The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 brings T-Mobile its first 3G BlackBerry and improves on its predecessor with a sleeker design and more power. Hands-on full review of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 Smartphone from Research in Motion. Videos, Images, Hardware comparison and more. In our review of the new Blackberry Bold 9700 we found out that the smaller size and a handful of refinements make the new Bold one of. Blackberry Bold 9700 (Bold 2) Expert Review: Can the new Bold better the excellent original? - Buying advice from the UK's leading.
Blackberry 9700 Review - Because the Blackberry Bold 9700 has been called the “ best Blackberry ever” by some. Recently I upgraded from the BlackBerry Bold 9000 to the BlackBerry Bold 9700. I decided to take this opportunity to review it as well. It is certainly a worthy upgrade to the Bold series, improving on things such as form factor, memory, and performance. It is definitely much faster than the original Bold, and has twice the memory as well. However, some of RIM’s actions towards the design of the phone weren’t as good, such as the removal of the 1GB internal storage and the stereo speakers around the phone.
The original BlackBerry Bold 9000 was an excellent phone. It seemed to have it all. Albeit there were a few things left to be desired, however, they weren’t big quirks.
Now, one year later, we have the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the successor. I’ve played with it for about two weeks now, and overall, I find it an excellent phone, though not as excellent as it’s older brother. While it improved in many areas, RIM also decided to take out some things that made the original Bold stand out from the crowd.
A look at the phone
In their review of the original Bold 9000 last year, CNET described the phone as being very masculine. It was a large phone, which made it very masculine indeed. It was large and hefty, but it was still a great experience to use. The width of the device made the keyboard VERY easy to use, and it also allowed for a nice widescreen display. It was Bold in every sense of the word.
Now, with the 9700, RIM decided to cut down on the boldness and shrink the phone down to the size of the Tour and the Curve 8900.
In shrinking it down, we also lost some space on the keyboard and screen, though it is not all bad, as the keyboard is still just as easy to use, and the screen packs a larger resolution of 480×360 (as opposed to 480×320). Along with having the same size, the phone also has some of the design features of the Tour, such as the metal bezel. It is a welcome design as it makes the phone look a bit more sleek than it’s predecessor, as well as more appealing to those who prefer a smaller phone and less manly phone.
Another very noticeable change was the removal of the trackball in favor of the optical trackpad, as seen on the Curve 8530. It is definitely an innovation over the trackball, as it does not occasionally jam, like the trackball did. However, it does take some getting used to. Movement on the trackpad isn’t as smooth as it was with the trackball, and it depended on how easily your finger slid across it. Nevertheless, it was a definite plus over the trackball.
Another change of the phone was changing the side buttons from plastic to a more soft touch rubber material. No objection there, as it makes for a more secure feel in the hand. On the back of the phone, we still have the familiar leather style that we saw on the 9000, however this one doesn’t cover as much space as the old one did. Although it doesn’t cover the entire battery case, it still makes for a good look, especially with the chrome logo and the “Bold” up above it.
After removing the battery cover, I noticed that the microSD card slot had been moved right above the battery, instead of being on the side. As usual, the SIM slot is beneath the Battery.
Another change was the removal of the multiple speakers on the phone. The original Bold had 3 speakers: one on top and two on the sides. This made for loud and clear music playback. With the release of the Bold 9700, these speakers have been removed in favor of one speaker on the back. Kind of a bad design choice, since sound will be muffled when the phone is on it’s back, and the loss of the good sound quality.
The last change I noticed was the improvement in build quality. I already managed to drop the phone in the two weeks I’ve had it, and I noticed that not as much damage was done to the bezel as it was on the 9000. The 9000’s bezel actually cracked, whereas the 9700 only looked like some paint got scraped off. Very nice RIM. The phone just feels more secure and well built than the Bold 9000.
The Bold 9700 runs RIM OS 5, which means it sports the updated user interface and has threaded text messaging. Setting up my email was a cinch, since I already had a BlackBerry Internet Service account, all I had to do was enter my credentials and soon my email accounts showed up on the Messaging app.
