What's hot: Great voice quality, speedy. Optical trackpad is wonderful.
What's not: Small screen, middling reception, not much sex appeal.
Reviewed June 7, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
As BlackBerry smartphones go, the Bold line is at the top of the non-touchscreen heap. RIM briefly played with the Tour line on CDMA carriers (that means Sprint and Verizon) as another high end line but in the end, the Bold name has more traction. Like the appropriately named Tour, the BlackBerry Bold 9650 is a CDMA phone that works on Sprint's network in the US and it has a GSM radio for use overseas.
The Bold offers a few key improvements over the BlackBerry Tour, and they're likely good enough reasons to upgrade from an older BlackBerry. However, if you're a Tour owner, the improvements probably don't warrant an out of cycle upgrade. New goodies in the Bold 9650 include an optical trackpad, double the RAM and the addition of WiFi. The added RAM makes for a speedier 'Berry, even though the CPU isn't any faster. The optical trackpad means no more worrying about balky trackballs that fall prey to pocket lint and dust.
As we noted with the BlackBerry Bold 9700 on T-Mobile and AT&T, the slightly higher than iPhone 3GS resolution crammed into a tiny 2.8" display makes for tiny text, particularly in web pages. We found we had to zoom in at least 2 levels before we could easily read text on non-mobile sites and that our eyes were feeling mighty tired after a half hour of casual web surfing.
The keyboard is the standard Bold style with the wave-sculpted keys vs. the flat keys on the Curve line. I do find it easier to type quickly on the wave keyboard since it prevents finger slips and provides superior tactile feel.
Much ado has been made of the raised buttons above the keyboard for call send, call end, back and the menu key. Instead of sitting lower than the keyboard keys as they do on the Bold 9700, they're the same height as the key tops. Honestly, it's caused me no problems but from a tactile standpoint, the raised buttons do make it harder to sense where the keyboard ends.
In contrast, the trackpad is a definite improvement over the trackball: it's equally as responsive and an extension of your mind as was the trackball but it doesn't get stuck or mucked up.
Wirefly price (no rebate required):
BlackBerry Bold 9650
BlackBerry Bold 9650
Phone and Data
If cellular data doesn't excite you, the Bold has WiFi too. If you're in a non-3G coverage area it's most welcome when downloading apps from BlackBerry App World.
The Bold 9650 is a world phone: it runs on Sprint's CDMA network here in the US and on GSM abroad (Europe and Asia are mainly GSM). It's a quad band GSM world phone and it has 3G HDPA on the 2100MHz band used in Europe and in some areas in Asia. The phone won't work on US GSM networks (they're locked out) and Sprint says that you should call to enable GSM roaming 24 hours in advance of your trip. There's a SIM card slot under the battery with a Sprint-supplied SIM card pre-installed.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 on T-Mobile and the BlackBerry 9650.
Here's our video review of the BlackBerry Bold 9650 on Sprint.
While GSM BlackBerry phones have better than average battery life, their CDMA 3G counterparts are distinctly middle of the road. With light use, we found we had to charge our 9650 every 1 to 1.5 days. Now that's gobs better than the HTC Touch Pro that couldn't even make it through the day but our 9700 on T-Mobile easily lasts 2 to 2.5 days with the same use. The battery capacity is 1400 mAh.
If you're a BlackBerry person, the Bold 9650 is tops in the carton. It's got a very good keyboard (though small, especially compared to the relative behemoth Bold 9000), good looks, good build quality and rock solid stability. We find the small, relatively high resolution display hard on the eyes, especially when web browsing and would put up with a larger phone to get a bigger screen.
If you want a QWERTY keyboard and spend a great deal of time on email, IM and messaging, the Bold is certainly appealing. But if you're not a Berry addict and don't abhor an on-screen keyboard, RIM's more dated and assuredly less sexy OS faces fierce competition from the likes of the HTC EVO 4G and the keyboard-toting Palm Pre and HTC Touch Pro2.