28 September 2011
The new Bold 9900 is everything RIM is best at, essentially a sleek Bold 9000 with a top quality touch screen and no lag. But the pluses take their toll on battery life.
We're a big fan of Research in Motion sticking to what it's best at - messaging machines. Sure, we'd love to see Android app compatibility, but there's no reason RIM can't keep the thumb board that has made the Blackberry such a rock of ages for business users.
The Bold 9900's footprint is a throwback to the first generation Bold 9000 - which means a return to not only a reasonably generous 2.8 inch screen, but also the big keyboard that we loved. Don't worry about impractical chunkiness or heft (Torch, ahem) however, the 9900 is very thin and light, easily passing the pants pocket test. We call the screen "reasonably generous" as it's still far too small for long browsing sessions. It's fine for apps, watching videos and photos, but this size is a serious problem when viewing text. A4 format documents and many webpages in particular are an exercise in squinting.
The new BB7 operating system by itself irons out some of BB6's bugs but isn't all that different by itself. Coupled with the much more powerful processor, however, the Bold is a huge improvement and a smooth, effortless user experience. Multitasking is as good as any Android phone, and we're a far cry from the YouTube crashes on the pokey Torch or the infuriating lags of older Android devices.
We're also a far cry, however, from the UI of Android's multiple touchscreens and widgets. This actually isn't a problem compared to Apple's widgetless offerings - but you'll find Blackberry's homescreen and "panels" lacking in terms of customisability. If RIM can ever offer this, it'll go a long way to catching up with Android's versatility.
Input wise, however, we can't think of a more versatile device on the market. The ability to switch effortlessly between the keyboard, the touch screen, and the little square touchpad in between (for more detailed operations) add up to a productivity increase that is more than the sum of its parts. You won't use the touch screen as much as you would on a typical touch-only device because of the other two inputs - but you'll appreciate it on those occasions it's needed.
The Blackberry World app depository is reasonably respectable - but we're a while from the "there's an app for everything vibe" of Android's Market or Apple's App Store. The Facebook app is decent, though Blackberry Contacts only seemed to import some profile photos. We downloaded the Google Maps app after repeated attempts to use the Blackberry Maps kept placing us in a location about three kilometres away in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.
You won't miss too many calls or alerts, given it's one of the loudest Blackberry rings ever (again, a step up from the softly spoken Torch). But there's a cost to all of the improvements, especially the power plant - and that's reduced battery life.
Blackberry battery life has traditionally left its bigger, more richly displayed (need a new adjective there) smartphone competitors for dead - an advantage that significantly shrunk with the advent of the biggish screen Torch, and has deteriorated again with the thin and well powered Bold 9900. With fairly intense use, you'll safely make it through a day and night out (which is more than can be said for the Samsung Galaxy S II) and it's still at the top end of smartphone battery life - but we miss the days when...that's it exactly - the days you could go without charging a Blackberry.
Overall, we like the Bold 9900 a lot. If you do a lot of webpage or document reading, then the new Torch 9810 with its bigger screen deserves a look, though it's much chunkier than the 9900. Battery life is a shame, but it's mainly good stuff from there, especially for RIM's core market. The Bold 9900 is speedy, smooth, sleek but still loyal to RIM's crucial keyboard heritage. It's the best Blackberry we've seen - and touched - so far.
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