RIM has improved the performance of the phone quite a bit. It features a more powerful processor and a hefty 256MB of application memory, twice as much as the original Bold. Because of this, I noticed MUCH less lagging in navigation and less browser hang-ups. Plus, more memory means room for more apps, which is always a plus. Speaking of memory, the original Bold came with 1GB of on board storage space, so you could store some media without the need for a microSD card. Well, RIM decided to remove that in this model, which is a shame.
One new feature of the OS is the ability to synchronize your contacts between the device and Gmail. As soon as I plugged in my email credentials, it took a few minutes to activate the service (it treats it as if you’re activating a BlackBerry Enterprise System), and within seconds, my contacts were on the device. Though a most convenient addition, it did have it’s flaws, the most prominent one being that some of the contact info (nicknames, pictures) did not get sent to the device. As to why, I do not know, but I did find it inconvenient to have to add pictures to my contacts all over again.
Navigating the device was easy. It’s an updated OS, but it’s still the basic point and click, mostly text interface that we know and love. Go into an app, look around at the choices, press the logo key to pull up the menu, and all that good stuff.
The updated OS did, however, make it a hell of a lot easier to identify drop-down combo boxes and text fields in apps and options panels. In OS 4.6 and older, it was hard to tell what was a text field or combo box because they all looked like regular text. Now, combo boxes look more like combo boxes, and text fields more like text fields. This made the OS a great deal easier to navigate.
Battery life on the phone was touted as being improved, with up to 6 hours talk time over 4.5 on the original Bold. When using the original Bold, I was able to last about 2 days on a single charge with moderate to heavy usage (texting, browsing, listening to music). With that same usage on the Bold 9700, I got around 2 1/2 days of use on a single charge. It’s a small improvement.
As a Phone
The phone part of the Bold 9700 was simple to use. To dial out, all I had to do was be in any part of the Home screen and start dialing. Were I in an app, I could just press the green call button and there’s the phone app. When I was wearing my Bluetooth earpiece, I could activate the voice control feature. Voice control was very accurate, and it made very few mistakes.
During a call, sound quality was very clear coming through, and folks on the other side said I sounded clear all the time. When using the speakerphone, though it was loud, the sound began to get a little bit choppy, especially on high volume. It came through loud, but I found myself asking people to repeat themselves when using the speakerphone.
The call screen is rather simple, displaying the status bar at the bottom, the caller info on the left, my number on the right, and time up top. When you press the menu button, the menu will come up offering the basic options such as put them on hold, mute the call, activate speakerphone or your Bluetooth earpiece, and add a call participant. Other options include bringing up the calendar, messages, and notes app so you can take info down while in a call. There is also an option to Enhance Call Audio, which is basically an equalizer for the phone. It only had bass boost and treble boost, and in most cases it did make things better, but I didn’t use it that often.
Texting on the BlackBerry was also very simple. Following the BlackBerry tradition, the phone gave you the option to include text messages in the messaging app or as a separate app. Like many phones now, the Bold 9700 includes threaded text messaging. For those who don’t know, threaded texting groups all your text messages into an IM style conversation, making for easier navigation and reading. It’s pretty straight forward, just pick a conversation and there are all your messages, and a reply section. Up top it shows the character and message count, person you’re texting, and their picture (if present). A welcome feature is the emoticon button, which brings up a list of commonly used emoticons. They show up as pictures on the Berry, but if the other person doesn’t have a phone with this feature, they will just show up as their text equivalent, which is very nice.
As a PDA
When you talk about a BlackBerry, anyone is going to think of email. After all, that is BlackBerry’s claim to fame. The Bold 9700 uses the BlackBerry Internet Service to bring down your email as soon as it arrives. This has become known as “push” email. Email on the BlackBerry is indeed very nice, as it makes it easy to compose messages and reply on the dot to messages you have received. However, and many agree with me on this one, BlackBerry email is not perfect. As a matter of fact, it’s far from it due to the fact that there is a lack of full IMAP support. It has the ability to sync read and delete status, but that’s it. You can’t access any of your folders on the server, nor can you read emails received before you got the device. All it does is bring down email from the inbox. It’s quite a shame, and I wonder why RIM has not supported this yet. This isn’t just the Bold 9700. It’s every BlackBerry.
