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 loved

When it debuted in 2008, the BlackBerry Bold quickly achieved iconic status as the must-have executive smartphone, with a QWERTY keyboard that made emails a snap. Not four years later, the Bold is struggling to remain relevant, as its creator Research in Motion tries to reinvent itself with a new OS to replace the BlackBerry platform that once defined mobile computing. The BlackBerry Bold 9000 series is the end of the line for the BlackBerry we all knew.

When it debuted this past fall, the Bold 9900 switched to a touchscreen (thus the common moniker "Bold Touch") in an attempt to appeal to a market that had gone gaga over the iPhone and Android family. But the Bold Touch retained its QWERTY keyboard; RIM addressed those who wanted an onscreen-only keyboard with a revamped BlackBerry Torch model. When you get right down to it, the BlackBerry Bold is pretty much a BlackBerry Bold -- it's not a major departure from the once-iconic device's history, which may explain why it has struggled in the marketplace.

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The BlackBerry Bold 9900 costs $550 with no contract or $200 with a two-year contract from AT&T, and $600 with no contract or $300 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile. As the Bold 9930 (which designates support for CDMA networks), it costs $500 with no contract or $200 with a two-year contract from Sprint, and $520 with no contract or $230 with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless. (We tested the T-Mobile version.)

At first blush, the Bold 9900 looks like its predecessors, except for the larger screen: a 2.8-inch, horizontally oriented 640-by-480-pixel touchscreen, giving the traditional keyboard-oriented Bold its first touch capabilities. Although the screen has twice the resolution of the previous Bold 9700 model, it's still too small to use for most Web pages and the kinds of apps you'd run on an iPhone or Android device. It's also painfully restrictive for many apps, including the Settings app, but it works OK for messaging and simplified Web pages, such as for dashboards. The display is quite crisp.

But the BlackBerry Bold's hardware has been upgraded in several other ways. First, the Bold 9900 sports a faster processor than its 9700 predecessor -- 1.2GHz single-core ARM versus 624MHz -- but still is less powerful than most competing smartphones. The bezel feels higher-quality, with its carbon fiber and metal. The physical keyboard feels more responsive, and its labels are easier to read as they are both larger and dispense with the muddy red-on-black theme for symbols. I find a touchscreen keyboard easier to use, but that's a personal preference.

The Bold 9900's included 8GB of RAM is 32 times as much as in the previous Bold's 256MB but still meager compared to competing devices. It can be expanded to 40GB via SD cards. The battery has less capacity, going from 1,500 milliamp-hours to 1,230mAH, as the battery was shrunk to make room for other components. Still, battery life remains excellent.

The rear camera (there is none on the front) is a typical 5 megapixels with an LED flash, but without autofocus as you'll find on most competing smartphones. The Wi-Fi radio now supports 802.11n networks in addition to 802.11b and 802.11g networks. There's also a near-field communications (NFC) short-range wireless chip, but it's not enabled in the OS as yet. Finally, the Bold 9900 runs on 3G celullar networks. Don't believe the 4G claim from T-Mobile and AT&T, which misleadingly apply the 4G moniker to the fast-3G HSPA+ cellular standard.

In a nutshell, the Bold 9900's hardware is behind most competing devices, excepting its very nice keyboard and high-quality bezel.

Test Center Scorecard
BlackBerry Bold 9900785966



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