I confess, when RIM first unveiled the BlackBerry Bold 9900 I wanted one. It was pure unadulterated lust for the best keyboard in the business, and the smartphone looked every bit as high quality and stylish as the iPhone 4 (but RIM-style). And there was nostalgia: like many of you, I was a BlackBerry user and still have fond memories of the original Bold 9000 on AT&T. The phone was better than anything else on the market for messaging, it was fast and it had a lovely industrial design. But the world has moved on since the Bold 9000 circa 2008. Large touch screens dominate, app stores from Apple and Google have made it easy and fun to get hundreds of thousands of apps, and many smartphone platforms handle email (including push email) and messaging well. How does RIM's latest Bold hold up?
For this review we're using the Bold 9930 on Verizon Wireless, though the phone is also available on Sprint. The "30" at the end of the number indicates the cell radio technology, so Sprint and Verizon have the 9930, while AT&T, T-Mobile, Rogers and other GSM carriers have the BlackBerry Bold 9900. Other than carrier customizations and the cellular radio, the Bold 9900 and 9930 are the same phone. In fact, the Verizon 9930 also supports GSM 3G HSDPA (overseas 900/2100MHz bands only) for world roaming. It has a SIM card slot and comes with the usual Vodafone SIM card. For use in the US on Verizon's network, the phone has 1xRTT and 3G EV-DO Rev. A.
The Best BlackBerry Ever
From a design and hardware standpoint, this is undeniably the best BlackBerry ever. The BlackBerry Torch 9850 gives it a run for the money, but among hardware QWERTY 'Berries, the 9930 is undisputed king. In terms of internals, it's finally competitive with other high end smartphones on the market. It has a 1.2GHz CPU, 768 megs of RAM and 8 gigs of internal storage that's expandable using microSD cards. It has a solid 5 megapixel camera that can shoot 720p video, WiFi 802.11b/g/n (dual band, a rarity on phones) and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. The phone is fast and responsive; in fact it's extremely fast. We have no qualms with the hardware specs and performance.
This is also the first Bold to sport a touchscreen. The 2.8" capacitive display is VGA (640 x 480) resolution. That might sound low compared to high end Android smartphones and the iPhone 4, but if the resolution were any higher, text would be impossible to read on the relatively small panel. The display is excellent: it's extremely sharp thanks to the 287dpi pixel density, it's bright enough to see outdoors and it has rich colors.
Call quality is excellent, and reception is solid. RIM knows voice quality is important, as is reception, and they rarely let us down. The speaker is loud and full, making for good speakerphone conversations and pleasing multimedia playback. Though the phone is wide (wider than the original Bold 9000), it feels good in the hand and against the face when making calls.
Deals and Shopping:
BlackBerry Bold 9930 Video Review
RIM's aesthetics are on target: the BlackBerry Bold 9930 looks like a high quality piece of gear. The front face is the usual recipe: glass and flat planes of black with Bold-style waterfall keys and an optical trackpad. If you're just getting acquainted with touchscreens, have no fear: between the keyboard and trackpad, you could use this Bold just as you did prior models. The sides are ringed with an aluminum band that looks stunning, and the back panel has an interesting optical geometic pattern. The back panel is carbon fiber and there's an NFC antenna on the inner surface and metal would interfere with its performance. Unfortunately, only the Sprint Bold will have NFC (Near Field Communications) enabled at launch, but that doesn't concern us much since there still aren't many real world uses for NFC. The microSD card slot is under the back cover, and you must remove the battery to insert or remove a card.
The volume keys surround the mute key on the right side, and there's a convenience key lower down that defaults to the camera application (you can change this if you wish). The lock button is up top, and the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and micro USB port are on the right side. The usual call send, menu, back and call end/power buttons live under a flat plane below the display. As per usual with RIM, these are mechanical buttons, though you might mistake them for capacitive buttons since they're not discrete keys.
The keyboard is superb. It's large, but not awkwardly large like horizontal QWERTY sliders, and not too tiny like the BlackBerry Torch 9810. The waterfall keys keep your fingers properly located, and there's just the right amount of tactile feedback. The keys are masked in white, and the Bold has an overall monochrome look that's modern and attractive.
