The eagerly awaited BlackBerry Bold 9000 continues RIM's legacy for qwerty smartphones - and may be its best yet.

So here it is; the most anticipated BlackBerry handset to date. The BlackBerry Bold 9000 is a quad-band handset with both HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) 3G and GPS navigation that its maker, Research In Motion, hopes will cause as much of a furore as the iPhone 3G.

The handset we tested is on the Vodafone network, but T-Mobile announced last week that it will also be selling the Bold, while RIM tells us that in time it expects all UK networks to offer its latest quad-band baby.

First impressions are extremely favourable: this is a superb looking smartphone with strong lines and a gorgeous screen.

Visit Mobile Advisor for the latest mobile phone news, reviews, tips & tricks

BlackBerry handsets traditionally come with leatherette cases in which to store your precious gem – the Bold meanwhile has a leatherette back, into which is set the 2Mp camera and video capture unit. There's space enough to emboss this with a discreet BlackBerry logo – we’re sure it was no coincidence that Apple also has a central distinctive silver logo on the back of its iPhone.

Design comparisons with the iPhone are unfair, however: the Bold is said to have been in the planning stages for three years and it more closely resembles smartphones from HTC and Motorola than it does Apple's iPhone.

A broad, flat handset that nonetheless fits comfortably in the palm, it's noticeably heavier than other BlackBerry handsets, but has a cleaner, more modern look. This is helped by the fact that there's a smart silver magnesium-alloy trim around the Bold's circumference with silver lines separating each line of keys on its full Qwerty keypad. These 'frets' between the rows of keys help distinguish between them – a device that Bold’s designer borrowed from the guitar (though we think RIM's reference to the keys being on a musical stave is stretching the analogy somewhat).

NEXT PAGE: look and feel and the BlackBerry Bold 9000's screen

The eagerly awaited BlackBerry Bold 9000 continues RIM's legacy for qwerty smartphones - and may be its best yet.

Viewed from the front, the BlackBerry Bold is much flatter than previous models, and the keys don't protrude as much as on the 8800 series models (those with the famous scrollwheel on the handset's righthand edge).

The transmissive LCD screen is not touch-sensitive and feels much sturdier than the tough plastic coating on the consumer-focused Pearl range. The overall effect is smarter, classier and more desirable. We even dare go so far as to say that the Bold is as good-looking as the iPhone and, for business executives, may be the preferred choice.

Initially available only in piano black, which nicely sets off the silver accents, RIM hopes that the Bold will quickly become the sort of desirable product that everyone wants to make their own, with different fascias and onscreen customisations. Just the sort of thing we can imagine City wideboys and business fashionistas doing. It's a handset for the discerning consumer, but it will also appeal strongly to the executive.

Visit Mobile Advisor for the latest mobile phone news, reviews, tips & tricks

The display itself is much improved, with a half-VGA 480x320-pixel resolution and the ability to display 65,000 colours. The result is a detailed and very vibrant screen from which photos and video seem to burst forth. The effect, says RIM's Rob Orr, is a direct effect of the glass of the Bold's screen now being flush against the lens rather than separate from it.

DivX and some xVid video codecs are supported, as is WMV (Windows Media Video) and H.264. For audio, the Bold can play the key formats of MP3, AAC and WMA9/10.

Another notable improvement is in the microphone and speaker. We were able to comfortably watch a trailer for a Hollywood blockbuster without needing to plug in a headset to catch the dialogue, and also found it worked well as a voice recorder.

NEXT PAGE: Bold in action

 

The eagerly awaited BlackBerry Bold 9000 continues RIM's legacy for qwerty smartphones - and may be its best yet.


As with other BlackBerry handsets, it can be all too easy to depress the voice command hardware button on the Bold's exterior and find yourself being prompted to "Say a command". However, you aren't stuck with the feature set its maker provides. Pressing on the BlackBerry button lets you move, promote or demote items from the main screen and you can create a mini taskbar of frequently-used apps that you can jump straight to.

In addition to this, there are almost as many predefined and user-assignable shortcut keys as you care to dream up.

We were very much enamoured of the new user interface RIM has dreamt up for the Bold, the BlackBerry OS 4.6. We learnt from its product manager that Research In Motion's policy is to apply all innovations introduced on one generation of handset to successive models.