Another complaint I had about email was the rendering of some heavy HTML email messages. When I receive a message with a lot of formatting (pictures, borders, etc), they render on the device in a jumbled fashion, making them very hard to navigate, let alone read. This is due to the fact that it is trying to fit the entire message into one column. If I could make a suggestion to RIM, it would be to follow in the footsteps of the iPhone and have the message render like a webpage, with the ability to zoom in and out. Then, instead of navigating by jumping to the next available link, use a mouse pointer to get around the email, like in the browser. That would definitely improve the email experience.
The Bold 9700 comes with all of the basic PIM apps, including the calendar, contacts, me ssaging, and notes. All of these can be synced with a computer (more on that later), and provide their usual features, while adding the BlackBerry touch.
What I mean by “BlackBerry touch” is the integration of the apps with other apps of the phone, such as Facebook. If you use Facebook on your BlackBerry, you can set it to integrate itself into the messaging, calendar, and contacts app. If someone comments or posts on your Wall, it will show up in the messaging app. If you set up or join an event on your Facebook calendar, it will show up in your BlackBerry calendar with a reminder. And (my favorite) if you have contacts in your address book that are also Facebook friends, it will download and update contact pictures in the app.
It’s a nice feature since I don’t have to go and check every single app for updates and such. I can view it straight from the native clients of the phone, which is very nice. This also works for MySpace, some Twitter apps, and the BlackBerry IM clients (Windows Live, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo, and Google Talk).
Web browsing on the phone was about the same as the Bold 9000. It’s certainly no iPhone browser, but it gets the job done quite nicely. It can load pages as you would see them on a desktop, and allows you to zoom in and out of web pages.
When navigating, the browser features a virtual mouse pointer that will let you move around a page with ease.
One nice navigation feature is the column view. Basically this reformats the entire webpage to appear in a single column. Usually when you do this, any heavy HTML formatting gets jumbled up, but it’s excellent when reading an article or a lot of text.
As a Multimedia device
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 comes with support for audio and video playback, and it packs a nice 3.2MP camera with autofocus and flash, as well as video capabilities.
The camera app is relatively simple, allowing you to activate or deactivate flash, set the white balance, and set picture size and quality. The flash is automatic, and can detect when it’s dark or light. When you take the picture, it will take a second to autofocus and then snap the picture. One complaint that I (and the folks in my pictures) had was that the flash would turn on while autofocusing, which had it on for about 2 seconds. Even if I turned off autofocus, it would still happen (though for less time). An issue that needs to be fixed, RIM, for the sake of the sighted world.
Overall, picture quality was very good. There was some static in the images, but it was very hard to notice. In darker situations (the cd and rocket picture), the flash came into play and illuminated the scene quite nicely. In complete daylight (the country view picture), picture quality was amazing. In scenes with a little of both (the record player), you can see the difference in quality between the two situations, with the darker side showing more static and the lighter side showing less.
A quick demo of the video camera.
While picture quality was good, the video camera quality was quite bad. There was a lot of static in the picture, and it was also very dark. Furthermore, the microphone wasn’t very loud, as you can see in the video above.
Viewing pictures was simple as well, as you could zoom in, slideshow, and set one as a wallpaper. There was, however, a bit of a lag in loading the thumbnails. This is probably a software thing and hopefully can be fixed soon.
In addition to viewing your pictures, you can also listen to music on the phone. The Bold 9700 supports all the major audio formats, including MP3, MP4, and M4A. When you open the music app, it looks like the menu screen of an mp3 player, allowing you to view your music by artist, genre, album, or just view all the songs. The now playing screen also looks like an mp3 player, showing the song info and the cover art, with controls at the bottom. The player also has shortcuts on the keyboard for quick navigation, such as spacebar to play pause, (n) for next, and (p) for previous. All of this in combination with that 3.5mm earphone jack on the side of the phone, and you have yourself a nice mp3 player here. You can also use some Bluetooth headphones to listen. Don’t have any earphones, and still want to listen without bothering anyone? Just open the menu and choose “Activate Handset” and the music will be played through the earpiece of the phone, so you can listen to it as if you were on the phone.
