Microsoft’s Windows Mobile delivered a few attractive and interesting devices, such as Sony’s Xperia and the HTC Touch Pro.

The Bold seems underwhelming because the device should be capable of so much more. The Bold is powerful for a smartphone, featuring a 624MHz processor, 1GB of on-board storage and 128MB of flash ROM. Via the MicroSD slot, the device can be further expanded with up to 32GB of removable storage.

All that storage will be handy to take advantage of the device’s rich multimedia capabilities. First of all, the screen is stunning, albeit a tad small by today’s standards. With its 480-by-320-pixel resolution, the 2.75-inch, backlit TFT screen crisply delivers smooth, good-looking video from H.264, and some DIVX and XVID encoded media files.

The Blackberry Bold is currently avavilable in the UK through Vodafone, Orange, Phones4U, Carphone Warehouse and 02.

In addition, the Bold breaks some new ground with its Wi-Fi radio, adding support for the commonly neglected 5GHz band and 802.11a to the 802.11b/g and enterprise-grade Wi-Fi security RIM first introduced last year with the BlackBerry 8820. RIM typically does an excellent job on its WLAN radio implementations—making sure the radio is designed to maximise the security, battery life and roaming performance demands of enterprise-grade customers—and the Bold lives up to heritage.

But it’s this excellence with Wi-Fi that makes RIM’s ongoing lack of commitment to the technology all the more bedeviling. The lion’s share of the company’s device portfolio still does not include Wi-Fi, including its brand-new flagship device, the touch-screen BlackBerry Storm.

The Bold is also RIM’s first 3G device for GSM networks, as the smartphone supports the 850/1,900/2,100MHz bands for UMTS/HSDPA in the United States and abroad.

The Bold comes with a 1,500-MAhr battery that is rated for 4.5 hours of talk time or 13.5 days on standby. My battery tests showed the Bold slightly bettered these claims, delivering 5 hours and 8 minutes of talk time.

The Bold is not excessively large, nor is it particularly petite. Measuring in at 114 by 66 by 15 mm and 136 grams, the Bold is slightly wider and thicker than the iPhone and significantly thicker than the Nokia E71.

Software

The Bold comes with a new version of the BlackBerry operating system, Version 4.6. The new software brings with it an updated new look to the user interface—a look that I never got comfortable with in the few weeks I used the device. From the program menu, all available applications are displayed only as icons, with descriptive text only displayed for the application the user has highlighted using the trackball.