Here's the not so rosy part; BlackBerry OS 7 feels and looks almost like OS 6. That's good for those who hate learning something new, but it also means the OS looks, feels and is dated. This makes OS 7 and the fall 2011 BlackBerry touchscreen smartphones feel like a stopgap measure until RIM gets real and releases phones with the all new QNX OS, the same OS used on the very modern and enjoyable BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. Will the Bold 9930 be upgradable to QNX? RIM hasn't indicated that this will be the case.
RIM's multimedia apps are pleasing, and the sharp display and excellent speaker make for good music and video experiences. That said, 2.8" is a bit small for capacious feature length movie watching and the UI on the music player hasn't been updated much from OS 6. The photo viewer is fast, supports pinch zooming and swiping to advance through photos--good enough in our book.
The phone has the horsepower to support 3D gaming, though the selection of 3D games isn't overwhelming. And that brings us back to BlackBerry App World; it's still a non-starter. Yes, you'll find the basic staples that are popular on other platforms such as the B&N Nook ebook reader app (visually, its like reading a raw text file though), Flixster Movies, Poynt and Foursquare. But beyond the basics, there's not much to see here, and the prices tend to be higher than the iTunes app store and the Android Market.
RIM and Verizon add to the basic recipe, and that helps. We've got BlackBerry Maps, Bing, VZ Navigator, Documents to Go (full version) for MS Office documents, Push to Talk (coming soon), BlackBerry Protect (remote wipe your 'Berry) and Wikitude.
Wikitude is an augmented reality app that's both very cool and very creepy. Run it and it will launch the camera app and show you bubbles indicating BBM users close by, YouTube video created by those in your neighborhood, Flickr photos uploaded by your neighbors and more. It's entertaining and impressive, but it makes my skin crawl when I think of privacy issues. YouTube and Flickr uploads are products in the virtual world, and no one expects that you'll be able to track down someone's home or work location with frightening accuracy based on their online uploads. It's also not the best way to cement neighborly relationships when you can't stop thinking of neighbor Joe's really dumb video of Fido doing stupid pet tricks or his photos of drunken outings when you're chatting with Joe face-to-face.
If you're a BlackBerry person, you'll love the BlackBerry Bold 9930. It is indeed the best BlackBerry yet. It's fast, good looking and the keyboard is the best, bar none. Battery life is as good as slower and older BlackBerries despite the much faster CPU, and the phone can easily make it through a day or two on a charge. If you've grown apart from your 'Berry, or are using one because work has issued you a phone, I doubt the Bold 9930 will win you over from Android, iOS or even Windows Phone 7. The hardware may be nearly perfect (other than the too small display), but the software is dated and less user-friendly. The selection of third party apps is far from compelling. There are a few new tricks like the much improved web browser, updated BBM and the creepy-cool Wikitude AR app, but otherwise, it's largely the same experience as last year's models.
Display:2.8" capacitive touch screen. 24 bit color, VGA 640 x 480 resolution.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:1.2GHz CPU, 768 megs of RAM and 8 gigs internal flash storage.
x 2.6 x 0.41 inches. Weight: 4.59 ounces.
Phone:CDMA dual band digital with 3G EV-DO Rev. A. GSM world roaming with 3G HSDPA 14.4Mbps on the 900/2100MHz bands. Comes with a Vodafone SIM card.
Camera:5.0 megapixel camera with extended depth of field focus lens and LED flash. Can shoot 720p video and can upload directly to YouTube.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
WiFi 802.11b/g/n (dual band 2.4 and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
Software:BlackBerry OS 7. BBM 6, web browser, email, text messaging, Bing, BlackBerry Maps, VZ Navigator, Wikitude augmented reality browser, voice notes, voice dialing, calculator, Memo Pad, Tasks, Compass, Documents to Go full version, BlackBerry Protect, Password Keeper, Facebook, Twitter, Social Feeds 2.0 and more.