On the bright side, the Bold 9650 continues to offer dual-mode functionality, so the phone supports both CDMA and GSM technologies for world-roaming capabilities. Domestically, the smartphone uses Sprint's CDMA/EV-DO Rev. A network for calls and data, but will then automatically detect and switch to the international GSM bands when you're traveling internationally. You'll also be able to get 3G data while overseas since the handset supports the 2,100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band. We strongly recommend checking the international roaming rates so you don't go into sticker shock when you open your phone bill. As mentioned earlier, Sprint ships the Bold with a SIM card, but if you prefer to switch it out for a SIM card you purchase while abroad, you can do so; just be sure to speak with Sprint Customer Care before you leave.
Aside from world roaming, the Bold 9650 has a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing (over Bluetooth as well), smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. GPS and Bluetooth are also onboard; supported profiles for the latter include those for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, AV remote, serial port profile, and dial-up networking.
E-mail remains the selling point of BlackBerrys and the Bold 9650 is no different. The handset can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server to deliver corporate e-mail in real time and supports Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise. With BlackBerry Internet Service, you can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts and there's a built-in attachment viewer for opening Microsoft Office documents, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and other files. For quicker communication, you can swap PINs with other BlackBerry owners and chat via BlackBerry Messenger or you can sign into one of five other instant messaging clients preloaded on the handset, including AIM, Google Talk, and Yahoo.
The Bold 9650 also ships with several social networking apps (Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr) and Sprint services, such as Sprint Navigation, Sprint Football Live, Sprint TV, and the Sprint Music Store. More titles are available through the BlackBerry App World, though the selection of apps is a bit limited compared with Android devices and the iPhone.
The Bold's multimedia capabilities aren't much to write home about, but they get the job done. The smartphone's media player doesn't have a fancy interface but supports MP3, WMA, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, MIDI, and AMR-NB music files and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video codecs. The smartphone is also equipped with the same 3.2-megapixel camera/camcorder that the Tour has; it took OK photos. Outdoor shots came out well, but there was a bit of a hazy effect on indoor photos, and colors were slightly washed out.
We tested the dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; GSM 850/900/1800/1900) BlackBerry Bold 9650 in New York using Sprint service and call quality was mostly good. We could hear our callers with little problem. Admittedly, we could detect some slight background noise, but it wasn't disruptive enough to prevent us from continuing our phone call. Our friends said that the audio was a bit tinny and occasionally muffled on their side, but again, it was clear enough that they could continue the conversation.
Speakerphone calls were quite decent. The audio was a bit hollow, but we were impressed by the clarity of the calls and ample volume, even in louder environments. We had no problems pairing the phone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
Sprint's 3G provided reliable coverage throughout Manhattan and delivered great speeds. CNET's full site loaded in 31 seconds, whereas CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 6 seconds and 9 seconds, respectively. Of course, the joy of swift speeds is dampened by the clunky Web browser. The new WebKit browser can't some soon enough. We were able to watch YouTube videos from the mobile site; they took a few seconds to load but played back without interruption. The image quality was murky, as were clips from Sprint TV. The latter also had some synchronization problems between video and audio, but our MPEG4 videos played back beautifully, albeit a bit straining on the eyes given the Bold's smaller screen size. Music playback was rich, full, and comfortable, since we could use our own headphones via the 3.5mm jack.
The Bold was a solid performer throughout our testing period. It was responsive and kept up with our demands, with minimal delays. The Bold 9650 comes with a 1,380mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5 hours and up to 13 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to get 6.5 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the Bold has a digital SAR rating of 1.35 watts per kilogram and has a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3.