Editors' note: The ratings have been adjusted since the original publish date to reflect new devices that have entered the market.
It's been about a year since the original RIM BlackBerry Bold made its debut, and while it remains a very solid device, it's about time that a flashier, faster model took over the reigns. And that device would be the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700. Not only is it T-Mobile's first 3G BlackBerry, but its sleeker design and performance enhancements make it a valuable addition to the carrier's lineup. The Bold also offers UMA support for Wi-Fi calls, a faster processor, and an updated OS. The only major downside of the smartphone, and one that plagues all BlackBerry devices, unfortunately, is the Web browser. It simply doesn't stand up to the competition in terms of ease of use or functionality. That said, if you're after a powerful messaging smartphone, the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 certainly has our vote of confidence. It offers more speed and features than T-Mobile's other BlackBerry offerings and gets the upper hand on the T-Mobile Dash 3G with its UMA support. As of press time, T-Mobile did not reveal a specific release date but said the Bold 9700 would be available in time for the holidays for $199.99 with a two-year contract.
The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 looks nothing like its predecessor. Gone is the wide, masculine body, and in its place is a more svelte, compact smartphone that should fulfill RIM's hope of attracting both men and women, and consumers and professionals. At 4.29 inches tall by 2.36 inches wide by 0.56 inch thick and 4.3 ounces, the Bold 9700 is certainly more pocketable and is even smaller and lighter than the BlackBerry Tour. It feels solid in the hand and features a similar leatherette backing as the original Bold to give it a classy touch. In addition, the chrome edges and lines between the keyboard rows add to the handset's appeal.
Given the smaller size, you do lose a little bit in screen real estate. The Bold 9700 has a 2.44-inch display (compared with 2.75 inches) but its 480x360-pixel resolution at 245 pixels per inch certainly keeps things clear and sharp. It's the same as the Tour's, and while we did miss having the larger screen when viewing Web pages and videos, overall we had no complaints. Text was easy to read, and images looked crisp with vibrant colors.
The user interface is largely unchanged, though BlackBerry OS 5.0 brings some slight refinements. For example, the calendar has an easier to use system for creating new appointments with drop-down lists, and you can set your alarm clock using a spinning wheel. The home screen and main menu will be familiar to previous owners, though; you can customize the home screen with different themes and background images as well as six different shortcuts.
Below the display, you get the standard BlackBerry controls: Talk and End keys, a menu shortcut, and a back button. However, like the BlackBerry Curve 8520, the Bold 9700 replaces the traditional trackball navigator with an optical trackpad. The move from trackball to trackpad is surprisingly easy, and we were impressed by its responsiveness (you can also adjust its sensitivity to your liking through the Options menu). Scrolling through lists and navigating menus feels smoother using the trackpad and you can select an item simply by pressing down. RIM plans to use the trackpad in all its future devices, and that's fine by us. Like we mentioned earlier, the transition from one to the other felt easy and natural; plus, perhaps this will eliminate the issue that some users have had where the trackball stops working for whatever reason and needs to be replaced.
Just below is the Bold 9700's 35-key full QWERTY keyboard. Though not as spacious as the original Bold's, the large and comfortable buttons are ideal for typing both short text messages and longer e-mails. The individual keys have raised ridges so they're easier to use compared to completely flat buttons, and they provide a nice springy feedback. If anything, they were just a touch stiff to press, but overall, we're very happy with the keyboard.
On the left spine, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microUSB port/power connector, and a customizable shortcut key. You get a second convenience key on the right side, which is designated to the camera by default, and a volume rocker. The top holds a mute and lock buttons, and the camera and flash are located on back.
Our review unit from RIM included an AC adapter, a USB cable, a 2GB microSD card, a wired stereo headset, and a belt holster in the box. However, T-Mobile's final sales package may vary. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 marks the first 3G (UMTS/HSDPA 900/1700/2100) BlackBerry for T-Mobile. The carrier's been on a tear lately to launch its 3G network in new markets, which now reaches 170 million people in more than 235 cities nationwide. It still trails behind the other major service providers in terms of coverage, but it's certainly good to see T-Mobile ramping up its efforts and bringing more 3G handsets to the lineup, particularly full-featured ones like the Bold 9700.