RIM's new flagship BlackBerry has finally arrived. Selling alongside rather than completely replacing the previous Bold 9000, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone is smaller and sleeker. On the whole it's a slight improvement on its predecessor, but it doesn't offer anything new or revolutionary.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone has a similar design to RIM's latest Curve series of handsets. A sleek chrome bezel surrounds the edges and the keyboard curves slightly upwards at the ends. It’s a very comfortable size to hold, and is much more compact than the BlackBerry Bold 9000. It feels well built, too; the battery cover in particular is study and doesn't rattle or wiggle when pressed.
With a smaller size come compromises: the display and keyboard are smaller than the Bold 9000's and this may irk some power users. Despite the smaller display, the Bold 9700's screen is one of the best we've seen on a BlackBerry device. It's bright, displays vivid colours and possesses good viewing angles. It’s a little small for our liking, but the BlackBerry interface is well suited to a display this size.
The keyboard is the most important aspect of any BlackBerry and its mostly good news. The BlackBerry Bold 9700's QWERTY keyboard is generally comfortable to type on and each key provides good tactility. However, users of the current Bold 9000 may be irked at the smaller keys, particularly the Alt and Shift keys, both of which are quite small. You'll be using these keys a lot if you do any serious typing on the BlackBerry, so we'd have appreciated them being larger and firmer. That being said, the Bold 9700's keyboard shouldn't be too hard to adjust to; we feel it's something you'll quickly pick up after a week.
The Bold 9700 is the second BlackBerry after the Curve 8520 to possess the new optical trackpad, replacing the usual trackball. The trackpad operates in a similar fashion to the trackball, except there are no moving parts and you simply glide your finger across an almost flat surface. The speed of on-screen movement and scrolling using the trackpad takes a little getting used to (it can be adjusted in the settings menu) but it’s responsive. We think it will be better in the long run, too: the trackball was known to deteriorate over time as dust and sweat crept in around its edges.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 runs BlackBerry OS 5.0, but most improvements aren't immediately noticeable. It’s a similar experience to previous BlackBerrys — moving along the row of menu icons on the default home screen results in a small flash of light shining on the selected icon, and you can customise it so any application or icon appears on the home page. The main menu again uses a simple yet effective grid format with labelled icons. We feel scrolling needs to be improved, especially when it comes to Web browsing. It often takes an age to scroll through a long document, an application's licence agreement or a Web page.
Being a BlackBerry device, e-mail support is as strong as ever. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 supports e-mail services through the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) and BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES). Microsoft Word and Excel documents can be edited and viewed thanks to the on-board Word To Go and Sheet To Go applications.
Preinstalled social-networking applications are minimal, so you'll have to download Facebook and Twitter clients if you want to use them. Integration is excellent: once you set up and configure your Facebook account, for example, you get Facebook messages and updates through your e-mail inbox, events in your calendar and notifications on the home screen in a similar fashion to regular e-mail. Unfortunately, BlackBerry's App World application store isn’t yet available in Australia.
For mobile Internet, the included BlackBerry browser lags well behind Safari on the iPhone. It slightly improves with each new smartphone release, but zooming, panning around a page and clicking links are all inferior and lack the polished feel of many alternatives. There is also no Flash support.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is an HSDPA-capable device and features Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and built-in GPS. It's not a multimedia powerhouse thanks to the small screen and a standard 3.2-megapixel camera, but it does have a 3.5mm headphone jack and iTunes support thanks to BlackBerry Desktop Manager for Mac. The Bold 9700 can read an iTunes library and sync playlists and there is a 2GB microSD card located under the battery cover. Videos look excellent, though the screen's small size doesn't lend itself to serious movie watching.
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