T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 review: Best BlackBerry ever but is it enough?

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 review

The T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 aims to be the best BlackBerry yet and it sports a sleek new design and the BlackBerry 7 software. In this review, we’ll see if the best of BlackBerry is still good enough to compete against the iPhone, Android and other high-end smartphones out there.

Simon is our resident BlackBerry expert and he’s already reviewed versions of the Bold 9900. I suggest you check that one out for a hardcore BlackBerry user’s take on RIM’s latest and greatest.

I haven’t used a BlackBerry full time since the ill-fated Storm, so let’s see if the Bold 9900 changes my mind about RIM or just reaffirms my affinity for the iPhone and Android.

The Good
  • Fantastic piece of hardware - it looks and feels like a great device.
  • BlackBerry fans will love this thing.
  • The keyboard is the best in the business.
The Bad
  • Software is outdated compared to competition
  • Apps selection is weak
  • The camera could be much better, so could voice quality

Hardware

The original BlackBerry Bold was one of my favorite phones around because it just exuded class and just looked really, really cool. I'm happy to report that the T-Mobile Bold 9900 maintains that level of quality but really kicks everything up a notch.

This is the thinnest BlackBerry ever and it looks and feels amazing in your hand. It's super duper light (I may have even wanted a little more heft), has all the right trimmings and the keyboard is the best in the business. Many of those who love BlackBerry smartphones love them because of the keyboard and the QWERTY on this Bold 9900 is worth crowing about. It's wide, has amazing travel back, the frets make it simple to hit the right button you want and messaging is an absolute blast.

On the face, you have that excellent keyboard along with a 2.8-inch touchscreen with a high resolution. This thing is quite responsive and bright. On the right side, you have a convenience key and volume rocker, while the lock buttons rests on top. The left side has the standard headphone jack and microUSB port and the bottom has the mic and dock connector.

The back has the five-megapixel camera and a flash and a rigid plastic door cover which has a cool shimmering design that really pops at night. Inside, you have a speedy 1.2 GHz processor,  768 MB of RAM, WiFi, HPSA+ T-Mobile 4G support, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth and all the goodies you'd expect from this type of device.

Design

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 reviewThis is the best looking BlackBerry ever and it's one of my favorite looking and feeling devices on the market today. If you're not in the mood for a keyboard or absolutely need a large screen, then this isn't the one for you. If you're even considering a keyboard, look no further than the Bold 9900 because it's the best in the business. This keyboard makes the Droid Pro look like a child's toy and it even tops the full horizontal keyboards on devices like the myTouch 4G Slide.

There's a silver lining around the bezel which is made of metal and it looks very attractive. The thinness of the device is also a much-welcomed addition as it will fit into even the skinniest of jeans you have around. Even though it definitely looks and feels like a premium device, I get the feeling that it is so well-built that you could drop this thing a few times and it wouldn't slow it down.

I almost gave it a perfect 10 in design but that back cover door is kind of a fingerprint and smudge magnet. It's nothing that a quick wipe can't fix but sometimes it looks gross. I would have also liked to have seen a microSD card slot that's accessible without having to remove the battery.

Build Quality

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 reviewI mentioned the minor issues I have with the design but want to reiterate that this is a high-quality, premium device. The in-hand feel is amazing, the curves and design are spot on and everything looks and feels top notch.

The 2.8-inch touchscreen looks crisp and clear and is quite responsive when you're swiping or trying to select icons. You do kind of miss the extra screen space when you're web browsing or trying to watch any video but that's a price you pay for having such an excellent keyboard.

Overall, the hardware is top notch and it looks as good as anything on the market. Fans of just full-screen touch slate phones may not find this form factor appealing but even the most ardent Apple fanboy can't say the Bold 9900 isn't a well-designed piece of hardware.

The software is what really drags this thing down.

 

Software

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 reviewI was extremely excited to get this excellent-looking handset charged and booted up the BlackBerry 7 OS and, after using it for a few hours, thought, "Oh yeah. This is why RIM is struggling." While BlackBerry 7 is much better than previous versions, you can't help but feel like this software is not living up to the hardware it's on. It's outdated and the user interaction metaphors seem like they're from another time.

