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BlackBerry Bold 9700 Review
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Date: Dec 22, 2009
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction


The original BlackBerry Bold made its debut about a year ago. Even though the original model is still a solid device, it's now time for a flashier, faster model that will make you yearn for an upgrade. The latest RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 is available through T-Mobile and AT&T. We evaluate the T-Mobile version here.

As T-Mobile's first 3G BlackBerry, the Bold 9700 not only offers
T-Mobile customers a sleek new handset in time for the holidays, but it also offers versatility in the form of UMA support for Wi-Fi calling. While T-Mobile's 3G network may not be as vast as some other carrier's networks, T-Mobile is continuing to expand its 3G service nationwide and expects to offer 3G service to approximately 200 million people across the US by year end. It's definitely nice to see the carrier add more 3G handsets to its lineup, especially a full-featured phone such as the BlackBerry 9700 that can really take advantage of the new network.


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Compared to the previous Bold, the Bold 9700 features a faster processor, an updated OS, and a sleeker design. It also has an upgraded camera with a 3.2 megapixel sensor and the ability to record video.

Traditionally, BlackBerry handsets have failed to offer an outstanding Web browser. Sadly, the Bold 9700 is no exception. Simply put, the Web browser doesn't stand up to the competition in terms of ease of use or functionality, especially in a day where so many handsets offer desktop-like browsing experiences on a mobile handset. That said, you can still browse the Web on the Bold 9700, just know that the experience won't be as nice as if you were browsing on a device such as the iPhone or DROID.

Despite mediocre web browsers, BlackBerry handsets have been wildly popular, especially for users who are primarily concerned with messaging capabilities. Just how well does the Bold 9700 handle messaging and other key features? Does it stand out from the crowd of other BlackBerries on the market today? Join us as we take a closer look at the Bold 9700 to find out answers to these questions and many more.


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Specifications & Box Contents


At the time of this writing, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 was available for $199.99 with a two-year contract. A BlackBerry data service plan is required, and compatible voice plans start at $39.99 per month for 500 anytime minutes plus an additional $30 per month for BlackBerry Unlimited Web. Keep in mind that thanks to this phone's UMA (unlicensed mobile access) capabilities you can take advantage of Wi-Fi calling to save calling minutes. T-Mobile's Unlimited HotSpot Calling mobile plan or Wi-Fi Calling with MobileOffice service add-ons are also available. You can find out more information about Unlimited HotSpot Calling by visiting http://www.T-MobileAtHome.com.

Here’s a closer look at the specifications of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 from T-Mobile.

Dimensions

Height: 4.29 inches

Width: 2.36 inches

Depth: 0.56 inches

Weight: 4.30 ounces (including battery); 3.17 ounces (without battery)

Wireless Networks

3G (HSDPA) compatible

UMTS: 2100/1900/850/800 MHz (Bands 1,2,5/6), 2100/1700/900 MHz (Bands 1,4,8)

GSM: 1900/1800/900/850 MHz

Quad-band support: GSM 850; GSM

Bluetooth

Bluetooth v2.1

Mono/Stereo Headset

Handsfree

Serial Port Profile

Bluetooth Stereo Audio (A2DP/AVCRP)

Bluetooth SIM Access Profile supported

Wi-Fi

802.11 b/g

UMA support

Wi-Fi Alliance Certifications: WPA, WPA2, WMM, WMM Power Save, Wi-Fi Protected Setup, Cisco CCX

Battery & Battery Life

Battery: 1500 mAh removable/rechargeable cryptographic Lithium cell

Talk Time: Up to 6 hours (GSM and UMTS)

Standby Time: Up to 21 days/504 hours (GSM), Up to 17 days/408 hours (UMTS)

Music Playback Time: Up to 38 hours

Display

High resolution 480x360 pixel color display

Transmissive TFT LCD

Supports over 65,000 colors

2.44 inches (diagonally measured)

Data Input & Navigation

35 key backlit QWERTY keyboard

Dedicated Keys: Send, End, VAD (User Customizable), Camera (User Customizable), 2 x Volume/Zoom

Trackpad - Located on front face of device, ESC Key to the right, Menu to the left

Intuitive icons and menus

Voice Input & Output

Integrated speaker and microphone

Hands-free headset capable

Bluetooth headset capable

Integrated Hands-Free Speakerphone

Rating for hearing aids (PDF): M3, T3 (in cellular bands only)

Media Player

Video format support: XviD partially supported, H.263, H.264, WMV3, MPEG4, Sorenson Spark & On2 VP6 (Flash support)

Audio format support: .3gp, MP3, WMA9 (.wma/.asf), WMA9 Pro / WMA 10, MIDI, AMR-NB, Professional AAC/AAC+/eAAC+

Ringtones & Notifications

Tone, vibrate, on-screen or LED indicator

Notification options are user configurable

32 Polyphonic Ringtones – MIDI, SP-MDI, MP3, WAV

Camera & Video Recording

3.2 MP Camera

Auto Focus, Image Stabilization

Flash

2X digital zoom

Video camera recording: Normal Mode (480 x 352 pixel), MMS Mode (176 x 144 pixel)

Security

Password protection

Screen lock

Sleep mode

Optional support for S/MIME

Maps & GPS

Includes BlackBerry Maps

Integrated GPS with A-GPS




In the box:
  • 2GB microSD Card
  • Battery
  • Charger
  • USB Cable
  • Stereo Hands-Free Headset
  • BlackBerry Desktop Software
  • Carrying case
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Design


If you're familiar with the original BlackBerry Bold, you'll notice the Bold 9700 looks distinctively different from its predecessor. The new version has a more svelte body that is should be attractive to both men and women. This handset measures 4.29 inches tall by 2.36 inches wide by 0.56 inch thick and weighs 4.3 ounces. The Bold 9700 feels solid in your hand and has nice, rounded curves. You may also notice the Bold 9700's chrome edges and lines between the rows of the keyboard, which add to the handset's classy look.

The Bold 9700 has a 2.44-inch display with a resolution of 480x360 at 245 pixels per inch. Overall, the display is very clear and sharp. Text was easy to read, and images looked sharp and had vibrant colors. While there are other BlackBerry handsets with slightly larger screens, the only time we missed the larger screen is when surfing the Web or viewing videos.



Another thing you're sure to notice when you use the Bold 9700 is that RIM replaced the traditional trackball with a touch-sensitive optical trackpad. During our tests, we found the optical trackpad to be a joy to use and preferred it over the traditional trackball design. Scrolling through lists and navigating menus with the trackpad felt smoother than using a trackball, plus you can select items by pressing the trackpad. For any user who's ever had to replace a trackball on their BlackBerry or who has experienced a sticky trackball, this change to a trackpad is a definite plus.

Below the screen, you'll find Talk and End keys on either end with a menu shortcut, the trackpad, and a back button in the middle. Below these controls, you'll find the Bold's 35-key QWERTY keyboard. Since the latest version of this handset is smaller than its predecessor, the keyboard is also slightly smaller. We felt the keyboard was pretty comfortable to use overall, though people with larger fingers may need a bit of time to adjust to the smaller keys. The keys have raised edges which make them somewhat easier to use and distinguish from one another than completely flat keys.


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On the left side of the Bold 9700, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack along with a microUSB port/power connector and a customizable shortcut key that provides access to the Bold's voice dialing feature by default. A second convenience key is located on the right side. This key provides access to the camera, though you can change the default application if you like. The right side also houses the volume rocker. On the top of the Bold 9700, you'll find mute and lock buttons.


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Above the leatherette battery cover on the back of the Bold 9700, you'll find the camera and a flash. Beneath the battery cover and above the battery, you'll find a microSD memory card slot that supports up to 32GB cards. The memory card is inserted at an angle, which is unique. In use, we found it difficult to remove a memory card once it was inserted. This won't be that big of a deal to most people, but if you are planning on swapping cards regularly, it's something to keep in mind.


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User Interface


The Bold 9700 operates on BlackBerry OS 5.0 and features many of the same familiar user interface features that BlackBerry users have grown to love. The Bold 9700's home screen is pretty typical of a BlackBerry home screen with six icons at the bottom of the screen and a single icon in the top left corner that lets you select and customize sound profiles.

RIM did make a few minor refinements to the OS, such as the ability to set your alarm clock using a spinning wheel and drop-down lists for creating new appointments in the calendar. Overall, though, the home screen and main menu of the Bold 9700 will feel quite familiar to previous BlackBerry users.



During the initial set up of the phone, the Bold 9700 prompted us to set up an email account. Configuring an account took only a few minutes. After that, our accounts were easily accessible from the main menu.

BlackBerry OS 5.0 also offers faster JavaScript that is enabled by default as well as CSS processing for faster page loading. As we mentioned earlier, the Bold 9700's Web browser is still significantly behind the likes of the iPhone, Palm Pre, and Android devices. RIM is working to improve its browser and has acquired Torch Mobile (developers of a WebKit-based browser, the same technology that powers the browsers on the iPhone and Android devices), though no definite timeframe for a new browser has been announced. In the meantime, the best RIM can offer with the Bold 9700 is support for BlackBerry widgets and Google Gears as well as a real-time streaming protocol that lets you watch streaming videos from sites such as YouTube. Although the Bold 9700's browser doesn't use any of Torch's code just yet, RIM claims the browser is speedier than previous versions.




The Bold 9700 also comes with a visual voicemail tool that provides easy access to your voicemails via a message inbox. While listening to a message, there are buttons to stop, pause, and skip forward or back.

The applications folder provides access to some of the Bold 9700's personal information management features, including Maps, Clock (with Alarm Clock, Stopwatch, and Timer functions), Search, Memopad, Task list, Password Keeper, and Calculator. You'll also find a file explorer app and shortcuts to DataViz's Documents to Go (Word To Go, Sheet To Go, and Slideshow To Go) in this folder.


Within the main menu, you'll find an icon called web2go, which provides quick access to some frequently visited websites, such as T-Mobile My Account, AccuWeather.com, Facebook, CNN, ESPN, and Gmail. You can add icons from a directory or add a custom icon to this menu.



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Performance


The BlackBerry platform is known for its great messaging capabilities. The Bold 9700 continues this tradition with the ability to manage up to 10 personal or business POP3 or IMAP4 email accounts. The phone has an attachment viewer for opening a number of files including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, and GIF files. Since the Bold 9700 also ships with DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition, you can edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well as view them. To create new documents, however, you'll need to upgrade to the Premium Edition.



Like other BlackBerry models, the Bold 9700 can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and offers support for real-time email delivery with Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise. If your business runs BES 5.0, you'll get the added benefits of being able to manage email folders, access remote file shares, forward and view calendar appointments, and more.



In addition to excellent email capabilities, the Bold 9700 comes with preloaded instant messaging clients for AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo, Windows Live, and BlackBerry Messenger. The phone also provides easy access to Facebook via the web2go client.

To further customize the Bold 9700, you can download additional applications from the BlackBerry App World store. Interestingly enough, our test unit didn't come preinstalled with the BlackBerry App World store so we had to navigate to blackberry.com/appworld/download to install it. Once installed, the App World store provides easy access to both free and paid applications.



The Bold 9700's 624MHz processor made the phone feel snappy and responsive, and delays in opening applications were minimal. We did notice some minor delays when trying to open and use the camera, but they were just that—minor. The Bold 9700 features an upgraded camera, going from 2 megapixels on the previous model to 3.2 megapixels with the Bold 9700, along with variable zoom, auto focus, a flash, and video recording capabilities. You can also adjust white balance settings, picture quality, color effect, and enable geotagging of images. Overall, we were impressed with the image quality of pictures captured using the Bold 9700's camera. Once photos are taken and stored, you can thumb through the gallery using the optical trackpad.

    
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For users who are hoping to save a bit of money on their monthly calling plan, the Bold 9700's Wi-Fi support will be a benefit. With Wi-Fi, you'll be able to make and receive calls using a wireless network instead of using your calling-plan minutes.

RIM claims you'll get about 6 hours of talk time from the Bold 9700's battery. While battery life is sure to vary depending on how you use the phone, we were very pleased with the overall battery life of the Bold and had no problems making it through the day on a single charge. During our tests, call quality was good and the volume was nice and loud.

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Conclusion


The Bold 9700 may not represent a huge leap forward for BlackBerry handsets, but it is a great email and messaging device that's wrapped in a sleek and attractive package. T-Mobile customers should especially appreciate that this phone supports 3G as well as Wi-Fi with UMA support to help save on phone bills.


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For BlackBerry die-hards, the Bold 9700 combines beautiful hardware with the OS you've come to love. It's a respectable handset with a few key upgrades that make it better than its predecessors. To users who aren't quite as enthusiastic about BlackBerry devices, however, the Bold 9700 may not seem all that much different than other BlackBerries on the market.

As we mentioned, the Bold 9700's web browser leaves something to be desired when compared to today's powerful web browsers that are available on other platforms such as the iPhone, Android, or WebOS. The browser itself is still very usable, but it's not as fast, sleek or compatible as some competing browsers.

 

The optical trackpad on the Bold 9700 is a nice change, and we liked the high-end styling of the Bold 9700. This handset is also slightly smaller than some BlackBerry models. We liked the size of the Bold 9700, but this is a very personal preference--some users will prefer a slightly larger device with a bigger screen and roomier keyboard.

If you're looking for a powerful messaging smartphone, the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 certainly deserves consideration. It offers more features and faster speeds than T-Mobile's other BlackBerry offerings and it also has UMA support, which is a definite plus.

     
  • 3G capable
  • Wi-Fi with UMA support
  • Optical trackpad
  • Somewhat small hardware keyboard
  • BlackBerry Browser doesn't compare to the competition



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