The BlackBerry Bold 9930 is the best BlackBerry Bold we've ever seen, full stop. Indeed, it's clear to us why RIM sees the Bold 9900 series as the flagship brand of its latest line of OS 7 handsets. Sure, the Torch 9810 has that slide-out keyboard and the Torch 9850/9860 boasts a full touch-screen interface. But the Bold 9930 builds upon the iconic BlackBerry design and improves it tenfold. The new Bold's stunning good looks, impressive feature set, under-the-hood improvements thanks to OS 7, and stellar performance firmly place it in the premium smartphone category.
Yet, we do have a few concerns. As much as we like it, the Bold's design is really more evolutionary than revolutionary, and OS 7 is also not terribly different from OS 6 in terms of the user interface. Moreover, we can't help but feel the Bold 9930 is a little overpriced at $249.99 after a rebate and a two-year contract. BlackBerry loyalists might be willing to pay the price, but it would be understandable to feel a bit skittish about paying so much for a handset that isn't correspondingly better than the competition.
If all you did was take a quick glance at the Bold 9930, you might dismiss it as just another boring BlackBerry messaging phone. And that's a shame, because the Bold 9930 is far from it. While the design might look the same as its slate QWERTY brethren, the Bold 9930 is built with a lot more style in mind. It's clad in high-quality plastic on the front and back, and a solid piece of stainless steel forms its sturdy outer frame. The glossy battery cover and soft-touch bezel on the back add to the phone's premium feel. Indeed, the Bold 9930 strikes us as the handset equivalent of a luxury town car.
Measuring 4.53 inches long by 2.6 inches wide by 0.41 inch thick, the Bold 9930 could maybe lay claim to being a sports car as well. Its slender profile makes it the thinnest BlackBerry yet, which really does add to the phone's sleek and elegant aesthetic. More importantly, RIM has wisely decided to widen the Bold 9930 back to the original BlackBerry 9000 size, which allows for a larger display and a roomier keyboard (which we'll discuss later).
The Bold's 2.8-inch display is another triumph. RIM pumped up the resolution to 640x480 pixels, which might not seem like much, but cram that into a small display like this and the result is really smooth and sharp images with nary a pixel in sight. OS 7's new Liquid Graphics technology that promises improved graphics and animations also comes into play here, and we were impressed by the results. The Bold 9930's display certainly looks better than any of its predecessors.
What makes the Bold 9930 especially interesting however, is that it is the first Bold to have a touch-screen display. At first we were rather skeptical about this, as we generally like our touch screens to be a lot bigger so that our fingers have enough room to move around. Indeed, we found that we had to be a lot more accurate when selecting certain tiny icons. But we soon found that we could use the touch screen for quick scrolling and tapping, and then switch to the optical touch pad if we wanted more precision. It's much easier to scroll through long Web pages just by swiping the touch screen, for example. We also appreciate the pinch-to-zoom gesture on the touch screen.
OS 7's aforementioned Liquid Graphics is supposed to improve the responsiveness of the touch screen, which works in conjunction with the Bold 9930's 1.2GHz processor to give a smooth and zippy navigation experience. We had no problems for the most part, and we loved how fluid the swiping was. However, we did encounter the occasional hiccup where we had to tap repeatedly at something before it registered. As we mentioned earlier, we solved this by using the optical touch pad for increased accuracy, but we wish it wasn't necessary.
Below the display are the usual Send, Menu, Back, and End/Power keys along with the familiar optical touch pad in the middle. As with the other BlackBerry devices, holding down the Menu key will bring up a list of recently used applications so you can switch between them easily. Sitting above the display is a proximity sensor.
The keyboard on the Bold 9930 is absolutely top-notch, and is possibly the best BlackBerry keyboard we've ever used. As we mentioned earlier, the Bold 9930 has a wide keyboard that hearkens back to the original Bold, aka the BlackBerry 9000, which is still widely loved by BlackBerry fans. The keyboard on the Bold 9930 is very spacious, and the keys themselves are taller and larger than before. Each key has a raised beveled edge that results in a satisfying click when pressed. We found typing to be easy, fast, and efficient.
The Micro-USB port and 3.5mm headset jack are located on the left spine, while the volume rocker and customizable convenience key are on the right. On the top is the screen lock key. The camera lens and LED flash sit on the back. The microSD card slot is located behind the battery door, but you need to remove the battery to access it.
Verizon packages the BlackBerry Bold 9930 in a handsome black box with an AC adapter, a USB cable, a belt holster, and reference material.
One addition to the Bold 9930 that the other OS 7 handsets don't have is that the Bold 9930 also has NFC support, which means you can purchase goods or services by swiping your phone over a compatible payment system. We weren't able to test this out with our unit, but we're happy to see that BlackBerry is embracing newer technologies like this.
The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9930 is a dual-mode CDMA/GSM phone. It will work with the CDMA Verizon bands in the U.S., but when you're traveling abroad, it'll automatically flip over to the provided SIM card so you can use the quad-band GSM network instead. This allows for greater flexibility when globe trotting. The phone also supports 3G bands on both networks, so you're free to surf the Web as well--do keep a vigilant eye on your data usage when abroad, however, as it might cost you quite a bit of money if you're not careful.
