The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 has a glamorous black interface highlighting its large application icons and smart frets dividing the rows of characters on the keypad. Updated, January 7, 2010

Smaller than the original Bold, it looks every bit as smart and classy, with a superb screen resolution and a host of customisation options.

It's a full 3G phone with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth plus email, picture messaging and web browsing.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 review

The orb navigation ball has been replaced by a tiny trackball that's extremely efficient to use. But for existing BlackBerry fans the key concern will be whether it's as easy to type on as its predecessor.

It took us a while to get up to speed - some keys are hidden away and it took us a while to achieve consistently accurate typing. After a bit of practice, however, we found text entry a nimble process.

The Bold has Palm Pre-like multi-tasking capabilities, and you can scroll easily between applications and open multiple ones.

Threaded messaging displays updates and messages from IM, email, SMS and social networks as well as multiple email accounts in the same inbox.

An icon shows the application from which each originates. Contact and keyword search is also top of the class.

Unless in text/email mode or browsing the web, the keypad is numerical, so you can dial someone's number without having to select an app first.

You can make a straightforward call from a stored contact name or email, or enter a few characters or the two-digit speed dial number - another real plus.

Call clarity and volume are good, with a choice of tones and phone modes. You can switch off the wireless radio to conserve battery power, but we can't see this being a problem.

The BlackBerry web browser is good, allowing you to roam wherever you want and enjoy embedded Flash video. The iPhone still rules the web browsing roost, though.

BlackBerry AppWorld is second only to the iPhone App Store in number of offerings, but it's a long way behind Apple.

The BlackBerry's has more focus on business and productivity options, including a strong selection of satnav and general mapping apps.

NEXT: Original full review

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The second-generation BlackBerry Bold 9700 is a noticeably smaller handset than its predecessor the BlackBerry Bold - 6mm narrower, in fact, at 60mm broad.

It retains the distinctive silver ‘frets' between lines of keys, but the keypad area and, indeed, the screen, are smaller on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 than on the first Bold. Although qwerty fans may have prized the relatively generous keypad of the original BlackBerry Bold, RIM is adamant that typing on the new RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 model will be every bit as fast and accurate.

In our demonstration we were shown how the new SurePress software in the also-new BlackBerry Storm 2 model had improved predictive text and was better at divining which keys we meant to press based on their proximity to the character we actually selected. Although the implementation of this idea is different in the RIM BlackBerry Bold 2, it works on the same principle.

As with speedy typing on the iPhone, for example, on these latest BlackBerry handsets you need to ignore the typos and keep on typing and the sentence or phrase will eventually come good. We've yet to get enough hands-on time with the BlackBerry Bold 9700, however, to establish how true this is.

The other big difference between the original and second-generation BlackBerry Bold model is that the navigation trackball has been replaced by a gesture-aware trackpad. This same feature debuted on the Curve 8520 handset that came out in August. However, flying in the face of the standard RIM line that its handsets are evolutionary and features that appear in one handset are planned to make their way into successive models, it seems the instantly recognisable trackball may not be gone forever.

In response to our questions about whether the end of the trackball meant the end of the Pearl line of BlackBerry handsets, we were told not to assume the trackball was gone forever and that the Pearl and Flip line-ups were still very much alive.

RIM told us that distinction between the very first BlackBerry handsets with the scrollwheel on one side and the latest models was one of vertical navigation, followed by three-dimensional navigation with the trackball and now "open and free navigation" with the touchpad.

Certainly the sensitivity of the BlackBerry Bold 9700's touchpad is impressive. As with a mouse on a PC, the sensitivity levels can be adjusted to suit the user's preference on the Bold, but in our tests barely a brush of a fingertip resulted in items being selected and navigation commands being implemented. The processor on the Bold 9700 is the same 624MHz one of its predecessor, but zipping around feels faster and more responsive.

Getting things done on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 handset is certainly set to be efficient: the BlackBerry 5.0 software that launched earlier this year supports threaded conversations and shows conversations and communications from multiple messaging platforms in the same inbox, so you don't have to root around separate work and personal email accounts, log on to Facebook to see what your friends are up to and so on. Instead, the source app is indicated by its icon.

It's the sort of innovation that made many of us hanker after a Palm Pre and means RIM remains at the top of the smartphone tree when it comes to solid email and business communications. For peer-to-peer messaging there's a copy of BlackBerry Messenger 5.0 installed, along with a curious app called Display My Barcode that uses the unique PIN ID of each BlackBerry handset to authenticate the user and allow them to text, chat and exchange photos and other files.

NEXT PAGE: media keys and web access >>

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RIM has been showing off its brand-new RIM BlackBerry Bold 2 smartphone to select journalists in London this week. We were among the chosen reviewers to be given an in-depth, hands-on briefing with the BlackBerry Bold 9700.

Media keys on the outside of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 are now neatly encased in protective rubber, while the removable microSD card slot used to store music, video and photos slides in at an angle at the back of the handset, just below the embossed Bold logo. This makes it far less fiddly to insert or switch media cards.

As well as tracks downloaded over the air using a service such as the 7Digital music store (where some 7 million DRM-free tracks are offered), media from an iTunes or Windows Media Player library can be played on the Bold 9700. In line with the launch of BlackBerry for Mac software last month, media libraries on both Windows PCs and Macs can be synchronised with the smartphone.

With wearying familiarity we were informed that there was only intermittent web access in the basement meeting room where our one-on-one demonstration with the BlackBerry Bold 9700 took place, so we weren't able to draw conclusions about the 3G or Wi-Fi functions - though we did download an app from the BlackBerry App World store in the course of checking the responsiveness of the navigation menu.

The display, however, is an impressively bright 320K colour 480x360-pixels, while the camera is now a 3.2Mp version. Such consumer-friendly aspects are increasingly important to RIM: in its last business quarter, 80 percent of its subscribers were consumers who access their emails and the web using BIS (BlackBerry Internet Services) rather than BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) clients.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

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RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700: Specs

  • 3G, Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth, GSM, GPRS, Edge smartphone
  • 2.4in LCD screen
  • SureType Qwerty keyboard
  • 3.2Mp camera
  • 256MB microSD card
  • headphone jack
  • email, calendar, task list, web browser, media player, BlackBerry 5.0 software
  • BlackBerry 5.0 Messenger
  • BlackBerry AppWorld Store
  • 60x14x109 mm
  • 122g with battery
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • standby up to 21 days
  • up to 6 hours talktime
  • up to 38-hour music playback
  • 109x60x14.1mm
  • 122g
  • 3G, Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth, GSM, GPRS, Edge smartphone
  • 2.4in LCD screen
  • SureType Qwerty keyboard
  • 3.2Mp camera
  • 256MB microSD card
  • headphone jack
  • email, calendar, task list, web browser, media player, BlackBerry 5.0 software
  • BlackBerry 5.0 Messenger
  • BlackBerry AppWorld Store
  • 60x14x109 mm
  • 122g with battery
  • 1500 mAh battery
  • standby up to 21 days
  • up to 6 hours talktime
  • up to 38-hour music playback
  • 109x60x14.1mm
  • 122g

OUR VERDICT

A slimmer, lighter Bold than the original model, we like the substitution of the trackball for the touchpad and think this BlackBerry line remains the most appealing that RIM offers. Time will tell whether qwerty keypad fans find the BlackBerry Bold 9700's shrunken keypad an issue, however. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is a good-looking smartphone with a tremendous range of features. Highly recommended.

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