Allow us to introduce the Bold 9780: a near replica of the, but for a few aesthetic refinements and with the latest firmware installed. We're not kidding when we say "near replica". We got out a ruler to see just how similar the design of the 9780 is to the 9700 and we were hard-pressed to spot any differences. Research In Motion (RIM) has done away with the subtle stainless steel trim of the former, but this slight cosmetic difference aside, they are basically the same phone.
These similarities continue on to the handset's four-row full QWERTY keyboard, a BlackBerry staple. Though RIM's used an ever-so-slightly larger print on these keys, they remain untouched. Each key is raised to an asymmetric peak, aimed towards helping you type efficiently with two hands, and as always RIM makes excellent use of the tiny footprint available to lay these keys out.
Around the edge of the 9780 you'll discover a 3.5mm headphone socket, a micro-USB port and buttons dedicated to volume control and access to the handset's 5-megapixel camera. Speaking of the rear-mounted camera, snap-happy photographers will be chuffed to find the image sensor assisted by an LED flash, plus an autofocus feature in the camera's software settings.
The difference between the older Bold and the 9780 really takes shape when you switch the handsets on. BlackBerry OS 6 offers a few key changes to the previous version, some adding much needed functionality, some improving convenience and some that simply make your BlackBerry more beautiful. Gone are the text-only menu listings of the still lengthy settings menus.
Those familiar with BlackBerry OS 5 will love the new home screen layout. Previously, you could either select a favourite app to launch or roll the trackpad up to change your profile to silent. With OS 6 all areas of the home screen are selectable, you can highlight the notifications counter to access your latest messages, you can select the top row of the screen to adjust your wireless settings or set an alarm. You'll also find a magnifying glass icon beside the notifications panel acting as a shortcut to the new universal search feature, though it can also be accessed by pressing on any letter on the keyboard.
The applications tray is now categorised with five panels separating apps for quick discovery; there's All, Favourites, Media, Downloads and Frequent, the last two categories auto-populating as you use your phone.
These are all excellent enhancements for the BlackBerry platform, but the new layout, especially the home screen, is obviously designed for touchscreens; a feature the 9780 doesn't have. Tasks like navigating the app drawer and surfing the web are simply faster with a touchscreen, and in this time-poor modern age using the finicky touch pad to guide oneself around the new OS 6 can be a little frustrating.
Media, camera and the web
Besides excellent calling and messaging features, of which this handset has in spades, the next most important aspect of any modern smartphone is the web browser. BlackBerry OS 6 delivers a new WebKit-based browser to the mix, and it makes a huge improvement over all older devices running OS 5. Pages render as you'd expect them to on a desktop browser and the contents of web pages resize quickly and accurately when you zoom in and out.