9.0
final rating

reviewed on
purchased on
this review has been viewed 488 times

Criteria Comments Rating
  • Reception and call quality No comments
  • Display No comments
  • Battery life No comments
  • Camera No comments
  • Ease of use No comments
  • Design and form factor No comments
  • Portability (size / weight) No comments
  • Media support No comments
  • Durability No comments
  • Ecosystem (apps, accessories, etc.) No comments
Detailed review
RIM seems to have finally gotten the message shouted by users (especially T-Mobile USA's) of all of their recent devices of the past 3 years. "Give us full connectivity!" And they responded, likely much to the chagrin of recent Tour buyers. Let's begin on the outside before we make our way in.

The beauty of a smooth, compact design.

The 9700 takes on the name "Bold 2" with the obvious implication as the successor to the original Bold 9000 that is sold on the AT&T network in the USA. Unlike the pervious flagship's massive size, wideangle screen, and "leather-like" back, the 9700 takes the best of the Bold and stuffs it into a svelte and arguably better looking package. It seems RIM has decided to forgo the previous idea of reserving physically larger devices, like the 8800/8820/8830/Bold 9000, for corporate use while the more compact and stylish Curve series was aimed at the average consumer. The dimensions of the 9700 match those of the Curve 8900 down to the tenth of a millimeter, thus being slightly smaller in all directions compared to it's CDMA cousin, the Tour 9630.

Immediately, the 9700 feels better in the hand, allowing more shapes and sizes of hands to comfortably navigate the device one-handed. The trade-off is a slightly more cramped keyboard compared to its predecessor, but due to their extensive experience with compact thumb-boards, it remains just as easy to touch-type accurately. Of course their legendary keyboard is RIM's most powerful selling-point behind "push email" and the 9700 will not disappoint even the most discriminating. Also helping to fit the new dimensions is the 2.44" LCD screen, featuring a 4:3 aspect ratio at 480 x 360 pixels. The extremely high pixel density, brightness, and color depth of this display will have you reading font sizes unreadable even on the iPhone and it will feel oddly comfortable. You may even find yourself pulling it closer to your face as you read and only then will you realize that individual pixels are nearly indistinguishable from each other. There really is no comparison with anything else on the market except for OLED at this point.

Finally, you'll notice this BlackBerry has got no balls. No trackball, that is. The feature that was revolutionary in 2006 on the Pearl lost it's lustre over time to become the most often failed part has been tossed in favor of an optical trackpad. The trackpad is not some touch-sensitive gimmick; it works and is used exactly like the trackball on other BlackBerrys. The "optical" part of it is based on your standard optical mouse, except inverted and covered. Since it's optical and not touch sensitive, it will work with anything, including fingers whether they are gloved or bare. It solves the breakage/sticking issues with the trackball with a non-moving and infinitely more durable part yet without the drawbacks of resistive or capacitive touch screens.

The brains of the operation.

To increase responsiveness, the 624MHz Marvell processor has been carried over from the original Bold after receiving some minor updates in efficiency. Feeding it is 256MB of system RAM, accompanied by 256MB of application memory. There is also a MicroSD slot for expansion up to 32GB cards to save music, photos, and videos. Compared to other devices, 256MB of application space is pretty thin, but considering the compact size of most apps designed for BlackBerry, you'll likely struggle to fill over half of the space. This is also nearly 4 times the available space of the Curve 8300 series, so it's a huge improvement if you're coming from a previous generation device.

Because of the improved CPU and system memory, you'll rarely run into the dreaded "hourglass". Despite this increase in power, you can expect unreal battery levels. Rated at 6 hours of talk time and 350 hours of standby, the advertised specs are nearly spot on with average use. With frequent internet and email use on 3G or wi-fi, apps running in the background, and some mixed media, you can expect the battery to last you between a day and a half to two full days before needing to tap the wall wart. Quite impressive in comparison with other phones on the market but quickly understood when you consider the smaller screen and large battery borrowed from the original Bold 9000.

To solve the biggest complaint about the Bold 9000, the camera has been replaced with a 3.2mp unit with autofocus and video recording. Photo quality is hugely improved, but runs about average with comparable camera equipped phones. The camera is also augmented with an LED flash, which gives resulting photos that characteristic bluish hue but can be fixed easily with the included white balance settings. Video, on the other hand, is limited to 480 x 360 pixel output with pretty poor quality due to compression artifacts. Files are saved in the 3gp format, despite the BlackBerry's advertised support for DivX and XviD video; it's too bad RIM doesn't choose to compress the shot video in one of these more efficient, higher quality compression formats.

As for web surfing, this is one place where the 9700's capable CPU just can't help. Downloading is slow, even on wi-fi, with rendering being mostly accurate but requiring multiple levels of zoom on many pages before they become readable and further slowing your web surfing. There are alternative browsers like Opera Mini and the recently released Bolt that will help fill the gap while RIM works on their rumored Webkit browser. Regardless, you'll likely gain more satisfaction from using the dedicated Google Mobile app for BlackBerry and limit your web surfing to assisted searches. Fortunately there are many apps that can help you find what you need on the web without having to fire up a browser to begin with.

Personality goes a long way.

It's the "little things" that can make or break a phone and the 9700 shines like the rest of BlackBerry's lineup. The speakerphone is sufficiently loud while being very crisp and clear. This is one phone where you wont dread using the speakerphone. Sound quality is also exceptional with the standard speaker, which is also tunable with BlackBerry's "Enhanced Audio" features. Callers could hear me loud and clear in both modes. When using UMA, which is only available on the T-Mobile version of the 9700, or 3G, call quality rivals that of a landline phone due to the two connections' increased bandwidth allowing for voice calls with significantly less compression interfering with voice quality. The difference is immediately noticeable, and if your home or workplace doesn't get the best of reception, going with T-Mobile allows you to use UMA on any open wi-fi network for improved reception and call quality, as well as saving you some money in the process when comparing similar calling plans between AT&T and T-Mobile.

Conclusion.

All in all, the 9700 is an excellent phone both inside, out, and in use. The compact size and smooth design will help it to appeal to a wider audience compared to the original Bold 9000. Build quality is solid despite an extensive use of plastics as the soft-touch coated areas help give it a more solid feeling while increasing confidence in the hand. Despite the size, the keyboard is what you'd expect from RIM and their reputation for an excellent keyboarding experience. Getting rid of the trackball is the best move RIM has made yet as the source of everyone's pain has been replaced with the flawless optical trackpad. The eye-popping screen quality will amaze you just as much a month from now as on the first day. Sound quality is excellent, and gets even better on the higher speed networks. But out of all of this, the best part is having every connection option available, and for T-Mobile subscribers, this is your first 3G BlackBerry and it was worth the wait, in my opinion.

If you're on T-Mobile, no question, this is the BlackBerry to get. If you're on AT&T and have a Bold 9000, it's not so clear a choice. If you're pining for a smaller device, go for it. If you like your Bold 9000, this may not be the upgrade for you as you're not gaining anything you don't already have. But if you're not under contract, I highly suggest checking out T-Mobile's Even More Plus plans. If you get service where you need it, and aren't afraid of paying the $450 full price, you can go contract-free with T-Mobile and get one of the cheapest BlackBerry BIS plans available: $59/mo for 500 minutes/unlimited messaging/unlimited data/unlimited blackberry email and internet, which is $10 per month cheaper than the nearest competitor (which is Sprint, and they don't offer the Bold 9700 anyways).