Part of this is the form factor, as BlackBerry smartphones haven't had a good touchscreen until now, so the OS needed to be navigated with the trackpad and a variety of keyboard shortcuts. Those are still there but the Bold 9900 has such a nice touchscreen experience that you generally want that to be one of your main ways of interacting with it. BlackBerry 7 does a better job of working the touchscreen in but it's a half solution

More than anything, a modern smartphone has to capable of handling your communication needs (calls, texting, e-mail) and it has to be a joy to use. The Bold 9900 handles that first part nearly better than anything on the market but it severely falls short on the second. I know that's some of you will kill me for saying that but we're at the point where the iPhone, Android and even Windows Phone deliver that (with a few caveats, of course.

Let's take a look at the BlackBerry App World - it's an ugly market that's annoying to navigate, the app selection isn't great and installing some apps can require a full reboot of the system. What? Yes, I know that's been par for the BlackBerry course but that's ridiculous. What's worse is that I kept being shown the BlackBerry App World agreement page every time I tried to download an app and had to scroll through 25 pages to accept. At least the touchscreen makes it a lot easier than it used to be.

While I'm annoyed by the name "super apps," the concept and execution is excellent. Apps should be able to tie into other apps and system resources at a deep level and having my Facebook and Twitter messages integrated into the main messaging app is awesome. This is something Android fans know well and I'm still amazed when this doesn't happen with iOS apps. Still, the exciting developments in mobile development are not happening on BlackBerry. The T-Mobile version of the Bold 9900 comes with some custom software including the T-Mobile web store and its web2Go browser but it's nothing to write home about.

To be fair, after using if for a few more days and getting back into the swing of BlackBerry, I did smile a lot. There still is something about cranking out a five paragraph e-mail with ease while you're walking that only a BlackBerry can really do well. Things like the unified inbox for your multiple accounts and social networking, chatting through BBM and the ruthless efficiency of keyboard shortcuts are also a delight. Even with those positives, I was underwhelmed by BlackBerry 7 and its app ecosystem.

With a 1.2 GHz processor, this thing does perform like a champ, as it's easy to switch through apps and you can even play 3D games and use augmented reality. In many ways though, BlackBerry 7 is still playing catch up to achieve goals that other platforms reached a long time ago. BlackBerry 7 is the definition of lipstick on a pig and with QNX being the future of RIM, the Bold 9900 is somewhat of a software dead end.

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Web Browser

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 reviewThe web browsing on the Bold 9900 is kind of limited by the 2.8-inch touchscreen but it's miles ahead of previous versions of the browsing on a BlackBerry. We're really starting to see the impact of theTorch acquisition, as the Webkit-based browser can handle most sites that you throw at it and there's even a snappy pinch-to-zoom, which is expected nowadays. The kinetic scrolling with your finger feels just right and the double-tapping to zoom intelligently works well, too. There's no Adobe Flash and I'm not in love with how tabs are displayed but these are minor quibbles.

It will chug along on some sites but it's more than adequate and, like I said before, the main drawback is the smallish screen. That's the price you have to pay for that awesome keyboard.

Multimedia

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 reviewAgain, the Bold 9900 does the best multimedia performance of any BlackBerry to date but it's still playing catch up to the competition and the smallish screen can hurt it in this department. Thanks to the crisp screen, videos do look pretty darn good even if they're a bit small. It can also handle many of the files you want to throw at it.

The audio capabilities are also good and I'm a big fan of the podcasting app. The BBM Music is an interesting experiment because it will force you to be add more BBM friends to get access to more songs. The music selection is quite good but I'm not sure the limitation of 50 songs a months is worth the $5 - yes, you get more with your friends but sometimes I don't want Simon to know that I'm listening to Prince's "Alphabet St."

It also comes with Slacker Radio preloaded and I'm a big fan of that service.

