RIM BlackBerry Bold

It’s ‘Bold’, boasts ‘industrial design’ and has ‘frets’ between the rows of its keys on the front. It seems that RIM has gone all Apple on us with the launch of its latest flagship smartphone. The Bold (also known as the 9000 series) follows major launches from Nokia, Apple and HTC in recent weeks, and seems to have them all clearly in its sights.

It’s a slightly unusual tactic from RIM, whose handsets have always principally been targeted at business users, but it has certainly made a very good stab at glamming it up. The front panel is trimmed with aluminium, the screen is glossy and flat right to the edges, and the chrome ‘frets’ between each row of keys cap off the overall effect with a touch of luxury we’re not used to seeing in RIM’s business handhelds.

It’s not as slim and narrow as Nokia’s A-Listed E71, however, at a chunky 15mm thick and 66mm wide, and the leatherette rear panel is an acquired taste. But the phone is surprisingly light at 136g, and this almost makes up for its size and odd-looking rear end.

And, we’re happy to report, the keyboard from the 8820 (its predecessor), already the best Qwerty pad around, has been improved upon again here. The differences are small: the keys have been flattened a little on top, they have a more solid click to them than before and, of course, there are those silver frets between each row (these have the effect of spacing out the keys a bit more).

These subtle changes, when added together, make a big difference. Typing on the Bold is a very comfortable experience. We were impressed at how good the keypad on the Nokia E71 was, but this is even better – and you can get up a real head of speed.

The screen is another triumph of engineering and, according to RIM, is the source of the Bold name tag. It’s bright, exceedingly colourful and very readable both inside and outdoors. Web pages and video look stunning on its 480 x 320 resolution screen, and it presents the new baubles of RIM’s new-look interface (BlackBerryOS version 4.6) in the best possible light.

And, speaking of baubles, there’s much to like about RIM’s new front-end. It’s far slicker than the old version, with glowing, square iPhone-esque icons and transparency effects liberally sprinkled about.

Of course, it couples those good looks with the usual BlackBerry strong suits – excellent ease of use, responsive and powerful search facilities, and push email via BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) or – on our test phone – BlackBerry Internet Server (BIS). With an enterprise implementation, the handset can still only be bound to a single enterprise account but, with BES and BIS, you can add up to ten different push email addresses to that, including Gmail, Yahoo or even Exchange via OWA.

But it’s not perfect: we found ourselves frequently staring at the hourglass as the Bold went about its business, and beyond the slick new look, there aren’t a huge number of changes. Given the 624MHz processor inside we’d expect fewer, not more, delays than with previous phones, although a future firmware update should fix the problem.

The web browser, however, is a huge advance over previous BlackBerry browsers. As with the iPhone, Opera Mobile and Mini – and the browser on Nokia smartphones – the Bold’s browser renders web pages in full. You get an overview when a page is first loaded and, thereafter, a simple click is all that’s required to zoom in and out.

Office document compatibility is less impressive. Although DataViz Documents to Go is included, you have to pay extra to enable editing and document creation, and it doesn’t have Office 2007 document support either.

Elsewhere, the Bold is as well-equipped as you’d expect a modern smartphone to be, with 7.2Mb/s HSDPA connectivity – a first for BlackBerry – plus assisted GPS, which you can use in conjunction with Google Maps or the pre-installed BlackBerry Maps to find out where you are.

Note that for turn-by-turn driving instructions, however, you’ll have to add third-party software, such as Telmap. Usually this sort of specification is enough to drain a smartphone of its juice in two or three days, especially if you use the GPS frequently. But the Bold is different.

It has a high-powered, high-capacity 1500mAh lithium-polymer battery under its backplate and, in testing, this lasted three and a half days before a charge was required. In that time we used the GPS a few times, did a lot of surfing and had the email service running constantly. It’s an impressive performance that matches that of the Nokia E71 with ease.

In fact, just as we were with the E71, we’re big fans of RIM’s latest do-it-all emailer. It’s a powerful phone, one that’s very pleasant to use, and its new-look interface, improved keyboard and screen – plus its highly impressive battery life – earn it a well-merited Recommended award. Only its slightly porky profile and less-than-zippy responsiveness stop it from supplanting the E71 as our A List choice.

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