What's hot: Good multimedia features and great messaging experience. UMA Wi-Fi calling is a big plus on T-Mobile version.
What's not: Slow web surfing even with 3G.
Editor's note: the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is available on both T-Mobile and AT&T. For this review, we used the T-Mobile version of the phone.
Reviewed November 24, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
The BlackBerry Bold 9000 was a big success for RIM in both design and features, making it the BlackBerry smartphone to beat on GSM networks. The original Bold is a large phone, too big for some, and so the Bold 9700 is smaller and lighter. The Bold 9700 runs on the same 624 MHz Marvell processor, and has increased RAM to 256 megs but reduced ROM to 256 megs. The smartphone has a 3.2 megapixel camera, an upgrade from the 2 megepixel camera on the Bold 9000. Other upgrades include BlackBerry OS 5, Bluetooth v2.1 from v2.0 and added support for more video formats. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 has a built-in GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g with Wi-Fi calling via T-Mobile's UMA service. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is a quad band GSM phone with 3G HSDPA on T-Mobile's US 3G bands.
For those who wanted a Bold but thought it was too large, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 provides the answer. The new Bold measures 4.29 x 2.36 x 0.56 inches and weighs 4.3 ounces. It's smaller, a bit thinner and a half ounce lighter than the original Bold. In fact, the Bold 9700 is smaller than the BlackBerry Tour and about the same size as the Curve 8900. Because the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is smaller than the Bold 9000, the screen size decreased from 2.6" to 2.44", but the screen resolution got bumped up a bit to 480 x 360 resolution. Though it's not a big reduction in screen size, somehow the Bold 9700 lost the deluxe feeling of the Bold 9000's large display. Another small sacrifice is that the 35 key backlit QWERTY keyboard is less roomy than the one on the original Bold, but it has the same style keys as the Bold 9000 and good tactile feedback. The big change between the two Bold devices is the d-pad: the original Bold has a tried and true trackball control while the new Bold 9700 has a trackpad control that works like a small trackpad on a notebook. The trackpad is actually easy to learn, but traditional trackball fans with heavy finger touch might not dig the new control.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 lost the chrome buttons and the full leather-styled back that made the original Bold unique. What you do get on the new Bold 9700 are rugged-looking covered side buttons and a battery door where only a portion has a faux leather look. Good thing that RIM put "Bold" on the back between the camera and the flash, or the less trained eyes might mistake it with the Curve 8900. Nothing against the Curve 8900, we liked it, but the Bold 9000 had a distinctive look. The side buttons are standard BlackBerry set up including a 3.5mm stereo audio jack and the microSD card slot is under the battery but doesn't require removal of the battery for access.
Phone, Web and Messaging
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is a quad band GSM world phone that works anywhere GSM service is available and it has T-Mobile 3G in the US. Like the original BlackBerry Bold, the Bold 9700 gets strong signal and has not dropped a call in our area where T-Mobile has good to excellent coverage. The Bold 9700 has nearly as good voice clarity as the original Bold (the original Bold is hard to beat) and has good volume on both incoming and outgoing ends. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 also supports UMA voice calling over Wi-Fi. Calls through Wi-Fi sounded clear and the hand-off between Wi-Fi and T-Mobile's GSM network during a call is seamless. Voice calls initiated on a Wi-Fi network will not count toward your T-Mobile minutes even if the phone switches to the T-Mobile network during the call.
Messaging is fast and smooth on the Bold 9700, as you'd expect from a BlackBerry smartphone. The OS 5.0 Bold 9700 has speedy push email; threaded text messages, PIN messaging and IM chat. You can access up to 10 email accounts with the BlackBerry, view and edit MS Office attachments with the included Docs To Go Suite, and manage calendar and appointments with Exchange services.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is actually a great music phone thanks to the excellent sounding speaker that's clear and loud, onboard music player with album art, internal memory and a microSD card slot (supporting up to 32 gig cards) with 2 gig card included in the package. Music sounds clear and loud through the speakerphone and through the 3.5mm audio jack using a nice wired headset (the included wired headset had strong audio distortion). The Bold 9700 has a music player onboard that can play MP3, WMA9 Pro/WMA 10, and AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ files. BlackBerry Media Sync works with the BlackBerry Bold 9700, and it does make it easy to sync music with iTunes or Windows Media Player. You can sync the music to either the internal memory or a media card, and can use either a PC (for iTunes and Windows Media Player) or a Mac (for iTunes).
