Blackberry are navigating new waters with the long-awaited Bold Touch 9900. In the past, Blackberry have been notable for their big and easy to use QWERTY keyboard with real buttons, the perfect antidote to the swish but battery draining touchscreens of other smartphones. Yet Blackberry traditionalists had better brace themselves, because after years in the production pipelines, the 9900 offers quite a departure from the 9780.
The Torch 9800/9810 are the only other handsets from BlackBerry to utilise a touch and QWERTY combo. Whilst the Torch uses a slider mechanism to maximise screen space, the Bold 9900 keeps to the form most existing customers of the brand will be used to. Blackberry have compensated for a larger fascia by making this their slimmest phone yet at just 10.5mm thick, giving it a remarkably sleek appearance for a relatively large phone.
Aside from some small tweaks, everything looks much the same. The inclusion of brushed metal in the case gives the 9900 a more professional and polished appearance than previous models, but the layout itself isn’t that different. That comfortingly large keyboard remains, and in fact, has grown even bigger. The difference isn’t huge, but an extra 6mm of width is enough to give the clumsier among us a far easier user experience.
This is all the more impressive considering the 9900’s vastly increased processing power- 1.2GHz worth, enabling you to zip around the phone’s many features and apps like roadrunner being chased by the coyote. 8GB of inbuilt memory, and the facility to add up to 32GB more, will be enough to satisfy the needs of all but the most insane media heads. There’s even HD video which records footage of a decent quality, although the rather grainy 5 megapixel camera still leaves a lot to be desired. But none of this explains what’s so very different about this phone compared with the models that have gone before it.
You’ll have to look to the screen to find it, because, in addition to its classic QWERTY, the new Bold is equipped with touchscreen technology too, making it truly the show-off in the class. Now you can fly between apps using the touchscreen and still have the luxury and speed of the physical keyboard when texting or browsing. It’s a feature which works well and will feel pleasing to use, but the screen itself is nothing to write home about in terms of sharpness and graphics. It also remains far smaller than most other comparable smartphones, so while you can control it with your fingers, in practise this might prove more difficult than just using the joystick (which is presumably why it remains included in the design). However, those who value screen size and resolution highly are unlikely to consider Blackberry in the first place, usually plumping for the iPhone or an Android. Yet for dyed in the wool Blackberry fans, this represents a substantial improvement, consolidating the best of Blackberry with swishier features from other smartphones.
The substantial trade-off is a deteriorated battery life. While in the past Blackberry owners could laugh at the fancy kids lugging their charger around with their phone, now the 9900 puts them among their ranks. Touchscreens and vast, man-eating processors all require a lot of power, so those who take the plunge on this phone will have to charge it every day. Perhaps this is a fair trade for greatly increased functionality, but one might wonder why it’s necessary, when Motorola’s new Atrix has managed to combine touchscreen technology with decent battery life. Only time will tell how well this unwanted development goes down with customers.
Blackberry have also spruced up their software offering, with their new version operating system, OS7, performing better than its predecessors. The combination of a more responsive browser and the fluidity of touchscreen will give users a better experience than ever before. Improved integration with Blackberry Maps should hopefully resolve the bugs and performance issues of previous versions. Additionally, NFC (Near Field Communications) technology will enable you to pay for travel and redeem coupons simply by swiping your phone, although outside major cities the opportunities for using this are rarer. A more useful aspect of the phone is its best ever Wi-Fi technology, enabling you to access hotspots with greater ease and speed.
Whether this phone will attract new customers to Blackberry remains to be seen. The QWERTY is a huge draw for frequent texters who are frustrated by their fiddly touchscreen, but the 9900’s screen lacks the glitziness of many other phones out there. Blackberry Bold 9900 contract deals are priced similarly to the those of the latest Android powered super-smart phones like the Samsung Galaxy S 2 and HTC Sensation XE making price an unlikely consideration in the decision making process.
How Blackberry traditionalists will feel about it is more difficult to predict. The improved keyboard quite literally plays into their hands, but the power draining new features remove one of Blackberry’s key advantages. Blackberries have created some compelling new developments, but need to be careful that in the midst of all this innovation, they aren’t alienating their core customer base. We predict most who buy or upgrade to the 9900 will be existing customers of the BB brand, not wanting to lose access to their beloved BB messenger by switching OS.
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