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
App management. The BlackBerry puts apps in one of four screens (All, Favorites, Media, and Downloads), which you can easily swipe among from the home screen. There's also a Frequent screen that holds copies of icons to frequently used apps. To get to the apps screens, just drag up the triangle icon at the bottom of the screen. Often, the first row of your All screen appears on the home screen; you can drag it up to see more icons, as well as swipe to navigate among the four apps screens in that single-row view. Note that the icons are often obscure, so it's hard to know what app an icon opens; there is of course no text label or option to display one.
You can also move among screens and to folders, but the process is a bit awkward: Long-tap the app, then choose Move from the grid of icons that appears. Directional handles now appear on the icon, indicating you can tap a new location in which to move it. (No, you can't simply drag it.) To move an app to a folder, first create the folder using the Menu button's options, then long-tap the app icon, tap Move to Folder from the icon grid that appears, and choose the destination folder from the menu list. It's another example of not taking advantage of the touch UI on the Bold 9900.
Updating apps is similarly awkward. You have to open the BlackBerry App World app, then go to the My Apps pane. You'll see red text at the top indicating how many updates are available. For each app with an update available, the My Apps pane will display the text "Upgrade Available" beneath its name. Tap an app to open a new pane, then tap Upgrade to upgrade it. (No, you can't upgrade them all at once.) You then get a prompt a few seconds later letting you know you have an older version and are about to replace it. That's an unnecessary time waster when upgrading an app -- after all, the button says "Upgrade." Some apps even require a device reboot after installation. I can't recall ever having to do that in iOS or Android. As you can see, it's a very unfriendly process.
Location support. The BlackBerry supports location detection via GPS and Wi-Fi signals. The BlackBerry comes with a navigation app from TomTom that can find your current destination, provide directions, and otherwise help you navigate. It's a serviceable app, but no more than that. What you don't get is the ability to selectively manage each app's access to your location information, as iOS provides. You are asked when installing an app for permission to use your location information, but that's it.
Web and Internet
Thanks to the crisp screen, the Web is usable on the BlackBerry Bold 9900. Unfortunately, you're effectively limited to using only mobile-optimized websites (such as InfoWorld.com) because you can see too little of a full-size website on the Bold's small screen. Also, zooming and scrolling on the Bold are often very slow, with blank areas appearing until the data is refreshed and reloaded.
BlackBerry OS 7 does have solid support for the evolving HTML5 standard. In the HTML5Test.com benchmarks, it scores 260 (out of 450 points), versus 230 for Android 4, 222 for Android 3, 184 for Android 2.3, and 141 for Windows Phone 7.5. But iOS 5 outperforms them all, scoring 296.
The BlackBerry browser has what you need in terms of capabilities: bookmarking, multiple windows, text selection and copying, image saving, and the ability to send the current URL to others via email, text message, or social networks. It's comparable to the browsers on Android and iOS (though with more sharing options than iOS provides). On a larger screen, such as on a BlackBerry Torch, you'd be more inclined to use the Web, even with its slow performance.
The BlackBerry Bold 9900 assumes you want a traditional BlackBerry that happens to use a touch UI in visually oriented apps such as the browser, and its user interface continues to strongly favor the traditional BlackBerry approach of thumb-typing and menu selections. As noted multiple times in this review, it doesn't provide a great touch experience, nor does the device work equally well with just the keyboard and touchscreen.
RIM would argue that if you want an iPhone-like UI on a BlackBerry, you should get the BlackBerry Torch instead. I agree -- the BlackBerry Bold is designed to augment the traditional BlackBerry interface with touch, not convert it to touch. However, even in that narrow context, BlackBerry OS has unnecessary flaws.
Operational UI. Typing numbers and special symbols on the BlackBerry's physical keyboard can result in hand-wrenching positions, and you need to use both thumbs, due to how the Shift key works. Entering numerals with regular text is particularly a pain. In settings screens, the position of the fields you are meant to complete are hard to accurately select when tapping on the screen; it's clear no one bothered to rework them for touch-based selection, even though that is faster when editing existing information.
As noted previously, the inconsistencies between touch-generated menus and Menu button-generated menus are confusing; fortunately, there's a Full option in each touch-generated menu that opens the Menu button's selections. I was also frustrated that BlackBerry OS 7 is inconsistent in making use of gestures, such as for zooming. Also as mentioned above, some actions take way too many steps, such as exiting a file attachment or updating apps.
On the BlackBerry Bold 9900, the screen is often hard to read -- ironic, given that its faithful users are typically men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are least able to read tiny text.
I also found myself accidentally pushing the BlackBerry's camera button a lot -- it's in the perfect position to be pressed unintentionally. You can disable it by setting it to Do Nothing via the Convenience Key setting.