BlackBerry Bold 9900: The swan song of a standard
The last BlackBerry using the historic OS adds touch, but otherwise is the BlackBerry you've long known and perhaps lovedFollow @MobileGalen
Calendars. The BlackBerry handles calendar invitations straightforwardly: They're simply added to your calendar whether delivered via Exchange or an .ics attachment. There's no option to accept or decline an invitation, as there is in iOS.
A BlackBerry doesn't recognize multiple Exchange calendars, so even if you distinguish private from work calendars in Exchange, the BlackBerry does not. The same is true if your desktop calendar app has multiple calendars; the BlackBerry sees them all as one.
Where the BlackBerry calendar shines is in the calendar entries themselves. The UI for adding events is clean and straightforward, and it has a few options not available in competing platforms, such as the ability to set recurring appointments for multiple days in a week or for relative dates such as the first Monday of the month. But switching views is a bit of a pain, requiring a trip to the Menu button. There's no touch control for switching views, though you can scroll through your calendar via gestures. It's an example of a recurring issue in the BlackBerry OS: inconsistent and incomplete use of the touch UI.
Contacts. The Contacts app is more primitive in appearance than the Calendar app. There's no Save button when you enter a person's information; you click an obscure icon at the upper right of the screen instead. Still, it's easy enough to add contacts manually, and you get some sophisticated options such as custom vibration patterns, as in iOS 5, and even per-user settings for whether the LED flashes when you receive a call or text message from that person (iOS 5 lets you turn LED flashing on or off only for all users). You can also add contacts from your emails by long-tapping a From or To address, then choosing the Add to Contacts option. But you can't import contacts from, for example, a Google account, though you can access Exchange contacts if you are using BES with an Exchange server.
Social networking. You can set up Twitter and Facebook accounts on the BlackBerry to have updates posted to the home screen's notifications area. Although the Twitter and Facebook apps are fairly primitive, they have the basic messaging capabilities you're likely to use from a smartphone. You can also see a unified list of all your social feeds -- BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Google Talk, Twitter, and Windows Live Messenger -- using the Social app, from which you can then open, respond to, and share the posts.
Research in Motion has been trying for several years to interest developers in its BlackBerry platforms, to little avail. Joining the developer program was never easy, and apps usually had to be customized for each device, unlike for iOS and Android. But RIM does include some apps with the BlackBerry OS, including the enhanced social networking integration mentioned in the previous section.
Apps. The selection of BlackBerry apps remains limited, and the apps themselves are typically pale, pathetic imitations of iPhone apps. That's a function of the history of a primitive, text-oriented UI in the BlackBerry, coupled with the multiple form factors and OS versions. When you do find an app for the BlackBerry, installing it is straightforward, though slow. The bright spot is that apps are now unlikely to cause the BlackBerry to slow to a crawl, as was common in previous-generation devices, thanks to the faster CPU and the greater amount of system RAM in the Bold 9900.
For most users, the notion of BlackBerry apps means -- or should mean -- communications apps such as email, messaging (via the very popular BlackBerry Messenger), and social networking. Communications is the BlackBerry's sweet spot -- not productivity, media, or creativity apps. The BlackBerry's notifications tray in its home screen, and the ability to have such notifications also appear on the lock screen, make those communication capabilities that much more convenient, though iOS 5 and Android have long since duplicated this historic BlackBerry feature.
Still, given the BlackBerry's professional audience, some users may want to do at least basic editing when on the road. For that audience, the BlackBerry includes a basic version of Documents to Go (RIM owns the company that produces this software). Docs to Go is awkward to use but can handle basic text edits in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as simple formatting such as boldfacing text. Tracked changes are removed from the document, and though extensive editing is theoretically possible, you're hamstrung by the device's tiny screen.
If you want a smartphone with apps you'd want to actually use on a smartphone, look elsewhere than the BlackBerry.