Video playback is decent though Bold 9000 users still have a bigger screen for video playback. RIM's video player can play DivX 4, DivX 5/6 (partially supported), XviD (partially supported), H.263, H.264, WMV3, MPEG4, Sorenson Spark codec and On2 VP6 (Flash support) files. The screen looks bright for video playback on the Bold 9700 and audio sounds very good.
GPS and Navigation
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 has built-in GPS and comes with BlackBerry Maps. The GPS has good performance with quick fixes and accurate positions. BlackBerry Maps is a free app that offers maps with zoom and pan, turn-by-turn on-screen directions, local search and sending locations via messaging, but doesn't have real time navigation or voice guidance. BlackBerry Maps is also integrated in core apps like the web browser and mail, which means you can launch the maps in these applications directly. Our 9700 was pre-provisioned for corporate use with BIS and didn't have Telenav GPS navigation services. RIM tells us that retail units will have Telenav.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 has a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash. It's a spec upgrade but the photo quality doesn't bring any excitement. Still images taken with the Bold 9700 look murky even on a clear day with good outdoor lighting. Images don't have a lot of detail but colors look mostly balanced. Well-lit indoor shots actually look sharper than outdoor shots. The autofocus lens focuses quickly, and the phone can take pictures in three resolutions (2048 x 1536, 1024 x 768 and 480 x 360). It offers white balance, color effects, picture quality and geotagging options. The camera phone can also take video with audio at 480 x 360 and 176 x 144 resolutions. Videos look decent and the audio is mostly in sync with video.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 has a rechargeable cryptographic lithium cell battery that's in the same capacity as the original Bold. The cryptographic lithium cell has a chip on the battery that ensures you're using a battery approved for your BlackBerry and that the battery door is properly closed. The claimed talk time on GSM or UMTS is 6 hours and the claimed standby is 15 days. Our battery tests showed that the talk time on our unit was about 5 hours and the standby time was about a week on T-Mobile 3G with Wi-Fi turned off.
The BlackBerry 9700 isn't an earth-shattering upgrade from the original Bold. But for T-Mobile customers it's an excellent upgrade since it's the first 3G 'Berry on T-Mobile as well as the first Bold. Fit and finish are Bold-level good, the keyboard is excellent (though not quite as good as the bigger Bold's) and call quality is excellent.
Pro: Good multimedia features and great messaging experience. UMA Wi-Fi calling is a big plus on T-Mobile version.
Size: 4.29 x 2.36 x 0.56 inches. Weight: 4.30 ounces.
Phone: GSM quad band with UMTS. GSM on 1900/1800/900/850 MHz. UMTS on 2100/1900/850/800 MHz (Bands 1, 2, 5/6), 2100/1700/900 MHz (Bands 1, 4, 8). UMA Wi-Fi calling supported.
Camera: 3.2 MP camera with autofocus, a flash and 2x digital zoom. Image resolutions include 2048 x 1536, 1024 x 768 and 480 x 360 pixels. Camera comes with image stabilizer, white balance and color effect options. It can also shoot video in 480 x 360 and 176 x 144 resolutions.
Audio: Ringtones 32 polyphonic - MIDI, SP-MDI, MP3 and WAV. Built-in mic, speaker and a 3.5mm stereo audio jack. Music player onboard and can play music in 3GP, MP3, WMA9 (.wma/.asf), WMA9 Pro/WMA 10, MIDI, AMR-NB and Professional AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ formats.
Networking: Bluetooth v2.1. Mono/Stereo Headset, Hands-free, Serial Port Profile, Bluetooth Stereo Audio (A2DP/AVCRP) and Bluetooth SIM Access Profile supported. Integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g.
GPS: Integrated GPS with A-GPS (assisted GPS) ready. BlackBerry Maps included, TeleNav is available on retail devices provisioned with BES.
Software: BlackBerry OS 5.0. BlackBerry push email with service integrations to Exchange, Lotus Domino and GroupWise. BlackBerry Messaging, SMS and MMS. BlackBerry Maps, Documents to Go Suite, web browser, media player for your MP3 pleasure and video playback. PIM apps include address book, calendar, tasks and memo. Also Alarm, voice notes, calculator, Password Keeper. Games: BrickBreaker, Word Mole, Texas Hold'Em King 2, Sudoku and Klondike. BlackBerry Desktop software for PC included for syncing and software installation (PocketMac for BlackBerry Mac software can be downloaded for free from RIM's site).
Expansion: 1 SDHC microSD card slot. 2 gig card included. Supports up to 32 gig cards.
In the Box: Bold 9700, charger, USB cable, stereo earbud headset, a 2 gig microSD card, case, software CD and manual.