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BlackBerry Bold 9790 review: BlackBerry Bold 9790

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The Good Solid build quality; Combined view for email, instant messaging and SMS texts.

The Bad Small touchscreen; Dated, fiddly OS; Fewer apps than iPhone, Android or Windows Phone.

The Bottom Line The touch-Qwerty hybrid Bold 9790 won't win many new fans but if you're bonkers about BlackBerry you might fancy its svelte lines and speedy menus. For everyone else, your money's better spent on an iPhone or Android handset, where you can get apps galore.

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5.5 Overall

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The BlackBerry Bold 9790 looks like almost all the smart phones RIM has released in recent years. It has that familiar corporate styling and the classic BlackBerry full Qwerty keyboard wrapped around the bottom of the phone's face like an alphabetic beard.

But the 9790 is relatively unusual for a BlackBerry because it's a hybrid, thanks to a small capacitive touchscreen up top. It's not the first touch-cum-Qwerty BlackBerry -- last year's Bold 9900 also packed both in -- but RIM has crammed everything into a smaller package this time around.

The 9790 is undoubtedly well built but it's expensive. SIM-free it costs around £350, or you can pick up the handset free from £20 a month on two-year contracts.

Should I buy the BlackBerry Bold 9790?

Mobile is all about software these days and with BlackBerry OS 7 inside -- RIM's latest but dated operating system -- there's nothing to convert new users to the BlackBerry platform. Unless you're bonkers about BlackBerry, we can't really recommend getting involved with the 9790.

Another reason not to buy is the fact that RIM is planning to launch its next generation OS -- BlackBerry 10 -- in the second half of this year. There's no indication from RIM that BlackBerry 7 devices will be upgradeable to BB 10, so it's probably worth waiting for the big platform refresh, rather than buying into the dwindling days of the old ways.

All the usual BlackBerry messaging features are on board the 9790 but RIM's platform remains fiddly to use compared to Android and Apple's iOS. And it's a country mile behind when it comes to apps.

The 9790's tiny touchscreen is fiddly -- it's not big enough to make web browsing a pleasure and if you mainly use a BlackBerry for messaging, your fingers are going to be tapping away on the physical Qwerty keyboard most of the time anyway.

On contract, the 9790's is in the same price bracket as lots of great high-end Android phones, including the ever popular Samsung Galaxy S2 and the HTC Sensation XE. Apple's latest iPhone, the 4S, is not that much more expensive either -- it's free on contract from around £30 -- making the 9790 a very tough sell to anyone other than a confirmed CrackBerry addict.

BlackBerry 7 OS

BlackBerry 7 is more user-friendly than previous versions of the BlackBerry OS as RIM has tweaked and tinkered to try and make up some of the ground it lost to Android and iOS.

One welcome addition is a faster browser -- RIM claims it's 40 per cent quicker than BlackBerry 6 OS. There are also zippier graphical transitions on the home screen. On the surface, it doesn't feel entirely like a phone from yesteryear, even if the look of the handset has barely changed.

BlackBerry Bold 9790
Hold your finger on the 9790's touchscreen and it will bring up a menu of extra options.

RIM has grafted on a touch-friendly menu (pictured above) in an attempt to bypass the oft-thumbed BlackBerry key. Hold a finger on the touchscreen and it brings up a grid of options relating to the app you're using or the aspect of the OS you're viewing, or even specific content you've highlighted.

If you're highlighting text or a link, options can include 'copy' or 'open link'. When using the menu in the Twitter app, you're offered the chance to compose tweets, retweet content, reply to a tweet and more. If you're viewing a photo, this menu will let you add the image to your homescreen and send it to a contact. The touch menu can also be used to flick between open apps by hitting the 'switch apps' option. This will then bring up a grid of recently used apps in icon form -- then you simply tap on the app you want to switch to it.

Even with such usability boosts, the BlackBerry OS remains a never-ending procession of menus. The OS was built in an era of keyboards and cursors and despite RIM's attempts to make it more touch-friendly, there's no escaping its legacy. Dip beneath the colourful icons on the homepage and you'll soon find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of yet another menu -- with absolutely no prospect of a usability wonderland at the bottom.

Screen and keyboard

The Bold 9790 has a diminutive 2.45-inch capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 480x360 pixels at 246 pixels per inch -- a throwback to 2010's Bold 9780, which sported the same resolution and screen size.="http:>

BlackBerry Bold 9790 size
You'll struggle to view full web pages on the tiny 2.45-inch screen.

Last year's model -- the Bold 9900 -- packed in a fair few more pixels on its slightly larger 2.8-inch touchscreen (it had a resolution of 640x480 pixels at 287ppi). So if it's screen glory you're after, there are better Bolds out there.

