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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 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.
This 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.
I 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.
I 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.
The 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.
Again, 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.
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.
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.
This 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.