Like the RIM BlackBerry Storm 2, the Bold 9700 is shipping with BlackBerry OS 5.0 (version 18.104.22.1680 to be exact), which brings some enhancements to the messaging and calendar capabilities as well as to the BlackBerry browser.
In addition to 3G, the Bold 9700 has Wi-Fi and UMA (unlicensed mobile access) support, which means you can make and receive unlimited calls over a wireless network without using calling-plan minutes. Just be aware that to do this you will need to sign up for T-Mobile's Unlimited HotSpot calling plan, which starts at $10 per month.
Other phone features include quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, visual voice mail, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. In addition, the Bold 9700 features background noise suppression technology for clearer audio. Bluetooth is also available and includes support for mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets, hands-free kits, serial port profile, dial-up networking, audio source, and AV remote. The Bold 9700 is equipped with GPS/A-GPS.
As for written communications, the Bold 9700 continues to offer the great messaging capabilities. The smartphone can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise, to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. For those who work for businesses running BES 5.0, you'll be able to get more e-mail functionality with the Bold and OS 5.0 since you can now manage e-mail folders, access remote file share, forward and view calendar appointments, and more.
With BlackBerry Internet Service, you can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. There's also an attachment viewer for opening Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more. There are also preloaded instant messaging clients for AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo, Windows Live, and BlackBerry Messenger.
To supplement the attachment viewer, the smartphone ships with DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition, so you can now edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well. If you want the ability to create new documents, you will have to upgrade to the Premium Edition, however. Other preloaded personal information management tools include a calendar, a task list, a memo pad, a voice recorder, and a calculator. However, there are plenty more productivity apps, utilities, games, and more available for download through the BlackBerry App World. Be aware that you can save apps only to the phone's internal memory (256MB flash), so keep tabs on what you're downloading. You can check your available storage by going to Settings > Options > Memory.
To free up some space, we recommend storing all your multimedia files on a storage card, and the Bold 9700 even ships with a 2GB card to get things started. The built-in media player supports MP3, WMA, WMA ProPlus, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ files, and MPEG4, WMV, and H.264 video clips. There's a search function, playlist creation, shuffle and repeat, and you get a full-screen mode for video playback. You can easily sync your personal library, whether it be through iTunes or through Windows Media Player with BlackBerry Media Sync, and now the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software support both Mac and PCs.
Finally, the Bold 9700 brings an upgraded camera, going from 2 megapixels to 3.2 megapixels. It offers variable zoom, auto focus, a flash, and video-recording capabilities. Editing options are pretty standard with various size and quality choices, white-balance controls, and color effects. You can also use the phone's GPS to geotag photos. Picture quality was impressive. Objects looked clear in images, and colors weren't washed out, even in bright sunlight.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 in New York using T-Mobile service and call quality was good. On our end, the audio was clear with very little background noise so we had no problem hearing our callers or using an airline's voice automated response system. Friends also reported good things about the Bold's sound quality. They didn't complain of any voice distortion or weird noises. In addition, they were impressed by the clarity of the speakerphone and didn't even realize that we had switched over to speakerphone halfway through the call until we told them. Unfortunately, the audio wasn't quite as pristine on our side; voices sounded a bit tinny, but it certainly didn't prevent us from continuing with the conversation.
We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones. Thanks to the 3.5mm standard jack, we also plugged in some Bose On-Ear Headphones and enjoyed some rich-sounding tunes. Video playback was also smooth with synchronized images and audio.
T-Mobile's 3G coverage in New York was reliable though not blazingly fast. CNET's full site came up in 57 seconds, and CNN and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 11 seconds and 13 seconds, respectively. We've said it before but we'll say it again: though RIM has made some drastic improvements to its browser in the past year, it still lags behind all the other major operating systems. The navigation is clunky and slow, but it seems that the company realizes this weakness and is committed to developing a better browser. In fact, RIM recently posted a job opening for a WebKit developer, so we look forward to a day where we actually enjoy the mobile Web experience on a BlackBerry since it does everything else so well.
The Bold 9700's next-gen 624MHz processor certainly delivered, as the smartphone felt snappy. We only encountered some minimal delays when using the camera. Unfortunately, we were not able to try out the GPS and navigation on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 before press time but will update this section as soon as we do. In addition, we'll report back on battery drain results. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 features a 1,500mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6 hours and up to 17 days of standby time.