The smaller size of the 9790 explains its diddy screen but we're disappointed by the lowly resolution -- text on full web pages such as the CNET UK desktop site is illegible until you zoom in, at which point having such a small screen means it can feel like you're trying to read a poster through a keyhole. 

Indeed, the touchscreen on the 9790 is about the size of a mini Post-it note, as shown below.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 screen size
The 9790 has a mini Post-it note-sized screen and a form factor that easily fits on a standard-sized yellow sticky thing.

Touching such a tiny screen doesn't offer a massive enhancement over thumbing the traditional trackpad but you can at least use pinch-to-zoom on web pages and finger flick to scroll through your email. Still, it's an incremental improvement at best. 

RIM has also kept the Bold's optical trackpad -- meaning there are multiple (and therefore redundant) ways to navigate the interface or pan around web pages.

Love or hate the Bold's signature Qwerty keyboard -- and you're reading a BlackBerry review so chances are you love it -- rest assured, it's not gone anywhere. RIM has recycled essentially the same keyboard it used on the Bold 9900 for the Bold 9790, with its angled keys and email-friendly Qwerty layout.

As with previous Bolds and Curves, the keyboard takes pride of place. Along with the five BlackBerry navigation keys, it occupies the entire bottom half of the handset's face.

If you're a BlackBerry lover you'll probably be able to type the complete works of Shakespeare on the Bold 9790's keyboard in an afternoon, thanks to its angled keys. But as with most Qwerty-packing BlackBerrys, the keyboard's presence weighs heavily on usability by halving available screen real estate. So if you're after a smart phone for watching videos or doing lots of web browsing you'll want a smart phone with a full-sized touchscreen.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 keyboard
The 9790 packs a full Qwerty keyboard with angled keys to aid finger placement.

Email and messaging

Email and messaging have been BlackBerry's lifeblood for years and, as you'd expect, the Bold 9790 has all the usual messaging suspects on tap. BlackBerry email will hook up to your Gmail, Yahoo mail and Hotmail. There's also BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and texting, Twitter and Facebook apps that plug you into your social networks and push notifications to your phone.

The BBM app pulls in all types of messaging -- email, social networks, instant messaging, SMS text, Facebook and so on into a single feed. This makes it easy to see who's been talking to you. From here there are also options to reply in various ways so you don't need to dive off into the full-fat Facebook app just to reply to a message.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 messaging
Hook up your email and social services and the 9790 will show all your messages in one handy place.

On the 9790 you can also connect Facebook with your BlackBerry Calendar and Contacts. Once you've signed in, Facebook events are automatically added to your BlackBerry Calendar and the contacts on your phone can be linked with your Facebook account. So the latest profile pictures of your mates will be added to your phone contacts list. But be warned -- this option also shares your phone contacts with Facebook and can eat up extra data. If you're on a pay-as-you-go tariff you may not want to check this box.

The Facebook app itself is packed with features -- including the ability to view your profile, upload photos and post status updates, check in to Facebook Places, view the news feed, see messages, notifications, friend requests, use Facebook chat, search for friends... you know the drill.

Performance and battery life

The 9790 has a 1GHz chip inside so it's a smidgen less beefy than last year's Bold 9900, which had 1.2GHz under the hood. We found the OS fast and responsive, with menus opening zippily and apps loading promptly.

Full websites are a little slow to render in the native web browser so expect to see a fair amount of grey and white checkerboard as you pan around the site. We found scrolling and zooming fast and fluid though -- all the more so because you're able to pinch or flick the touchscreen (assuming you can fit your fingers on it).

Be warned -- there's no Adobe Flash support so lots of online videos won't play. There is a YouTube app though to provide your daily cute cat video fix.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 YouTube app
The 9790 does not have Adobe Flash support so lots of online videos won't play -- you'll have to console yourself with the YouTube app.

BlackBerrys have long been lauded for their ability to eke out their battery like a squirrel husbanding its store of winter nuts. The 9790's spec sheet claims it will last 18 days on standby, or bank enough juice for 6.3 hours of video playback or 33 hours of music. Talktime is also apparently good for 5.2 hours of continuous yakking.

We found battery performance to be okay -- you'll easily get a day's normal use out of the Bold and, if you're only tapping infrequently, you might even manage several days without having to charge it. That said, heavy use -- playing with the phone a lot, leaving its screen on for long periods and having Wi-Fi switched on -- drank a surprisingly hefty slurp of juice in a short period. That's surprising considering the 9790's dinky screen.

Watching videos certainly eats up the battery but with such a small screen you're unlikely to want to clock up hours of viewing.

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