Not too long ago I bought the Nokia E71, since it was pretty much everything I wanted in a smartphone. Excellent keyboard, excellent signal, excellent battery life, and a stable platform. Since I bought it I’ve been very happy with it, and I didn’t think anything would be able to topple it for me. Until now.
Off the bat, I would like to let you know that the Bold is my first Blackberry. I’ve very briefly played with several Blackberry’s before, but I’ve never used one in depth or as my primary phone. While I may be a Blackberry virgin, I think it gives me a different perspective: what is it about the Blackberry that has people so addicted? Well after just over a week of the Bold, I think I’m a convert.
The Blackberry Bold (or 9000 for those playing by the numbers) is a big step up for Blackberry. Previous Blackberry’s have had average screens, relatively boring, corporate designs and a bit lacking on extra features. You can tell with this new one that RIM are targeting a wider demographic: those who want the ease of Blackberry email, combined with powerful multimedia features.
It’s this lack of a home life that never made me interested in Blackberry’s. Sure they were great at email (or so every Blackberry user I’d spoken to said), but in other areas they were a flop. Not so with the new one.
The first time you hit the homescreen you know something’s changed. The iPhone was like a speeding car when it came out. It raced past the sleeping policemen with its gorgeous, bright display, that was better than anything else out there. But their competitors have woken up and are in hot pursuit.
Gone is the dull, lifeless screens of past Blackberry’s, replaced with a simply tremendous 480×320 65536 colour display. Honestly, this is the best screen I’ve seen on a phone since the iPhone. I was a bit apprehensive about its seemingly low colour depth (65k vs. 262k or 16 million on manyNokias ) but it never reared its head in my testing. The screen is beautiful, with super rich colours and outstanding blacks. Sitting it next to the E71 makes it look even better. Where theNokia is all washy and drab, the Bold is, well, bold!
It is an superb outside as well, remaining clear, vibrant and bright even in direct sunlight with glasses on. The screen alone was making me want to get one of these things when the review unit went back.
But a pretty face doesn’t cut it for me with a phone, it has to have the guts if it wants the glory.
Moving south of the pearl controller is the signature Blackberry keyboard. As soon as you start typing you think “yes, this has been done properly”. Where theTreo Pro stumbles with it’s tiny, hard-to-press keys, and the E71 crams the keys in tight to maintain a svelte figure, the Bold goes for a big keyboard with large keys, and plenty of tactic feedback. And it’s brilliant, there is no other word for it, brilliant. I’m not going to call it perfect, as there are a few key decisions I think could have been better (dedicated currency key but no dedicated comma?), but with very little practise it is an absolute joy to type on.
What really surprised me is that I actually like it more than the keyboard on the E71. The bigger keys and wider layout make it even easier to hit the right keys, and hit them quickly, without having to look down constantly.
Sitting on the train as I wrote this review, the guy next to me ask me about the Bold, unsure of what model it was. He had an 8800, and absolutely loves it. He was telling me how recently he went on a trip and didn’t bother taking his laptop since he could do anything he needed to do right on his phone.
Almost every BlackBerry user I have spoken to over the years has gone on about how good their BlackBerry is at handling email. To be honest, it just sounded like the kind of talk that Mac users can fall into. After using the BlackBerry as my main phone for a two week period, I’m surprised to say that it really is that good.
The BlackBerry collates all of your incoming information into a single stream, almost like an RSS reader, making it incredibly easy to stay on top of everything. I’m a big user of Windows Live Messenger on my mobile devices, and I was surprised to find that the client for theBlackBerry is even better than the one that ships with Windows Mobile 6.1! All of your IM’s appear in your message list, so when you receive a message from a friend on MSN , you don’t have to go to Live Messenger, just open up your mailbox and the message will be there. Click on it and you are taken to the conversation.
It’s the same story with the BlackBerry Facebook application. It’s super easy to use, allowing you to update your status, upload pictures and send messages to your friends, and like Messenger updates appear in your message list, along with an indicator in the status bar at the top of thehomescreen.
All of the messaging functions tie together so well, and so transparently, that switching back to a Nokia or the Touch Pro I’m using at the moment just leaves me a little bit disappointed.
So it’s the king of keeping connected, but what about the other stuff that BlackBerry’s of old have left out. Multimedia functions have been lacking on BlackBerry’s from the past, and the jump from the 8800 to the 9000 is simply amazing. The Bold uses super speedy Marvell 624Mhz CPU for keeping everything running as smooth as silk. I tried running a few high-res high-bitrate clips on the built-in media player and it handled them like an absolute champ, no stuttering, no pauses, nothing, just smooth playback. The standard 3.5mm headphone jack makes it dead simple to plug in headphones for quality music playback, or for listening to videos on the go. The built-in speaker isn’t of the best quality, but damn is it loud!! Never will you be able to say “I didn’t hear it”. If you are on the same continent, you’ll hear it.
Inside you’ll find a generous 1GB of built-in storage, which can be augmented with a microSD card. Before I sent the Bold back I had managed to get hold of Sandisk’s 16GB microSDHC card, which worked perfectly in the Bold. With the combination of that gorgeous screen, fast processor and a 16GB microSD, the Bold would make for an excellent media player.
The camera on the Bold isn’t too bad either. With its small flash, it can illuminate the area 3cm in front of the phone if you want to take photos at night. In the day photos are a little soft, but serviceable, and certainly better than no photo at all. Not a Nokia, but not a Treo either. (and no, that’s not a typo above)
The Bold is equipped with a bevy of radios that would befit a high-end Nokia. There’s WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS, and at long last tri-band HSDPA!! There has been a 3G GSM Blackberry before (the 8707v), but it was the same boring corporate device as most other BBs. At last 3G is now an option on their phone-for-the-people. Network strength was absolutely stellar, holding onto weak 3G signals like a pro (or a Nokia). Data speeds weren’t spectacular, but they were good enough that you didn’t feel the need to harm yourself.
GPS is becoming the norm on higher-end phones, and I for one am a big fan. I have an absolutely hopeless sense of direction, so GPS really is a must-have for me. I loaded up Google Maps on the Bold and it worked great as a navigator. With it’s large screen is easy to see and read the map and directions, to keep you from running into dead ends (guilty…).
I’m sure a lot of you are looking at the Bold and thinking “urgh, it’s so big”. Yes, it’s certainly not as svelte as many of it’s rivals, but the benefits that you gain from having the larger device outweigh the size issue. It allows for a larger, higher-resolution screen, which is handy for absolutely everything that you do on the device. The keyboard can be bigger, improving your typing speed and accuracy. And around the back, a nice big battery fits in to keep the big screen and hungry radios running. If I had the dollars to buy one of these things, I would. Until I used the Bold I was completely sold on the E71, but now I’m starting to see a few cracks in it’s armor.
If you are looking for a fast, powerful smartphone that can do everything, take a good look at the BlackBerry Bold. Trust me, you’ll be impressed.
Pros: Excellent screen, battery life, keyboard, HSDPA, signal strength, performance
Cons: Better camera wouldn’t have gone astray for corporate espionage.