As we already mentioned, we were serious fans of the original Bold's hardware, and it would be pretty hard for a successor to live up to it. As far as we were concerned, it really had no close competitors in terms of mobile phone design and, you know, attitude. What we liked most about it aesthetically was its fearless defiance of conventional phone stylings at the time of its release. Faux leather and chrome edging rather than plastic all combined to produce a phone that was just a little off the beaten path, that felt substantial in our hands, and that definitely caught and kept our attention. The 9700 has kept some of those details -- there's still bits of chrome and leather here -- but it's also dropped nearly any flourish of attitude from the original design. RIM's chucked out the weird metal surrounding the camera on the back, and the full, old timey-looking leather battery cover, in favor of what essentially amounts to a Tour with an optical trackpad. Honestly, we recognize our own personal oddities, and understand that a lot of RIM's choices here favor modernization of the handset, which we heartily support. However, we also sort of wish the designers had had some exciting new ideas to add to this Bold -- but it feels like they didn't. The new Bold is all about, well, normalizing the handset and bringing it up to speed with other new RIM offerings, a la the 8520 or the Tour, as we previously mentioned.
We do, however, love the smaller, more sleek form factor of the whole package, and the device feels nice in the hand. Much more streamlined than the previous Bold, the 9700 feels light without feeling overly cheap, though it does feel a little less substantial than older BlackBerrys to us. We prefer the leather-strip on the back's feel over the slightly more rubberized Tour, and the rubberized volume rocker on the right side is preferable to the 9000's variation.
RIM's gone ahead and popped its new optical trackpad into the 9700, too, and this is one modernization we can really get behind. Yes, it takes a little getting used to -- but in our opinion it makes a far superior navigational tool and provides a smoother experience. Regardless, we were also big fans of the old trackball, but this is probably the right direction for RIM to move its hardware in. All of the 9700's other hardware buttons feel great and clicky, and we have no complaints about them.
The 480 x 360 display on the 9700 is up from the 480 x 320 of the original Bold, but in practical terms, it looks very much the same -- also terrifically clear, crisp and beautiful. The colors are bright, but we find ourselves wishing for a bit more screen real estate, (which is par for the course in our experiences with BlackBerrys), especially in the increasingly sad browsing experience. More on that in a moment.
Call quality is good, and the volume is nice and loud, though we can't help but feel the speaker phone is a bit weaker than the 9000's, but that could just be our weakening hearing, of course. RIM says it's enhanced the browser on this newest device, and we'll admit it's a bit faster, but as we said earlier, we are left with the feeling that browsing on a BlackBerry will not be satisfactory until there's a serious updating of the software.