BlackBerry Bold 9900: Dude, where’s my charger?
BlackBerry has (mostly) designed solid, reliable smartphones for business and messaging. The new BlackBerry Bold 9900 is intended to go a step further. SEAN BACHER puts it through the gadget Five Question User Test and is not amused.
When Research in Motion announced the BlackBerry Storm, they thought it would be a great rival to the iPhone. The Storm sported BlackBerry’s unmatched e-mail capabilities, was a great multimedia device and had one thing RIM thought was better than on the iPhone: a multi-touch capacitive touch screen using “haptic feedback”. That’s an advanced touch screen that clicks or buzzes – any form of tactile feedback – when typed on.
Boy, they could not have been more wrong. The Storm was a flop, the screen was a disaster and the phone’s operating system was littered with bugs. Next came the Storm 2, a slimmer, faster version of its predecessor, but again, it seemed, RIM had misread the market. BlackBerry users are heavy keypad users, and that’s one thing for which a touchscreen is not (yet) ideal.
They finally realised the mistakes and brought out the Torch: a phone featuring both a capacitive touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard. The phone was a hit (Gadget colleague Arthur Goldstuck swears by it) and it almost seems that RIM had been forgiven for its deathly Storm.
Since then, RIM have been building on its brand promise with the Curve and the Bold. They’ve been the most popular BlackBerry models as they are relatively cheap smartphones that offer easy and instant access to e-mail. Low-cost Internet access combines with great multimedia functions into neat devices for market beyond business phones.
Then, last month BlackBerry unveiled a new Bold: the 9900, sporting a capacitive touch screen combined with a full QWERTY keyboard. Would THIS be their breakthrough phone? The Gadget Five Question User Test reveals all.
1. Is it ready to use?
Before the Bold can be used, if moving from a previous BlackBerry phone, a Device Swap needs to be made through the BlackBerry Desktop Software application. This is intended to back up all data on the current phone, and move it over to the new Bold. Once complete, the 9900 needs to be registered on the BlackBerry network, e-mail accounts need to be reactivated and usernames and passwords entered in the various Twitter, Facebook and other social networking or log-in applications.
If the option to backup third-party apps was selected, those should be on the device too. If not, you need to start downloading them from the BlackBerry App World. Bear in mind, though, that the Bold 9900 uses the latest BlackBerry operating system – OS 7 – so some of the previously installed applications may not work on the new Bold.
First time BlackBerry users only need to launch the setup option on the Bold, enter e-mail account settings and then register the device on the BlackBerry network. In both cases, it can take as long as 20 minutes for e-mail to start showing on the phone, so don't panic if nothing happens immediately.
That said, as the Desktop Software becomes more feature-rich, it also appears to become more inclined to forget things. Chances are, all your apps and settings may not arrive on the new device, even if they are compatible. Expect to spend a little time restoring your world as you previously enjoyed it.
You can, of course, skip the process if you’re in a hurry to make a call. Voice calls and text messages can be done the moment a SIM card is put in the phone and it’s booted up.
2. Is it easy to use?
At first, the combination of the touch screen and keyboard is confusing, especially if coming from a phone that does not use a touch screen. However, the two quickly grow on you, as they compliment each other. Scrolling through applications or website pages is often much easier simply by swiping a finger up and down the screen than by using the four-way scroll button just below the screen. The scroll button does come in handy when more accurate scrolling is needed, like when moving the cursor to a search box or clicking on a link. Things get even easier when inputting data into certain fields. There is no virtual keyboard that pops up monopolising the screen when in a data field as with touch-only devices. A blinking cursor in the field means it’s ready for you to start typing using the physical keyboard.
Don’t panic about learning to use a new operating system. OS 7 is much the same as previous BlackBerry operating systems. Although some of the icons have been jazzed up and so look a little different, they are all located in exactly the same places as before, and there is nothing new to learn.
Navigating the various home screens and menus is also much easier and quicker thanks to the touch screen. So to is moving through e-mails, BBMs, text messages and social networking feeds.
That said, however, the screen is tiny for a touch screen, and the finger can be a very blunt instrument in that small area. Expect many inaccuracies, especially when using apps that reduce your working space further, like Twitter. Sending when you meant to save, publicly cursing when you meant to cut, can lead to some embarrassment. In short, handle with care.
3. Does it operate as advertised?
Things get a little hairy here. According to RIM’s website, the 9900’s 1230mAh battery will last up to 13 days in standby mode and offers talk time of 6.3 hours.
There is simply no way this is true. The BlackBerry – as with most other smartphones – is synonymous with short battery life, with a full charge usually lasting just a day. However, the Bold 9900 takes the cake. Unplugged at 6:30 in the morning, and being used to check e-mails, send BBMs and the odd text message, and making and receiving calls, the Bold’s battery had drained to 30% by midday, meaning that there was no way it would last the rest of the day.
Things get even worse when applications are running in the background.
It could be argued that the bad battery life can be attributed to the powerful 1.2GHz processor. However that is a poor excuse. The new Bold is bursting with better features than its predecessors, such as 8GB of on-board memory, which is expandable up to 32GB via a microSD card or the 786MB of RAM built into the phone. So why not a better battery? The Torch uses a stronger 1500mAh battery, as does the original Bold 9000. So why not the new Bold?
It is a flaw that ruins the entire experience of using the Bold 9900.
Things got even worse during my tests. On numerous occasions, the Bold 9900 showed it had 100% battery life, which I found rather dubious, considering it was on its last legs at the same time the previous day. Minutes later, the phone switched itself off, and starting it up was impossible because the battery had completely drained. To remedy this, I downloaded the BatteryWatch application from the App World, and that seemed to give a better indication on the battery status.
Although OS7 offers a more fluid experience without any lagging when scrolling through web pages, menus and the various home screens, it did seem a little unresponsive at times and a few times froze completely. The only way to regain control of the phone was to take out the battery. However, unlike other BlackBerrys that take ages to boot up, the 1.2Ghz CPU showed its true colours here, bringing the boot up time down to under 30 seconds.
The App World is also more fluid, attractive and responsive on OS7. It suggests that, before long, it may even be comparable to the Android and iPhone app stores.
Sadly, for a device like this, the Bold’s reception was lacking. It continually switched between 3G/GPRS/EDGE and sometimes to GSM. This made phone calls infuriating, sometimes with only half the conversation heard, and it became an even bigger problem when browsing the Internet.
4. Is it innovative?
The Bold is one of the first phones in the BlackBerry range to offer near field communications (NFC), which means that it will pair with other NFC capable devices or can read smart-tags by simply tapping the phone on the tag. It was expected to appear on the iPhone 4S, for example, but never made it that far. However, not many viable applications are available for it yet.
It is also the thinnest BlackBerry so far, measuring 10.5mm.
And that's where the innovation stops. All the other features on the phone can be found on other BlackBerry models and, in many cases, on other brands too.
5. Is it value for money?
At a price of R7 500, the Bold 9900 is far more expensive than the 9780 and the Curve. For that amount of money, you expect the phone to come with a decent battery, feature a stable operating system and, of course, have a decent signal. The Bold offers none of these.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher