BlackBerry Bold 9900 Smartphone Review - Where to Buy

By on August 1, 2011

Amazing keyboard, excellent screen and smooth operations.

BlackBerry Bold 9900 Smartphone Review
I’ve been waiting for a device like the BlackBerry Bold 9900 since the Bold series was introduced in 2008 in the form of the Bold 9000- a Smartphone that made it into my “Five Smartphones I’ll never forget” blog. It’s the first BlackBerry device in almost three years that has me as excited and I’ve been pretty vocal about that since I first played with it at BlackBerry World early this year. So yes, you might consider this review somewhat biased. But at the same time, I have such high expectation from the Bold 9900 that anything less than extra-ordinary will be a let down. Lets find out if RIM finally delivers.

I didn’t receive the packaged unit from RIM as I was insisting on getting one ASAP but I’m pretty sure that the package will contain the USB charger and headset along with a carrying case. The build quality of the Bold 9900 is plain awesome with no creaking parts. At 10.5mm, it’s the thinnest BlackBerry yet and not so far from the Samsung Galaxy SII which, at 8.5mm, is the thinnest Smartphone I have reviewed. The rest of the measurements for the Bold 9900 are 115mm x 66mm and it weighs 130grams. The following table compares the Bold 9900 to some of the other popular Smartphones of late.




















































Height (mm) Width (mm) Depth (mm) Weight (g)
BlackBerry Bold 9900 115 66 10.5 130
BlackBerry Torch 9800 111 62 14.6 161
BlackBerry Bold 9780 109 60 14 122
iPhone 4 115.2 58.6 9.3 137
Samsung Galaxy SII 125.3 66.1 8.5 116
Nokia E6 115.5 59 10.5 133

 

The Bold 9900 is noticeably lighter than the BlackBerry Torch 9800. In fact, it is lighter than the iPhone 4 as well as the recently reviewed Nokia E6 which also features a fully qwerty keyboard and a touch screen in a candybar form factor. Overall, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a lot lighter than it looks and RIM has done a good job of taking the original Bold 9000 and adding a touchscreen to it while reducing the weight at the same time.



In your hand, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 feels amazing- I would rate it right after the iPhone 4 as far as the "premium feel" is concerned. A stainless steel strip runs around the device with the power/lock button on top that, thankfully, is not as easy to press as the BlackBerry Torch 9800 (which used to unlock itself in my pocket quite frequently.) On the left side you have a 3.5mm jack towards the top while the microUSB port sits bust below that while on the right, you have volume buttons with a mute button between them. Personally speaking, I can't remember the last time I needed to mute a call and thus, I would probably never use that button especially since that option also exists on the touch screen when on a call. Instead, I would have loved to see a slider to put the phone in and out of silent mode quickly. However, I'm sure that people that are on conference calls all day long that will appreciate the mute button. might appreciate it. , but I guess others do. Finally, you have a convenience key that is set to launch the camera application by default. This isn't a two-stage button though which generally works better for cameras.


The back side of the Bold 9900 is made of a soft rubbery material providing a really nice grip around the edges of the Bold 9900. Unlike the older Bold 9000, the entire back cover of the device does not come off and instead you have a door in the middle for replacing the battery, inserting a SIM card or a MicroSD card. This back cover has a carbon-fiber like design and is glossy which makes it a finger-print magnet but that seems to be the trend with many new Smartphones that sport a glossy finish. While the back cover is a bit on the thin side, it doesn’t feel flimsy or one that will break-off easily.



RIM is finally catching up with the rest of the market with hardware. Their flagship product of last year sported a 624Mhz CPU and a screen with a resolution of 480x360 pixels which is pretty much considered a medium-end device in the rest of the industry. For the Bold 9900, RIM adds an incredibly zippy 1.2GHz CPU and ups the screen resolution to 640x480 pixels. Granted that isn’t exactly high-end, but on a 2.8 inch screen, ends up with a relatively high DPI for an extremely crisp look. RIM has also bumped up the RAM to 768MB from 512MB and doubled the in-device storage from 4GB to 8GB. You still have a MicroSD slot for further expansion but need to remove the battery to access it.


Not much has changed as far as radios are concerned with the Bold 9900 sporting the same HSDPA technology found in last year’s Bold 9870 model. I don’t have any issues with that as 4G has still not been introduced in the Middle East and data speeds over 3G are good enough. Bluetooth also continues to stay at 2.1 and so does the built-in Wi-Fi with support for 802.11a/b/g/n. While there hasn’t been any significant development in Wi-Fi standards, I have seen a few new Smartphones using Bluetooth 3.0 which RIM could have used.


For measuring performance, I generally use the SunSpider Javascript test and the the BlackBerry Bold 9900 proved to be quite a zippy device completing the test in 5900ms [Edit: 3146ms with the latest firmware] which is faster than the iPhone 4, HTC Desire S or the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc any other phones we have tested. To put things in perspective, the Torch took over eight times longer to complete the test in 24185ms.



