Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blackberry Bold 9900

This one has been a long time coming. Blackberry's been teasing at releasing a Bold with a touchscreen for quite a while now... and it's finally here! I may not be the fondest of the Blackberry operating system, but it is still a player in the smartphone world and as long as RIM continues to release new phones, I will continue to release reviews of them. So what do I honestly think of it? Find out in the full review...

Blackberry 7 Operating System
5 MP camera with LED Flash with 720p HD video
1.2 GHz processor
2.8" High-Resolution touchscreen
Up to 6.3 hours of talk-time
8 GB internal memory (expandable with up to a 32 GB micro-SD card)
4G HSPA+ enabled
Full Blackberry QWERTY keyboard

- People who are familiar with the physical Blackberry keyboard layout will feel right at home
- Blackberry Enterprise compatible
- If you want a full keyboard and a touchscreen, here it is!
- Blackberry Messanger (BBM) is available (for anyone who still uses that service)
- The Blackberry App World has been updated and includes some applications that have become standard on other devices

- I'm personally not fond of Blackberry because although they've updated their operating system, there's still numerous menus to navigate in each window in order to get anywhere or do anything.
- Not as user friendly as other operating systems
- No mobile hotspot or tethering functionality

I originally decided I wasn't going to force myself to carry this phone long enough to do a review on it. I said, "I already know I hate Blackberry phones and it's not going to be any different." I'll admit it. I was closed-minded going into this review. I finally talked some sense into myself, however, because all the things I came up with as to why Blackberry phones "suck" were all personal reasons that I needed to get around in order to be able to offer every option to my customers and not just phones that suited my own personal preferences. So, I put my SIM card in the phone and started my adventure with the Blackberry Bold 9900.

Five minutes later the Bold was taken apart and laying on my coffee table while I was playing a game on my Samsung Galaxy S II. Don't judge me. It was frustrating. The last time I'd used a Blackberry was just over a year ago (the Blackberry Torch) and the endless menus, as well as the fact that I didn't have the data plan provisioned correctly, made me angry. Plus, it was slow. It took over five minutes to load all my music from my SD card so I could play it on my phone where the Samsung Galaxy S II takes around one minute. The coolest game I could find was Brickbreaker and I got bored. Also, it took me a little bit of messing around and a lot more time to get my Google Calendar synced. This has all my appointments and my work schedule on it and it's shared between myself and my wife, so it's a 100% must-have on my phone. My contacts could have been synced this way too, but I opted to save myself some time and transfer them from my Galaxy S II into my Blackberry using the transfer machine we have in the store.

The Blackberry Bold 9900 QWERTY keypad
Once everything was set up and provisioned on the account correctly, I got started on the one thing I dislike more than anything else on Blackberry phones... the keyboard. The reason I haven't liked the keyboards in the past is that the buttons are so tiny and there's no definite separation between them. The HTC Status is an example of a phone that got the whole physical keyboard thing right and I was very comfortable with comparing the Bold to that phone. Unfortunately, the Bold did not do well with this comparison, although not as bad as I thought it would. The Bold 9900 is a wider phone than the Curve and the Torch, so the keys weren't as squished together. They still had no separation between them, but if I just typed quickly and got past trying to make sure every button was pressed perfectly, the screen would display what I wanted most of the time. Another new feature that I noticed here was Blackberry's correction system. Although I wouldn't call it a true "auto-correct," because it didn't just automatically replace words that were spelled wrong with the correct word, I could use the touchscreen to tap on a word I'd previously typed and it would bring up a menu of words that I could have meant. Then, I could tap on the correct word and it would be replaced. In this way, it was better than the HTC Status, but as far as the actual keyboard goes, it was not as easy to use.

The three buttons on the side for volume and muting
One thing that I especially like is that when you sign-in with your Blackberry ID, the phone will load all the applications you previously had (unless they've since changed or went up in price). I had a couple of my games and a few applications I'd previously downloaded on my Torch over a year ago and these were loaded on the phone without any work on my part. Only certain applications that weren't compatible with the Bold (like certain touch-screen games) and a few apps I'd purchased had to be downloaded or purchased again. One thing I did not care for was that I had to re-purchase two applications I'd previously bought: Color ID and Quickstart. The total cost for those two was $7.00 and it was a $7.00 purchase that I'd already made. On an iPhone it'd be easy to get these back and on an Android or a Windows 7 Phone it would be even easier.