Other phone functions of the Bold 9930 include speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, visual voice mail, and text and multimedia messaging, which has threaded conversations and group chat. You also get support for stereo Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. Instant messaging fans will appreciate that the Bold 9930 comes bundled with Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and Google Talk applications. Walkie-talkie fans will like the fact that the Bold 9930 comes with push-to-talk capabilities.
The BlackBerry e-mail mantra remains the same with the Bold 9930: it'll support just about any corporate e-mail system you can throw at it, which includes BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, and Novell GroupWise. If you're just a consumer buying the phone on your own, you can always use a free but limited version of BES that lets you sync your Exchange calendar, contacts, and tasks. BlackBerry has also set up BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) to help consumers sync up to 10 different POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts in either separate or combined inboxes. You can use the setup wizard that walks you through the steps of setting up an e-mail account. If you use a Web mail service like Gmail or Yahoo, the phone has those server settings already preloaded, so you just have to enter your log-in information. We should note though that the default setting isn't IMAP--when we synced our Gmail account, for example, e-mails that were deleted on our phone didn't get removed from the online inbox. You'll have to go in and set that manually if you want IMAP.
As social networking gets more popular, e-mail alone just doesn't cut it these days. That's why the Bold 9930 comes bundled with Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry's own Social Feeds app that acts as a hub for RSS feeds, podcast subscriptions, BBM, Facebook, Twitter, Google Talk, and other feeds. BBM itself has been upgraded to BBM 6, which features better integration with third-party apps.
The Bold 9930 has the usual PIM tools like a calendar, clock, memo pad, tasks list, calculator, voice notes recorder, and file manager. Other preinstalled apps include a premium version of Documents To Go, BlackBerry Balance (which helps you balance your work and personal calendars), BlackBerry Protect, password keeper, and Wikitude, one of the aforementioned augmented reality applications. Wikitude in particular shows you your nearby BBM contacts just by using your phone's camera and magnetic compass. It also works with Foursquare check-ins, and it'll display local businesses too. The Bold 9930 also has Brick Breaker and Mole as preinstalled games. You can download more apps from BlackBerry App World.
In addition to the V Cast Videos and V Cast Music, the Bold 9930 does come with a decent music and video player. You can flip through albums and tracks with a nice Cover Flow-like presentation, and the phone supports a wide variety of different media formats. They include MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, FLAC, and OGG for audio, plus MPEG4, H.263, H.264, and WMV for video. You can drag and drop the files to the phone as if it were a mass storage device connected to the PC, or you can use BlackBerry's Desktop Software for syncing. The Bold has 8GB of onboard memory and is upgradable to 32GB via a microSD card. For those who want additional media options, the Bold 9930 also comes with a YouTube app, a podcast player, and the Slacker Radio app.
The 5-megapixel camera on the Bold 9930 has very good photo quality. Images are crisp and quite colorful too. Indoor shots proved to be a little dimmer than we would like, but turning on Night mode or Party mode helped to reduce that problem. In bright sunlight, photos look fantastic, with sharp and vibrant colors. The Bold 9930 can also now record 720p HD video. Video was rich and colorful, but we did notice that shaking can be an issue. We also recommend a fixed focus so that the camera doesn't keep trying to refocus each time you move it. Settings are plentiful here, with a variety of scene modes, geotagging, a self-timer, white-balance presets, and more.
We tested the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9930 in San Francisco using Verizon Wireless. Call quality was good but not great. We had no problems hearing our callers, but we did get quite a bit of static and crackle in the background. Voice quality was also noticeably robotic and strained.
Callers reported a similar issue with voice quality. They heard quite a bit of distortion, and there was the occasional pop and hiss in the background. They could still hear us clearly, but it was obvious that it was a call from a cell phone. Speakerphone calls fared similarly, except that callers said we sounded more distant and there was more of an echo effect.
RIM BlackBerry Bold 9930 call quality sample Listen now:
As we weren't able to test the Bold 9930's performance on a GSM network, we could only test its EV-DO Rev. A speeds. We were mostly pleased with the data speeds, but did think it could be a little faster. We loaded the mobile CNET page in 13 seconds while the full CNET site loaded in just under 48 seconds. YouTube videos also suffered quite a bit of buffering at times, even for lower-quality videos.
The 1.2GHz processor in the Bold 9930 certainly makes it much faster than its predecessors. Navigation was very snappy, and we had no lag when launching apps and switching between multiple tasks.
The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9930 reflects top-notch craftsmanship. It is decidedly well-made with high-quality materials and it shows. The touch-screen display is stunning and the keyboard is quite simply one of the best mobile physical keyboards we've had our hands on in years. We're also impressed by its 1.2GHz processor, 720p HD video recording, great photo quality, and all the improvements of OS 7. Yet OS 7 isn't really too different from OS 6 in terms of look and feel, and we think the Bold 9930 is overpriced at $249.99 after a rebate and a two-year service agreement. At that price, the Bold 9930 is strictly for BlackBerry fans--we don't think those unfamiliar with BlackBerry would be willing to pay such a high price to take the leap.