BlackBerry Bold 9900 preview! (video)

RIM's BlackBerry 9900 is the device that the BlackBerry diehards have been hoping, wishing, and waiting for since the original Bold launched way back in 2008. However, this time around the company has added in a capacitive touchscreen, swapped the trackball of yesteryear for an optical trackpad, and slimmed the whole thing down into a 10.5mm thick package. We were lucky enough to get a prototype device from our friends over at Negri Electronics, and have manhandled the thing till we were blue in the face. Head on past the break for an exclusive preview of the device RIM is praying will stalwart its competitors until the first round of QNX-equipped devices lands in 2012.

The Bold 9900 bears a striking resemblance to the original "big Bold" 9000, and fans of that device's large but sturdy form factor will absolutely love the 9900. Gone is the faux-leather back cover, which has been replaced with a slick carbon fiber-esque flat battery door. Interestingly, whereas the entire back of the device could be removed and swapped on the 9000, only the part of the housing that covers the battery itself comes off on the 9900. The carbon fiber midsection is surrounded by soft touch black rubber finishes that taper the outer edge of the device slightly, resulting in a really nice overall form factor.

This Berry's front face is split between a 640 x 480-pixel capacitive touchscreen up top and a full-sized QWERTY keyboard down below. The screen size has been bumped to 2.8-inches from the 2.6-incher on the 9000. The display is bright and vibrant, and boasts superb viewing angles and clarity. As with the Torch 2, touch sensitivity also seems to be quite good, with the screen registering even slight touches on its nearly edge-to-edge surface. Overall, we're quite impressed with the screen on the 9900, as we were with the Torch 2's.

So far as we can tell, the keyboard is the same size as that of the OG Bold, though the buttons seem to be a bit more 'clicky.' It's kind of difficult to explain, but the keyboard feels more firm than mushy -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing. We also noticed that the four main navigation buttons for the BB OS (send, menu, back, end / power) are all flush with the device and backlit, rather than having splits between then. There's also the now ubiquitous trackpad located front and center, and it has a nice white backlighting that helps make it stand out against this BlackBerry's murdered-out facade. When the screen shuts off for standby mode, the trackpad glow rem for an extra few seconds before fading back into darkness.

On the inside, the 9900 boasts a 1.2GHz processor, which is bumped from the 624MHz of the 9780. In fact, we're pretty sure that the guts of the 9900 are identical to those of the Torch 2 -- just crammed into a thinner, non-sliding enclosure. We've known the specs on this bad boy for a while now, but after playing with one for day or so, we're impressed with the real world translation into performance. It's noticeably more snappy than current BlackBerry devices on the market, and the fading transitions of BlackBerry 6.1 OS 7 didn't seem to stutter in regular use. Of course, this is still BETA software -- and from what we've heard, our build is quite a bit older than what's currently on demo devices -- so performance is subject to change.

A five megapixel shooter is located on the backside of the device, but it's been relocated to the upper left corner as opposed to the centered position on the 9000. Again we're convinced that this camera is identical to the one in the Torch 2, which means it's capable of capturing 720p HD video. If you want to see some performance of this shooter, head back to our Torch 2 preview -- what you get on the 9900 isn't vastly different.

The 9900 will ship with BlackBerry 7 OS, and we won't bore you with the details of this marginal upgrade to the OS. (We went over many of them when we showed you the Torch 2). We will say that the performance improvements we noted on that device seem to have made their way to the 9900, and that many of the mundane tasks that used to bring up the dreaded hourglass of doom no longer do so.

Overall, the 9900 is definitely a sexy slab of circuitry, but we still can't skirt around the fact that RIM has been making the same device for years now. We're glad to see the improved specs and solid hardware, but it doesn't detract from the fact that the OS is virtually unchanged except for some visual flair and new APIs. We're hopeful that despite rumors to the contrary, RIM will be able to get this device out the door during its promised "summer" time frame, and we know it won't be good if it misses that self-imposed deadline. Still, the fact of the matter is that RIM desperately needs to get something radically new out the door as soon as humanly possible, or else users will continue flocking to other platforms. It hopes it has a winner on its hands with the 9900, and while we'll reserve judgment until the thing finally ships to end users, we do think it's yet another step in the right direction.

[Thanks, Ryan]