Editors' note: Portions of the Features section were taken from our review of the T-Mobile RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 since the two versions share a number of similarities.
Even a year after its debut, the original RIM BlackBerry Bold remains one of the top-10 most popular cell phones of 2009 and we can understand why. The robust productivity tools, extra-large display and keyboard, and great multimedia performance made it one of the best all-in-one messaging devices around. However, as with all tech gadgets, there comes a time when a product reaches the end of its shelf life and the masses start looking for something better.
Fortunately, Bold users and mobile professionals don't have to look too far as its successor, the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700, delivers the goods. Though a bit more of a significant addition to T-Mobile's lineup than AT&T's (since TMO lacked a 3G BlackBerry), the Bold 9700 brings a sleeker design, enhanced features, and more power to make it a worthy upgrade for current Bold owners or AT&T customers looking for a powerful messaging smartphone. Plus, you can currently get the BlackBerry Bold 9700 for $99.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate, which is a great value.
Anyone coming from the original BlackBerry Bold will immediately notice the design changes on the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700. Sleeker and sexier, RIM did a really nice job of making the smartphone smaller without sacrificing too much in usability. Plus, you get the new optical trackpad, some minor user interface enhancements, and an extra-sharp, 480x360-pixel resolution display. For more information about the smartphone's design, please read our full review of the T-Mobile RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 since the two models are nearly identical in this department.
AT&T packages the BlackBerry Bold 9700 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a belt holster, a wired stereo headset, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700's most notable changes are in design, but the smartphone also offers several features upgrades. For one thing, it runs on BlackBerry OS 5.0, which brings some improvements to the Messaging, Calendar, and Browser apps. As before, 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. But 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.
In addition to corporate e-mail, you can access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts via the BlackBerry Internet Service, and though there aren't any instant messaging apps preloaded on the AT&T Bold 9700, you can download free clients for AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo, and Windows Live through the BlackBerry App World.
Though not nearly as large as the iTunes App Store, BlackBerry App World offers thousands of free and paid apps (2,000 as of July 2009) in various categories, including social networking, music, utilities, and games, so chances are pretty high you'll find something to meet your needs. Just be aware that you can only download apps to the phone's main memory (256MB) and not to the microSD card, so keep tabs on your available storage. The smartphone also ships with a number of apps and personal information management tools already on the device, including Documents to Go Standard Edition, Yellow Pages Mobile, a clock, a calculator, and a task list.
As a phone, the Bold 9700 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, background noise suppression, and text and multimedia messaging with threaded chat view. The address book is only limited by the available memory and holds room for multiple numbers, e-mail address, work information, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo, group ID, or custom ringtone.
As far as wireless options, you get the full gamut. Bluetooth is onboard with 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 and supports AT&T Navigator service for voice-guided turn-by-turn directions. AT&T Navigator is free for the first 30 days but afterward, you will have to pay $9.99 per month to continue the using the service.
The BlackBerry Bold 9700 features other forms of distraction, though. It has a capable built-in media player that 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 supports both Mac and PCs. In addition, you can browse for new music and video via AT&T Music or AT&T Video.
You can capture your own media as well with the Bold's 3.2-megapixel camera. It offers variable zoom, autofocus, a flash, and video-recording capabilities and the standard editing options as well as geotagging. Picture quality was decent; the camera took better outdoor shots than indoor shots. In terms of the latter, though the images came out clear, colors could have been richer and brighter.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100) RIM BlackBerry Bold 9700 in New York using AT&T service and call quality was good overall. On our end, audio was mostly clear with plenty of volume and minimal background noise. There were a couple of occasions, however, where the audio cut out, but these were isolated incidents and didn't prevent us from continuing with the phone call. Friends were also fairly pleased with the sound quality, but they did say they could hear some crackling on their end.
Speakerphone quality was decent. There was plenty of volume but voices sounded a bit garbled or tinny at times. We had no problem pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
We saw some impressive speeds from AT&T's 3G network during our review period. CNET's site loaded in 40 seconds, and CNN and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 8 seconds and 6 seconds, respectively. We were also able to download a song from AT&T Music in a swift 15 seconds and the Pandora app (379KB) from BlackBerry App World in 35 seconds.
In terms of general performance, the Bold 9700's next-gen 624MHz processor also kept the smartphone performing smoothly throughout our testing period. We experienced very few delays while using the smartphone in various capacities (e-mail, multimedia, and so forth). Speaking of which, the smartphone does quite a nice job as a multimedia smartphone. Though the built-in media player isn't very flashy, music playback sounded rich and had a nice balance of treble and bass across several genres, including hip-hop, classical, and pop. We also transferred an MPEG4 video from our personal library and enjoyed smooth playback with synchronized sound and picture. The picture was especially eye-popping on the Bold's gorgeous display. That said, the streaming quality of AT&T Video was a little choppy and blurry.
The Bold 9700 features a 1500 lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 6 hours and up to 19 days of standby time. We are still conducting our battery drain tests, but we'll update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the Bold has a digital SAR rating of 1.55 watts per kilogram.