Camera


The T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 has a respectable 5-megapixel camera with an enhanced depth of field lens. What that means is that there's no autofocus and that in general, up close shots don't out that well. On the plus side, medium range shots look pretty good when they're blown up and there's only a bit of lag when taking shots. Shot-to-shot lag time has been greatly reduced too. While this won't replace a point and shoot or a DSLR, it will create good shots to e-mail around or send on social networks.

The 5-megapixel camera can also do 720p HD video and we found it looks pretty good, if a bit shakey. Check it out for yourself.

 

 

BlackBerry Bold 9900 sample pics

Up close, good lighting

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 sample pic

medium lighting

 

Call Quality And Battery Life


The call quality of the T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 is good but not great. Voice sounded a bit distorted and people said I sounded a bit off on the phone. That didn't happen all the time but it did happen enough to make note of it. This uses T-Mobile's HPSA+ 4G network and I found this provided some fast speeds in and around San Francisco. It did kind of fluctuate wildly between EDGE and 4G but I've seen that happen with other T-Mobile phones, so that indicates it's a network thing and not a phone thing.

I kind of have different expectations on battery life than Simon does, as modern smartphones that go until about 9 p.m. on a single charge are good enough for me and the Bold fits into that category. With light usage, this thing will stay on for days at a time but look to charge it every night just to be safe. 

The Final Take

T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 9900 reviewThis is undoubtedly the best BlackBerry ever, as the design and hardware are second-to-none and the software is top-of-the-line for RIM. The keyboard is best in class and the touchscreen is responsive, bright and makes text look great. Those who like watching videos on their phone may be put off by the smaller screen but the horsepower inside combined with the excellent design make the T-Mobile Bold 9900 an excellent phone for those who need a BlackBerry.

The hardware is not the problem here, it's the outdated software. This thing could have a quad-core processor with 4G LTE and it wouldn't really matter using BlackBerry 7. The app selection is poor and the user experience is not even close to what modern smartphone owners should expect. This is also a dead end software wise, as QNX should be the future of RIM and there's no indication that the Bold 9900 will get that.

If you need a BlackBerry for work, then the Bold 9900 on T-Mobile is a no brainer - it's a great piece of hardware, the keyboard is amazing and it will play nice with your work infrastructure. If you're looking for a modern smartphone which can handle all your communication needs and provide a great app, multimedia and web experience, then you need to look elsewhere.

Sadly, buying a BlackBerry right now will leave you out of many things which make the mobile industry so exciting right now.

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  • zacamandapio

    I said it before and I’ll say it again.  I can’t wait until tomorrow to buy this piece of hardware.  After my first ever BlackBerry (the Pearl 8100) I keep coming back to it time after time.  I’ve been using Android, iOS, WebOS, Symbian, WP7 and even Maemo and they are all great.  But I’m rocking my 9780 and I can’t wait to pass this one on to my relatives and get the 9900 on Tmo tomorrow.
    Thanks for the review.  After I review it myself I will tell you if I agree or disagree with your views.

    But great review Marin.

    Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks. Would love to hear your thoughts on it. 

    • http://blogs.blackberry.com/ Alex Kinsella

      Hi @zacamandapio,

       

      Alex from RIM
      here. Great call on getting the Bold 9900! You may already know this, but the
      9900 is our thinnest BlackBerry smartphone to date, and the keypad is much
      larger than your 9780. I’ve been using it for about a month, and I’m loving the
      keyboard/touch combination. I can type faster on it than on any other
      BlackBerry I’ve ever used, which is saying something.

       

      Once you get your hands on your new Bold, let us know what you think
      either here, on Twitter (@BlackBerry) or even on Facebook (http://bbry.lv/bdmrXv).

       

      Cheers,

      Alex, RIM Social Media Team

  • Flamengo

    you’re full of shit. i have a iphone 4. it has indeed many apps but also shit apps and apps of the same.. who needs 10 000 ‘to do” apps. The os on 9900 is good enough, the only problem is APPS on APPWORLD. With appworld 3.0 and a new sdk, open gl etc, the appworld can grow. Thats the ONLY problem of RIMM,Apps. You rate this review as facts when its your opinion. Even engadget did a better review! waste of time!