RIM wasn’t kidding when they said the Bold 9900 has the best keyboard they have built- it certainly is the best keyboard I have ever used on a Smartphone. Like the Bold 9900, the slightly wider size of the device allowed RIM to add a roomy keyboard and you’ll rarely ever hit the wrong key after you've played with the device for a few hours. The keyboard also has the right amount of depth so you never really have to try harder than you naturally would to press a key. Lastly, the keys are not clicky like the ones on Curve so typing on the Bold is not only extremely comfortable but also really silent.

The next best thing about the Bold 9900 is it's 2.8" capacitive touchscreen with a 640x480 resolution making everything on screen appears really really crisp. It has the same effect that the iPhone 4 had on previous iPhones- once you get used to it, screens on older BlackBerry devices will just feel so backward. With the Bold 9900 RIM also finally adds GPU acceleration to the interface and they call it liquid graphics. It allows the scrolling and swiping to appear a lot more zippy and responsive- unlike the Torch which always felt a bit laggy. The following video shows you how the touch screen on the Bold reacts.

[brightcove video="1088833264001" /]


There are many other subtle touches that make the Bold 9900 a device that you easily fall in love with. For example, the backlight goes off in steps with the keyboard going out first, followed by the four top keys and finally the trackpad. The speakers and volume levels on Bold are also loud and distortion-free, even at the loudest.



On the software side, the BlackBerry Bold is powered by OS 7 which along with Liquid Graphics, brings a few extra things to the BlackBerry OS. For starters, the icons are redone in color bringing a nice updated overall look to the OS. You can also now manage which panels appear or don’t appear on the home screen swiping- however you still can’t add panes.

On my first reboot, I noticed that amount of free RAM was reported at a tad bit over 150MB which is a bit worrying as the Torch 9800 with lesser memory of 512MB reported over 250MB of free RAM on its initial usage. However, I confirmed with RIM that I was running a really old build of the software (.261) which probably had debugging code. The newest version of the OS is 1465 and I should hopefully be getting the update from RIM soon and will be updating this section. Do let me point out that even with the old build and the smaller amount of free memory,  I did not experience any slow-downs in operations like scrolling, composing an email or switching between applications.


From the video on the previous page, you've seen how well the browser works and how smoothly text flows on the web pages- RIM has really given the browser a shot in the arm. About the only thing I miss browsing on the Bold 9900 is the smaller screen size compared to the Torch or the iPhone. RIM has also updated the Social Feeds application to 2.0 that allows you to create and manage views that can, for example, show feeds from your favorite people. Another feature new to BlackBerry is NFC or Near Field Communication which I couldn’t test out simply because I don't have anything to test it out with. Sadly, I could not find an option to create a personal hotspot but from what I have been told, this is a career specific feature.

While all RIM developed applications that I tried worked right away on the Bold 9900 right away, third party applications will probably need some updating- especially games or anything else that needs to recognize the new resolution and GPU acceleration. Thankfully my favourite third party app BeBuzz worked without any issues but games like Choper or Camera Apps like Fat Face wouldn’t work. Some other Apps, like Gist work but the interface needs to be redone as everything appears really small. Sadly, installing apps on the Bold 9900 still takes a long time and you need to reboot every time an app is updated.



The camera on the Bold 9900 remains at 5MP like the previous gen devices, however, RIM has added 720p video recording to the mix. I found the camera to be a tad bit slow side- it usually took about a second between me pressing the button to take the picture and the picture being taken. The quality of pics taken is about the same as previous BlackBerry devices- good but great like the Nokia N8 or the iPhone 4. The following is a sample pictures taken from the Bold 9900- it's an indoor picture with medium lighting.


I was a bit surprised at RIM’s choice of battery for the Bold 9900. Even though the phone is equipped with the fastest CPU they have ever used and a reasonably big screen with the highest resolution they have ever used, it comes with a 1230mAh/4.6Wh battery that is lower in capacity than some of their older models. The first day, I unplugged the device at 7:30 AM and by 8:30PM, the battery icon had turned red. It took another hour and half for the radio to switch off. During this day, I had WiFi and 3G always on with push email but Bluetooth and NFC was switched off. I also used the Bold to take over 30 pictures and about ten minutes of video. The second day, I unplugged the device at 7:00AM and the radio didn’t shut off until 10:30 at night- although I didn't use the camera. I’m sure that with a little more conditioning and possibly better software, this will further improve.

Overall, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the best BlackBerry RIM has built so far. But keep in mind that it is still a BlackBerry so don’t expect it to compete with the iPhone or the Android on the number of Apps. That doesn’t bother me at all as at the end of the day, I prefer to use a device that has a good keyboard and screen while being fast to operate with a decent battery life . The BlackBerry Bold 9900 succeeds on all those accounts and creates an excellent touch and type combo. In fact, the experience is so good that I can easily see RIM moving most of their devices to such a form factor. The BlackBerry Bold 9900 will be my primary device of choice for the foreseeable future. RIM has delivered.

Want the Bold 9900? Try your luck with the competition we're running with RIM for giving one unit away.
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