Reviewed November 8, 2008 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Those of us in the US have impatiently waited for the BlackBerry Bold to arrive on AT&T. Released a few months earlier in various overseas markets, the AT&T-branded version, tuned for AT&T's 3G network, is finally here. What's so special about the Bold? It's the first BlackBerry with 3G HSDPA and a widescreen 480 x 320 display (same resolution as the iPhone, but the display is smaller). The Bold has both WiFi and a GPS, a rare treat given that RIM usually includes one or the other in their phones, but rarely both.
Indeed the Bold's 2.6" 65,000 color display looks absolutely fantastic: it's sharp, bright, colorful and one of the nicest we've seen. It manages to look great outdoors in sunlight too, an easier feat for a non-touchscreen phone but we appreciate it nonetheless. Photos and videos look wonderful and text is sharp and easy to read, even at small font sizes.
This is a fast 'Berry thanks to its 624MHz CPU, and there's nearly a gig of storage built in. We rarely encountered slow-downs, and the phone was very stable-- impressive given that this is the first release of the 4.6 OS on AT&T.
The Bold isn't a small phone; the width reminds us of the Moto Q9 Global, a phone that's famously wide but still a hair narrower than the Bold. Like the Q9 and the smaller BlackBerry Curve, the Bold's row of keys are curved into a "smile" which makes for more ergonomic typing. And like the Q9, the phone's width allows for a larger keyboard that's a pleasure to use.
The phone is undeniably attractive with modern lines, aluminum surround and leather-textured back. Our Bold's back fits very snugly, yet is easy to remove with a press of the cover release button. There's been some talk on the Net of loose fitting backs but no problems here. The front face has the usual BlackBerry buttons: call send and end, menu button and a back button. The keyboard is superb: large, with big sculpted keys and you feel and hear a tactile click with each press. We like the trackball, which is a little smoother than the Curve's. It offers precise control and good accuracy.
The volume up/down rocker is on the upper right side, and the camera button is on the lower right. The 3.5mm stereo headset jack is at the upper left, with the mini USB jack just below and a quick launcher button at the middle that brings up an on-screen launcher for the media player, messages, the home screen, web browser, BlackBerry Messenger and the phone. The launcher works when in any application, making it easier to get to these fairly common tasks. The home screen has a row of large icons at the bottom for messaging, contacts, calendar, Media Net (web), AT&T Navigator and the media player. There are no options to change these and the phone comes with only two themes that are quite similar.
Right side: camera button and volume rocker.
Left side: 3.5mm stereo jack, mini USB port, app launcher and microSD card slot.
The BlackBerry web browser displaying our home page.
Reception is very good if coverage is strong. But we saw a little of the iPhone 3G's (before firmware updates) famous waffling between 3G and EDGE in marginal coverage areas. If the 3G signal isn't fairly good (-95 db or better), the Bold will stay firmly on EDGE, while the Samsung Epix and HTC Touch Diamond managed to stay on 3G. There's no option to set the phone to EDGE (2G) only, as there are on many other 3G phones. This option exists on import Bolds but not the AT&T version of the phone. The drawback is that the BlackBerry's battery life will suffer when in an area with no or little 3G coverage as the phone hunts for 3G. Also if you're in a marginal 3G coverage area, the phone will frequently switch between EDGE and 3G, reducing battery life and increasing the likelihood of dropped calls. However, if you're in a solid 3G coverage area, or in an area with no 3G at all, then this won't be an issue.
Call quality is excellent, with near-landline voice quality on 3G and very good quality on GSM. The volume is good by GSM standards, and we had no trouble hearing our caller in a somewhat noisy public location. The speakerphone's volume is good, and clarity is average. Bluetooth headset compatibility and call quality are very good: we tested the Bold with the Plantronics Discovery 925, Jawbone II and Samsung WEP200.
The usual BlackBerry push email goodness is here in full force. The phone supports up to 10 personal email accounts and works with BIS, BES and even non-BlackBerry plans if you don't wish to use BlackBerry email services (it's unlikely AT&T will let you out the door with a new contract and no BlackBerry data plan though). In addition, there's the usual BlackBerry Messenger (BlackBerry to BlackBerry messaging), SMS and MMS support but no pre-installed IM client. Want to view those email attachments? No problem. RIM and AT&T include Data Viz Documents to Go for BlackBerry, comprised of viewers for MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. You'll have to upgrade to the Premium edition if you wish to create documents.