  • Flamengo

    you’re full of shit. i have a iphone 4. it has indeed many apps but also shit apps and apps of the same.. who needs 10 000 ‘to do” apps. The os on 9900 is good enough, the only problem is APPS on APPWORLD. With appworld 3.0 and a new sdk, open gl etc, the appworld can grow. Thats the ONLY problem of RIMM,Apps. You rate this review as facts when its your opinion. Even engadget did a better review! waste of time!

  • Flamengo

    you’re full of shit. i have a iphone 4. it has indeed many apps but also shit apps and apps of the same.. who needs 10 000 ‘to do” apps. The os on 9900 is good enough, the only problem is APPS on APPWORLD. With appworld 3.0 and a new sdk, open gl etc, the appworld can grow. Thats the ONLY problem of RIMM,Apps. You rate this review as facts when its your opinion. Even engadget did a better review! waste of time!

  • Ifejen

    why couldnt they just add a front facing camera and navigation and stop been cheap ..ive love bb from the start but when they begain pulling stunts like Nokia did that sold them out i had to leave to Andriod and i dont think i regret it seeing the specs in their new entry

  • Ifejen

    why couldnt they just add a front facing camera and navigation and stop been cheap ..ive love bb from the start but when they begain pulling stunts like Nokia did that sold them out i had to leave to Andriod and i dont think i regret it seeing the specs in their new entry

  • http://www.facebook.com/cmendis Cherryl Mendis

    Ive been a Blackberry user for almost 8yrs now, all the way from the time of the Pearl days. I understand a few of the short comings but hands down this is a genius device. I have a 2nd cell which is an Android phone and the battery life is short and although there are more apps, the phone is annoying to operate. I have played  with other phones but in the end nothing compares to my Blackberry. I wish though that this 990 would have come out with an 8 megapixel camera and I wish it was flash player capable for the web browsing. Otherwise I cant wait to purchase my new Blackberry Bold 990…. Great job T mobile!!!

    • Anonymous

      Best BlackBerry ever and RIM fans should be very pleased with this. It is kind of a nice chunk of red meat that RIM is throwing to its base before it goes all QNX-y

  • pravakar das

    One thing I can say that the call quality of my BlackBerry Bold 9900 is good. Internet speeds, surprisingly swift also.

  • Markphr

    I don’t agree it’s the best BB ever – that goes to BB Bold 9000 in my opinion - if your priority is business on the move. Reasons? 2 convenience keys as opposed to 1, MUCH better battery life, option to set browser ui string to internet browser as opposed to mobile platform, and finally, better apps due to lack of platform variation (leading to developer lag) and regretably the good old days when RIM were on their game. Bold 9900 = style over practicality.

  • Alex

    I think your review, I think it was spot on.
    I have owned my blackberry 9900 for a week now having been with an iPhone for the past two years.
    I love the phone, especiallybthe keyboard but feel that I have gone backwards with the use of this software.
    I’m sure I will enjoy my 18 months with this phone but RIM has to step up rapidly if I were to buy a new blackberry as my next phone.

  • Simon

    I have owned and been satisfied with blackberry phones for the past 6 years aware of the limitations and benefits that BB phones present.  The Blackberry 9900 is the WORST model so far.  No wonder RIM stock is going down the tubes.  The battery of the 9900 lasts no more than 6 hours if lucky.  The software freezes unexpectedly often and the reception signal continuously disappears and have to wait to get reception again in any location for no reason at all.
    SHAME ON YOU RIM, I am very disappointed and will definitely shift over to iPhone 5.

    • Liverpool_darknight

      you are crazy

    • Drew Nusser

      How’s that iPhone 5 working out for you?

  • Joe543

    I had this phone and it is a big upgrade from my previous tour model. However, there a few things I couldn’t put up with.

