BlackBerry Bold 9900: Review

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Combining touchscreen and keyboard, the 9900 is a slick slim BlackBerry for loyal users

Even before its current service problems, Research In Motion was in something of a quandary. The company that helped pioneer the whole concept of a smartphone, and which retains an audience of loyal users within businesses worldwide, is under marketplace assault from a legion of determined competitors: not only Apple’s iPhone, which is rapidly working its way into corporate life, but also a rising tide of increasingly sophisticated Google Android devices.

The wild card in this particular poker game is Windows Phone, which can draw from the combined resources of both Microsoft and Nokia, and has the potential to make a substantive enterprise play of its own.

A good enough phone?

Faced with those issues, RIM has chosen to embrace a strategy of leapfrog. Ccompany executives have talked up a series of QNX-based “superphones” that will supposedly barrel their way onto the market in 2012, complete with hardware and software capable of taking the most powerful rivals head-on. This great leap forward, they say, will realign RIM as the smartphone manufacturer to beat.

In the interim, as a sort of stopgap measure, RIM is pushing a line of BlackBerry devices running its new BlackBerry 7 OS. These include the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 with a sliding keyboard, and the touch-screen-only BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860. Sprint recently gave eWEEK a BlackBerry Bold 9930 unit.

If you’re a RIM fan who’s in the market for a BlackBerry with a physical QWERTY keyboard, and don’t really care if the smartphone’s operating system is a radical departure from your old BlackBerry, then the Bold 9900/9930 could be your huckleberry.

RIM claims the new Bold is its thinnest smartphone ever, and at 0.41 inches deep it certainly does present a slim profile. It feels comfortable in the hand, substantial yet not heavy (it weighs 4.59 ounces). Moreover, the body is well-built: there’s nary a wiggling keyboard or back panel threatening to pop loose, unlike some of the high-priced Android smartphones on the market. You can argue whether the exposed metal rim along the outside of the Bold is a design cue borrowed from the iPhone 4, but you can’t deny that RIM put a lot of thought and care into the look of this thing.

Between the trackpad and the keyboard, the 2.8-inch screen’s touch capacity feels almost superfluous. That being said, RIM has taken drastic steps to improve its touch experience, making it responsive and accurate. The screen’s VGA 640 x 480 resolution is adequate for playing video and Web-cruising, although its relatively small size means that, if you’re purchasing a smartphone solely as a multimedia device, you might want to cast your eye elsewhere.

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