BlackBerry phones have always been a little picky about video formats. RIM lists Bold support for 3gp, some MPEG4, some DiVX and we found that most MPEG4 format files (such as those encoded for the iPhone and iPod) worked fine, but it was tricky to find the right codecs for DIVX and forget MPEG1 (will not play) and WMVs (audio but not video played). With MPEG4, playback quality was excellent. The screen is gorgeous for video playback and the Bold handled QVGA video up to 600kbps well with no frame drops or loss of audio sync. The media player also handles music with wide format support: MP3, unprotected AAC, and WMA. Sound quality is good and even the built-in speaker is decent, though you'll want to use a wired or Bluetooth stereo headset for superior quality.
The camera is OK, but at 2 megapixels with a fixed focus lens, it's nothing that excites. Photos are sharp by 2MP standards and colors are pleasing; in fact it's one of the better 2MP cameras on the market. Sharpening is used judiciously and we don't see any of the painfully sharp edges that are common to HTC's 3MP cameras on default settings. At the same time, images are clear and focused and aren't too soft. Max photo resolution is 1600 x 1200, and there are a variety of lesser resolutions suitable for photo caller ID and MMS. There's an LED flash to help just a bit with low light settings and a dedicated camera key on the smartphone's lower right side.
The Bold can shoot video at two resolutions: 480 x 320 (surprisingly large) and 176 x 144 for MMS. Video is recorded at 15fps in 3GP format, and quality is OK but not impressive despite the high resolution. We noted artifacting (it looks like the pixels are dancing), but the colors were good even in lower light settings.
The BlackBerry Bold has a built-in GPS with aGPS (tower-assisted GPS to speed up location fixes). The GPS works with AT&T Navigator (the new name for TeleNav), which requires a data plan since maps are downloaded on the fly, and the Navigator service itself costs $9.99/month or $99/year. The Bold managed quick and accurate fixes and stayed on course with us even on the highway. Navigator is a very good mapping application that provides spoken turn-by-turn directions, POIs and a variety of on-screen map presentations. Its directions are generally logical and accurate, and voice prompts come early enough to avoid hasty maneuvers.
The Bold comes with a 1500mAh battery, which is a healthy capacity for a 3G smartphone. Given the large, bright display, fast CPU, 3G and various wireless radios, the Bold needs plenty of juice. That said, by 3G HSDPA standards, the BlackBerry Bold has better than average battery life, and easily made it through the day on a charge with heavy use. We have generally broad and good 3G coverage in our area, so our tests are based on 3G not EDGE. If you're in a non-3G area, battery life should be longer. If you're coming from another 3G phone, you'll likely be pleased with the Bold's battery life. If you're upgrading from an EDGE BlackBerry, expect shorter battery life since 2G/EDGE consumes less power than 3G.
No doubt, it's bold, it's beautiful (whoever though we'd get to say that about a BlackBerry?) and it's laden with features like a high res display, fast CPU, GPS, WiFi, excellent keyboard and the usual BlackBerry push email goodness. The AT&T Bold is also a large phone and relatively expensive for a 'Berry-- alas, nothing is perfect. But if you're a BlackBerry addict looking for the top of the line, this and the BlackBerry Storm are it. Though for traditionalists, the Storm isn't necessarily attractive since it loses the usual strong BlackBerry hardware keyboard and adds a touch screen. Oddly given the likely greater expense of building the Storm, it looks like a relative bargain at $199 with a 2 year contract, and we hope that AT&T revises the Bold's price down sooner rather than later to compete.
Pro: Fantastic display! Very good keyboard. Responsive and stable. Video player performance is likewise good. Great call quality, good GPS performance and reliable WiFi connections.
Con: Large, pricey. Web browser is just OK. Some reception issues in weak 3G areas and there's no way to turn off 3G.
Price: $399 with 2 year contract, $299 after AT&T's $100 rebate (rebate requires data or messaging plan + voice plan).
x 2.6 x 0.59 inches. Weight: 4.8 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band with EDGE. 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900MHz/2100MHz bands.
Camera:2.0 MP with 3x digital zoom and LED flash. Can take still photos and video with audio. Max photo resolution: 1600 x 1200, max video resolution: 480 x 320 at 15fps (3GP format).
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone
jack. Media player for video and audio included. Supports AT&T's CV streaming video.Media player supports MP3, .3gp, some MPEG4, some DiVX, WMA9 Pro, WMA 10, MIDI, AMR-NB, AAC, AAC + and eAAC+.
WiFi 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 with headset, handsfree, A2DP, DUN and serial port profiles.
Software:BlackBerry OS 4.6. BlackBerry push email client. BlackBerry Messaging, SMS and MMS. AT&T Navigator (requires subscription), Documents to Go standard edition (view but not create MS Office documents), CV (AT&T streaming media), Yellow Pages mobile, AT&T Music (Napster), AT&T Mall, 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).
SDHC microSD card slot.
In the Box:Bold, charger, USB cable, stereo earbud headset, case, software CD and manual.