    1) There is a software issue with texts and the sms window itself. I noticed after day 1 the sms screen would freeze while trying to read previous texts in a text window, you can’t scroll up to see part of the conversation, a big no no especially on a business phone. Only solution is a battery pull, see this forum for the errror i’m talking about
    http://forums.crackberry.com/blackberry-bold-9930-9900-f235/text-window-freezes-cant-scroll-up-down-646334/

    2) Camera has no auto focus, yes the video has improved with 720p hd recording however no auto focus make pictures come out terrible. I rather take pictures with my tour then the bold.

    3) Lack of apps

    As much as I liked this phone and keyboard, its just way behind. After about 500+ battery pulls and issues with my tour, i’m done with blackberry. All they needed to do was upgrade a few things and I would still be with the 9900. Coming out with a 5megapixel camera when all other phones on market had that with auto focus in 2009 is just bad product development. Maybe they will wow me in another 2 years but they really need to listen to their customers needs and wants to prosper or maybe they don’t want to.

  • Dannyockerby

    i got this phone yesterday, love it so so much, i had the bold 9700 before and it feels like a plastic, heavy brick like piece of shit compared to the 9900, however i dont think the battery life is very good on the 9900 :/ it lasted me about 6 hours before it ran out, not good! also i dont think the cameras great on the 9900 it never focuses so you have to get the image as still as possible or it blurs or looks wrong, even with the flash on!

  • Rajeffery

    I had BB’s for years with the Bold 9000 being my last BB two years ago. I switched to iPhones and have had up to three of them including the 4S purchased recently.
    I have sold two; given the 4S to my wife and purchased the BB Bold 9900 after using it for a day. It is by far the BEST BB made to date; fast intuitive touch screen (though small compared to the iPhones and Droids) the absolute best keyboard of any smartphone I have ever used; and OS7 is fine – more than useable checking the net etc. Messaging is fantastic (BBM & MMS) and as a phone – quality is as good as a mobile cn get. What I became frustrated with on the iPhone was the distraction of all the apps; less-than desirable touch screen typing and quality as a phone. The BB for business is still king. I have two Kindles (myself & wife) for reading books; two tablets the iPad2 & Playbook (OS2 will make it fully functional in Feb.) and now the 9900 and a 4S for when I want to “play”. Technology has a function and if you don’t match it to what you really need it for, you become a slave to it. I do not regret my purchases but I do regret what may happen to RIM if the assault from those that buy technology for play and fashion diminish what RIM does best. I am not alone in this….just part of a much quieter group of BB users.

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  • Jon

    Owner for 1 wk of 9900. It is a piece of shit. Stay away from it. !!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ray_charbonneau

    Replace mu BB8300 by the BB9900. Cant even use it keep rebooting on me.
    Am going back to the dealer tomorrow with it.
    If they can fix it, thats it am selling back my playbook and BB and switching to Apple. Enought of this corporation that things they are the best when they arent.
    Why are they seeling products the same way as Microsoft did , meaning with bugssss.
    Shame on you RIM”

  • Devvkapur

    9900 is one of the best blackberries I have ever owned

  • http://www.facebook.com/weshawley Wes Hawley

    Hello! a few things I would like to say about this phone and review. First of all I indeed think its a really nice phone too, but there are some major key things RIM left out that defiantly do not make it the best blackberry yet.

