The latest BlackBerry at first glance looks like a throwback to the first Bold. It’s noticeably wider than the most recent models – strange when compactness is valued so highly in a mobile. But RIM seems to have prioritised the new handset’s slimness and it’s noticeably thinner from front to back than any of its previous phones.
The extra width means the celebrated QWERTY keyboard is more usable than ever, with great comfort and accuracy at speed than the Bold 9700. The keys are bigger, more clearly marked and better spaced.
The screen is also bigger than before. It’s a colourful, high-resolution display that looks great and has one other secret up its sleeve: it’s touch-sensitive.
Some earlier touchscreens from the Canadian email master have been less than successful but here, thanks to the fast 1.2GHz processor, it works well: smooth, instantly responsive and with no trace of delay. Since so many phones have touchscreens now it was easy to forget that the Bold didn’t, until you jabbed fruitlessly at it.
Now, you’re rewarded with screens that swipe instantly from one to the next, though there is still an optical trackpad to navigate if you prefer. The three interfaces – trackpad, touch and keys – work together neatly.
This is also the glammest BlackBerry so far, with its one-piece metal frame making it light and strong, and the glossy back shining appealingly. The metal frame has seen the two keys on top of earlier handsets disappear.
Instead there’s one metal button on top which dims the screen and locks or unlocks the handset. The other button was the mute key and this has now slipped round to the right edge, nestling between the two volume keys.
BlackBerry promised a new operating system with the 9900, called 7 OS, which is designed to work with the new screen, processor and touch interface. And it addresses one of RIM’s weak points – the web browser.
If you’ve used this, you’ll know it can be sluggish and awkward, and hard to read on the small screen most BlackBerry devices have. Of course you can zoom in but this has previously been an awkward process, involving placing the cursor in the right place before you click.
Things are much better now, thanks to pinch-to-zoom on the touchscreen. There could be even more use of touch – you can’t just drag a shortcut icon from one homescreen to another, for instance – but it’s a big step forward.
This is the only BlackBerry to include that buzz-technology of the moment: NFC. As you’ll know it means you can swipe your phone as though it were a London Underground Oyster card. Well, you could if there were any apps to support this.
RIM has big ambitions here, promising it’ll be used as a payment device and even to gain entry to secure doors – no more of those pesky staff ID lanyards, perhaps.
So what are the downsides to this phone? Well, BlackBerry still won’t put the @ symbol on a lower case key, so you need to press the shift key first in some situations. For a company devoted to saving us time and inconvenience, this still seems strange. The same applies to the full stop key.
And it would have been good if BlackBerry had put a virtual keypad onscreen. The physical QWERTY is great for words but can be fiddly for quick dialling. But these are minor problems in a swish, chic handset that delivers speed and power.
TECHY GADGETZ SAYS
Powerful, slim and great to use, the Bold 9900 is outstanding, with touchscreen and QWERTY working together well