The BlackBerry Bold 9900, which came out in Taiwan earlier this year, checks off all of the important qualities in a smartphone. It’s fast, easy to use and many popular apps are available — there’s Facebook, Dropbox, Whatsapp and Angry Birds. The phone is well-built and sports a sleek look.
When I tested this latest version of the Blackberry Bold last month, my initial reaction was, yes, this is the smartphone I’ve always wanted! But not so fast. Problems remain for Research In Motion, the Canadian company that produces BlackBerry devices. Since the iPhone came out five years ago, RIM, which once set the benchmark for smartphones, has been perpetually stuck playing catch-up with Apple and Google, who now dominate the market.
Before I got an iPhone, I was a BlackBerry user. In 2008, I had the very first version of the BlackBerry Bold, the 9000, and I liked it very much. It was great for email, thanks to RIM’s instantly-gratifying push mail system, and a well-designed keyboard made it easy to type properly-spelled and properly-punctuated messages.
But the BlackBerry 9000’s quirks eventually grew tiring. It tended to crash a lot. Navigating the phone got to be laborious, especially since you had to move the cursor with a trackball that would get stuck from time to time. Good apps were hard to find and when you did find one, it was a hassle to download (the “App Store” was still a new idea then). The Web browser was sluggish.
By the time my phone contract was up, the iPhone looked more attractive than ever. I gave up the convenience of that clickety-smooth keyboard and BlackBerry’s renowned system for handling emails, and never looked back.
Most of these complaints have been addressed with the 9900, albeit a little late. The phone could be considered the best BlackBerry ever made, but is it likable enough to lure one away from iPhone or the latest and greatest Android handset?
A straightforward answer doesn’t come easily, but there is plenty to like about the 9900.
The new Bold is impressive for how it combines the best of both worlds when it comes to smartphones. Typing is a breeze, thanks to that ever-so familiar and fantastic QWERTY keyboard, still the best around for mobile devices. But the 9900 is also up-to-date as a modern device, with a smooth and responsive touchscreen that is on par with any iPhone or Android device.
During the week and a half that I used the 9900, it never crashed and was quick in handling most apps, thanks to beefed-up hardware that includes a 1.2GHZ processor and 768MB of RAM.
RIM has had touch capabilities available on its phones for several years, but with its latest operating system, BlackBerry OS 7, it feels like all the kinks have been worked out.
With the 9900, there’s no need to depend on the trackpad button (the square nub in the center) to move around because you can actually do the more logical thing: just tap directly on the screen. Tap on an app to open it, tap to select a menu item, flick to scroll through photos — I wish it were this easy back when I had my BlackBerry.
Web browsing also benefits from the touchscreen. You can pinch and zoom on Web pages, as you would on Android or iPhone. In general, pages load quickly, and the browser is on par with Android and iPhone.
Old-hand BlackBerry users will find that BlackBerry OS 7’s new home screen to be familiar, but with some notable twists. Above the keyboard sits the usual row of six app icons, which has now become a set of scrollable panels. Flick right or left to switch between different panels, which include favorites (which you can customize), multimedia and most frequently visited apps. Panels can also be expanded to fill most of the screen by swiping upward.