Most people associate BlackBerry with business email, but things are about to change. The BlackBerry Bold is certainly aptly named: it's a very daring step into the world of all-in-one super-phones. The Bold's core features are still made of serious stuff, but with the addition of HSPDA (3.5G) and GPS, RIM hopes to capture a larger piece of the smart phone pie.
We boldly went where several reviewers will likely follow to see if the Bold lives up to its name. The BlackBerry Bold 9000 will launch around September for free on contracts from several networks, including 3, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone.
The first thing you notice when you pop the Bold out of its box is its considerable width -- but this does allow for a full Qwerty keypad and a wide screen. Similar to the Nokia E71, the Bold's keypad is superb. Its keys are spread out just the right amount and they're raised at one edge so you can easily distinguish between each one.
As if a good keypad wasn't enough to grab our full attention, the Bold's screen is also impressive. RIM claims the Bold got its name during user testing, when many people remarked how 'bold' the screen looked. We can confirm that it is indeed very sharp -- excellent for watching videos or reading emails.
In between the bright screen and easy-to-use keypad there's a trackball similar to the one found on the BlackBerry Pearl, which some users like while others found fiddly. We think it works well and once you get used to it, it can make searching through lists or going through the menu very straightforward.
We've never been huge fans of the BlackBerry menu system, but the latest redesign takes the old icons in a much sexier direction. Gone are the naff icons on white -- behold an array of neon symbols, which still take some time to figure out but look far prettier than anything we've seen on a BlackBerry before.
Slightly less impressive is the faux-metal border that surrounds the keypad and screen -- it simply doesn't have the same quality feel as the Nokia E71's metal casing. Then there's the back, which houses a 2-megapixel camera and is covered in mock leather -- it's a bit 'BMW interior' for us but you may like it.
Before the Bold came out we struggled to understand why RIM omitted certain features from its BlackBerries, such as HSDPA or Wi-Fi, but the Bold has it all. HSDPA and Wi-Fi are present and correct, offering high-speed email and Internet access almost everywhere you go, and GPS means you can accurately find out where you are.
Setting up email is fairly straightforward, depending on what you need, but if you're not going to use it to access your company email, you can use BlackBerry Internet Service to setup a variety of email accounts, including Microsoft Exchange. The Bold's Internet browser is equally easy to use, rendering pages in a desktop format, although it doesn't support Flash.
The GPS works well outdoors, but don't expect great things when you're indoors. Navigating around town, you can use BlackBerry Maps, which lets you do cool things such as sending your location to other people, but we prefer using Google Maps, which you can download from the Internet.
RIM understands that most people prefer using their own headphones to the ones in the box, so it's kindly included a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. We would have preferred it on the top or bottom of the Bold, but it's good to have it nevertheless. The music player is basic, but supports several formats and is usable enough.
Less satisfactory is the Bold's 2-megapixel camera. It didn't take great shots in daylight and with only an LED photo light, didn't overwhelm us at night either. It's fine if you just want to take the odd snap to send to your friends over MMS, but don't expect pictures to look great when you view them on a computer.
The Bold is a vast improvement over older BlackBerries and combined with a speedy processor (624MHz) offers a really punchy experience. You feel like it's delivering the kind of power you expect from a smart phone -- from browsing the Web to accessing apps, the Bold doesn't lag much at all.
It's worth mentioning that audio from the loudspeakers can be set to go very loud indeed, which is useful for hands-free or conference calls, although it still has the tinny quality you expect from a phone speaker.
Battery life is quoted at around 10 days standby and around 4 hours talk time. We found that with intermittent use of all the features it lasted around a day before needing to be recharged, which isn't bad considering everything you're likely to use it for.
For some time we were worried that RIM didn't understand the increasingly powerful consumer market. Businessmen were no longer content with boring business phones and the likes of Nokia were quickly moving in on its turf. But the Bold is a clear statement from RIM that it's listening to the market.
If you're a BlackBerry user, we seriously advise you to check out the Bold and even if you're only considering investing in a super-phone, we recommend you have a look too. This is RIM's pièce de resistance and will most definitely delight BlackBerry fans who refuse to get an iPhone.
Edited by Nick Hide