I had mixed feelings about video playback on the 9700. It supported the popular video formats, though there was no sense of organization, it was just all your videos, be they music videos, concerts, movies, or TV shows, they all went into one list. Furthermore, skipping through videos was quite painful as well. When I would try and jump to a certain part in the video, it would take a while to get to it, and when it did it played through very choppy with the audio out of sync. It was a great shame, especially since the screen of the phone was perfect for watching videos. The picture was sharp, and the colors were vibrant. I watched Stevie Wonder’s A Wonder Summer’s Night concert on the phone (which was a very colorful concert), and it looked absolutely stunning. It’s just sad that navigating the video was such a pain.
The Bold 9700 comes with support for AT&T 3G. When tested in downtown Houston, TX, data came through quickly, and I was able to navigate the web, stream YouTube, and download music without any kind of lag. I was also able to get full 3G in certain rural parts of Texas, though in most cases I was dropped to EDGE.
For the times when 3G was not available, the Bold 9700 came with support for WiFi 802.11 b/g. Setting up and connecting was a simple process, and it also featured profiles, which allowed automatic connection to a known network when in range. Very nice.
Bluetooth was also nicely implemented. I was able to pair the phone with my Plantronics Discovery 975 earpiece quite easily, and sound was transferred clearly. It also supported voice command, which was very accurate. Pairing with my computer was also easy, and I was able to send files between the two, use my computer as an audio gateway for music playback, and tether.
The phone also supports GPS. Using Google Maps, I was able to get a lock on my location within seconds, and updating was just as fast. It was very accurate.
Apps and Customizability
The BlackBerry Bold 9700, like all other BlackBerries, allowed for theming of the phone. While it seems nice, theming was actually a bit of a pain as it required me to reorganize my icons for each theme I use. It couldn’t remember the icon arrangement and use it in a different theme. I always had to reorganize it, which became quite the annoyance. So I sort of just gave up on theming.
A nice new feature of the Bold 9700 (well it’s actually an OS 5 feature) is the inclusion of a Today screen layout, which resembles that of a Windows Mobile device, showing you new messages, missed calls, and upcoming events. It’s very nice, though I kind of prefer having my favorite apps up front instead.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 also has a ton of apps available for it. Unfortunately, this isn’t brought to attention upfront since the storefront, BlackBerry App World, is not installed by default. This is kind of a bad choice, since I doubt most users are going to go Google for an app. App World should come preinstalled.
When you open App World, you are greeted with the top apps, and 5 menu items at the bottom, allowing you to browse by category, browse top free and paid apps, search, and see what apps you’ve purchased and downloaded. However, unlike Apple, RIM does not control what is and isn’t available for the phone. This means that not every BlackBerry app out there is in the App World.
In addition to the native BlackBerry apps, you can also install any of the numerous Java Mobile apps out there. You know, those small games and apps that you would run on that old featurephone of yours. The BlackBerry OS is built on top of a Java system, so it allows for this.
The Bold 9700 comes with a CD containing BlackBerry Desktop Manager. This is basically ActiveSync/Windows Mobile Device center for BlackBerry. Basically, it can connect to the phone via USB or Bluetooth, and sync your phone with any supported PIM apps (Outlook, Windows Calendar, etc). It also features app installation and backup capabilities, and is also capable of updating your device’s OS.
To sync your media, you can use the included BlackBerry Media Sync to sync your music and pictures to the phone. It can sync pictures from folders you specify, and it will synchronize music from either iTunes or Windows Media Player. I am personally waiting for support for the Zune software, so until then, copying and pasting my music will have to do.
The Bold 9700 is definitely a worthy addition to the BlackBerry line, and certainly does a good job of successing the Bold 9000. The improved speed and memory was very helpful, and the overall usage was simple. Call quality was excellent, though speakerphone quality could have been better.
I also wished RIM hadn’t opted to remove the 1GB of storage space that came on the first Bold. It really was very useful. Furthermore, I also believe that App World should have come preinstalled, especially if RIM is trying to “blur the line between work and play.” The last thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the lousy handling of email, including HTML support and the whole IMAP thing.
Well, no phone is perfect. They all have their ups and downs, and this one had more ups than downs, so I score it with 4 out of 5 stars.