The build quality of this phone was the one thing I was very impressed with. It felt heavy without being a weight in my pocket. It felt smooth, but not slippery, It felt expensive, but not breakable. It exuded quality. The silver aluminum frame around the circumference of the phone reassures against damage and all the physicals side buttons are the same aluminum material embedded in this aluminum ring. The back had a ring of slightly rubberized plastic around it but because of the texture it didn't feel cheap. The battery cover, which takes up most of the back, was carbon fiber. An aluminum back surrounded the camera and the display on the front was smooth and flowed into the buttons below. The buttons themselves didn't feel cheap and plasticy. RIM did a great job of creating a phone that, when picked up, makes you feel like $200 was well spent.

Once the contents of your Micro SD card load, you can listen to
the music stored on it through this headphone jack. If you were
looking for a place to charge the phone, this would be a good
place to start.
As far as performance was concerned, the processor was quicker than any other Blackberry I've every owned. Unfortunately that doesn't say a lot. In a world of efficient operating systems running dual-core processors, RIM is still over a year behind. The 1.2 GHz single-core processor loaded web pages faster than any other Blackberry so far, but slower than other phones that don't even have access to AT&T's 4G network. This serves as proof that sometimes a phone is limited, not just by the network it's on, but by the hardware it sports. Loading the mobile version of web pages was accomplished decently well, but try going to any page that is not optimized for mobile phones and it was sluggish and glitchy.

Applications would often stall and freeze to the point that the only way to get out of them was to hit the "hang-up" or "exit" button and get back to the main page. This happened frequently in the Blackberry App World, the Browser, and a couple games. This is unacceptable.

The camera took decent pictures. It was on par with other 5 MP cameras on phones that I've used, including the HTC Status and the Samsung Focus. It was nice to have a dedicated camera button, I'll admit, but there are phones I like a lot more that have a dedicated camera button like any Windows Phone, the Motorola Atrix 2, the iPhone 4, or the iPhone 4S.

The dedicated camera button on the right, lower side of the
With Blackberry 7 operating system, there have been a few minor improvements with the numerous menus. You can now switch between applications from any screen by hitting the Blackberry menu button and selecting "switch applications." You can also access any currently playing music this way. The icons have been tweaked a little to look a little classier. Other than that, I didn't notice significant improvements in my review and didn't care to look into the nuances of changes that have been made from Blackberry 6 to Blackberry 7.

The outside buttons on the phone made it easy to perform certain tasks and I appreciated a couple of extra little features these provided. There is a row of three buttons on the top-right side of the phone. The top button is the volume up key, the bottom button is the volume down, and the middle performs various tasks, depending on what you're doing. If you're listening to music, it pauses the music. This came in very handy. If you're in a phone call, it mutes you so your caller can't hear you. This is where I pictured a pissed-off business-person, wearing a suit and sporting the typical Blackberry holster, screaming at their boss through the phone after hitting mute. There was also a dedicated camera button that came in handy. When tapped once this button would open up the camera and you could then use it to take a picture. When held down, it would activate the Vlingo-powered voice control. The button centered on the top of the phone is the lock/unlock button.

It's not you.... it's just the timing...
Over-all, I felt the same way I have about every other Blackberry I've encountered - underwhelmed. It's not that the phone is bad, it's that almost all other phones do more and are easier to use. If this same phone had been released right around the time the iPhone 3GS was released it may have turned some heads. As a salesperson, I look at two things when I recommend a phone to someone; easy-of-use and functionality. Blackberry is behind every single other phone in these two departments. The only times I would every recommend a Blackberry to someone is A) If they have Blackberry Enterprise servers at work that they need to connect to or B) If they've had one before and absolutely love Blackberries. Until then, the Bold 9900, although better than other Blackberries, has not swayed my feelings about the operating system in a positive direction.

This is the best picture I could get of the carbon fiber battery cover

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