    First off if your not a blackberry user of at least one or two other BB’s your not really going to be fully able to make a good review of this phone. I would really like to say that I love my new 9900 – 100%, but the things it lacks… o’ my. The camera for me so far has been horrible, compared to the last ones. I mean even besides the auto focus being non existent the quality of the pictures are at least 40% worse than previous models, especially the Torch 9800 which i own. Secondly, the speaker. Of course a big company like RIM and BB are not going to base their phone design and specs on what customers really want. The speaker not to mention having very sharp and loud tones with earphones starts to get grainy in quality just like the camera, when you turn it almost all the way up. The placement of the speaker is on the back so you have to put your phone on its face! to listen fully.  (so go out and buy a phone case) Most phones do this lately though, and right where your hand goes on the back too, to hold the phone so you get a muted sound. Yes the blackberry doesn’t have many good apps but that’s mostly because of the users. They aren’t the kind of people that can create full worthy apps for the phone. They even charge almost 4 bucks just for an app that activates the flashlight. Kidding me? Yes this is one thing RIM left out still, flashlight and screenshot preloaded apps. and not to mention all the crazy comments in review section on APP WORLD, reminds me of yahoo answers a bit, haha. Besides the Camera and Speaker being a bit of a downgrade from the Torch 9800 and other Bolds, i see the keyboard is great still on the 9900, but i mean most BB’s have great keyboards right? So its not like they did that much really on the keyboard here. Lets see the design is great, but in your REVIEW you mostly talked about how nice it looks and how slick and thin it is. But really that’s of coarse  take your mind off the much needed specs of the phone that I pointed out the phone doesn’t have. RIM has not released the Theme software yet which probably should have come out before or at the same time the phone came out. Seriously we are gonna be stuck with the default Blackberry OS 6+ theme for how long? Video is a high point Defiantly in the phone though. But why would they put a great video capability in the phone and then downgrade the picture camera in it. Yea those pics above are pretty good but almost 70% of the time they will look much more grainy than that. My Torch 9800 took great pictures that i could even use as wallpapers on my PC. The 9900 i do not think is capable of that and I really don’t want to be carrying my digital camera around along with my new BB just to take good pics. Last but not least the phone is great for emailing and even browsing the web this time around is much faster, even though the screen is not the biggest you will find ways around that to have a good browsing experience. No flash support yet, but when I say yet, I don’t know if BB will ever. Yes the software is outdated with the same look really but that is RIM for you. Never once had a new ground breaking phone as they were all just a bit of an upgrade from the previous. And I actually liked the old icons better on the OS, as the new ones I don’t think really match each other like the old white ones did. And all of you on the 5th phone or something like that I’ve seen on multiple sites, because of freezing or OS corruption, I really have no words for your situation. I would not even have waited until the 3rd replacement before switching to a completely different phone. 5 returned phones is a bit much ay?

    + All in all the Bold 9900′s software is much faster, has more on-phone memory, of coarse a nice QWERTY keyboard, has a nice shiny new look to it physically and has good video recording. 

    - Minus the downgraded camera, the speaker placement on the back and the grainy tones of the music player, (that some might not even notice), the highest blackberry price-tag yet even with a new agreement or 2 year upgrade, the +$20 extra a month on your bill just because its the blackberry server, the downgraded battery power, just to make the phone thinner, (just lower the brightness to 10, it works wonders) and being stuck with the default theme for who knows how long… HEY, you have a BLACKBERRY. 

    Loyal fans will pretty much notice these things as new users will think its just a pretty slick phone.

    I hope my rant has answered a few questions for you and if it’s really that big of a deal to you, buy the phone and use it for a week, and decide then only if you really want to keep it. Don’t forget there is usually a restocking fee if you choose to return it to the phone store after. I most likely will keep my 9900 as i will most likely not experience any more random-restarts or loading screens of death like past BB’s, and like I said i will carry a digital camera around with me too just to take photos.

    ~ Good luck loyal BBer’s and MARIN. I hear next year they will be releasing maybe up to 6 new blackberry (OS10?) phones. Too bad most of us just hopped on the 2 year contract train.  

    Oh yeah! and I recently read that blackberry and SKYPE will NEVER happen, almost 100%. So forget the chance that Skype will ever come to our new BB phones.

    I really hope that RIM steps its game up 200% by next year or if the pattern continues they might go over the edge of no return. Just wait…

    <3 for BB still.

  • Icyedge

    A very honest review about the blackberry bold. I am currently using the Bold and have been a previous Iphone and Android user.
    - Device is one the best in the industy.
    - App selections make this product not as useful as it could have been.

    Keep trying BB, you almost there.

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