Gone are the outdated looking large coloured icons and the signature background image of the highway disappearing over the horizon. Instead, application icons are now sharper, brighter and defined with a thin white border that separates them from the smart black background on which they sit. You can alter this background to something more personal, but we really like what RIM has done here and think many users will be more than content with this sharper, more modern look.

Bold in action

When you first start using the Bold, you're presented with an array of six function icons along the bottom of the screen. These equate to lock, email, contact book, calendar, web browser and GPS navigation.

The time, date, phone network, connection status, battery life and signal strength are all listed in a translucent bar at the top of the screen. All of this customisable, of course.

Visit Mobile Advisor for the latest mobile phone news, reviews, tips & tricks

When emails arrive in your inbox, a small red number appears at the top of the email envelope icon telling you the number of waiting mails. Users of the iPhone will recognise this useful setup.

Texting and composing emails on the Bold is an efficient process too. Having spent the past year tapping away on a BlackBerry Pearl handset on which two characters must share each key, the more generous width of the BlackBerry Bold proved a welcome change. RIM told us that its own tests showed that the Bold has "the highest typing rate of all Qwerty handsets".

It's probably here – if anywhere – that the Bold bests the iPhone 3G. People who text and email a lot will find the BlackBerry more forgiving on the thumbpads than the virtual keys of the iPhone. Email delivery was speedy too: no sooner had we typed in our test email messages and pressed the central orb to initiate the send than the message popped up in our work email.

NEXT PAGE: email and word-processing

 

The eagerly awaited BlackBerry Bold 9000 continues RIM's legacy for qwerty smartphones - and may be its best yet.

 
We tested the email delivery to three separate POP3 email accounts and another corporate email address – all were delivered almost on the instant. Attachments are supported, so we tried sending and opening attachments on our Bold.

Sure enough, we were able to open Jpeg images, zoom in to them and view as fullscreen. When we elected to save a file, we got a helpful warning that doing so could be an expensive business.

We had no problem opening our sample rtf Word file either – the 22KB file opened and was resized to fit the dimensions of the Bold's screen in less than two seconds.

Visit Mobile Advisor for the latest mobile phone news, reviews, tips & tricks


The bright backlighting of the handset ensured a clear contrast between the text and the background and we had no difficulty reading through the 2,500 word document. Bold and italic formatting was preserved, as were hyperlinks.

The web browsing experience on the BlackBerry Bold impressed us too. For all that we love the idea of enjoying the mobile web on a smartphone, all too often it’s an unsatisfactory and frustrating experience.

Using a 3G connection, graphics-heavy web pages still took a few seconds to load large images, while less bandwidth-intensive furniture like site logos and headers quickly appeared. Text on web pages was visible and properly readable in three to four seconds. We could even zoom in and start reading reviews on the PC Advisor website pretty much as soon as their headlines appeared.

NEXT PAGE: media management, playback, and our expert verdict

 

The eagerly awaited BlackBerry Bold 9000 continues RIM's legacy for qwerty smartphones - and may be its best yet.

 
Other important points to note about the BlackBerry Bold are its media management and playback credentials. RIM has enlisted respected audio/video software specialist Roxio to come up with a media manager that helps you identify and categorise your photos and music.

To get an idea of the quality of the screen, it’s worth picking up the Bold in your local phone shop and scrolling to the Video section under the media player section. The Need For Speed trailer preinstalled on our sample was most impressive.

Visit Mobile Advisor for the latest mobile phone news, reviews, tips & tricks

You can upload albums from your PC or laptop without issue, while users of the Windows version of iTunes at least can also make use of the BlackBerry Media Sync applet, and use the Bold as one of their registered iTunes devices. There’s still no news on whether RIM will extend this support to the Mac as well.

Our sample came with 1GB of card memory to complement the built-in 1GB memory, with microSD cards accepted via a slot on the left edge. This currently limits storage to 8GB although microSD capacities of up to 16GB are expected to be available before the end of the year.

NEXT PAGE: look and feel and the BlackBerry Bold 9000's screen

OUR VERDICT

As you may have guessed, we were impressed with this gorgeous smartphone. Often, when a device has been promised for some time, the hype leads to expectations that can't be met. Not so the BlackBerry Bold: in common with its rival, the iPhone 3G, it's a fantastically well connected, well-designed and well-constructed smartphone. Our only real question is how the rumoured touchscreen Thunder and other future BlackBerry handsets can beat it.

Find the best price