The BlackBerry Bold is one gorgeous piece of technology. The build quality feels very solid, and the leatherette backing gives it a classy look and feel. If you're not digging the faux leather, you can get it replaced with something more your style. It's a bit larger than the BlackBerry Curve, but it feels natural in my hand even after using it for a long day.
The main draw of the Bold is the 2.7-inch half-VGA display, and it's incredible. With a 480-by-320 resolution and great contrast and pixel density, it's one of the best smartphone screens I've ever seen. I kept finding myself wanting to touch it, even though there's no touch functionality at all. The display makes reading text easy, and videos are vivid and bright.
BlackBerrys live and die by their keyboards, and it's an absolute delight. Each individual key is easy to find, and backlit well. At first, it looks like the keys are too close together, but there are "frets" between the keys that make it easy to ensure that you get the right button. They have just the right amount of "clickiness," and it makes shooting off e-mails and texts a breeze.
On the face there's also a call button, BlackBerry button, track ball, back button, and an end-call button. Nothing too crazy here, as all these button work as they should -- get ready to press that BlackBerry button about a million times -- and the track ball is responsive and easy to control. On the left spine, there's a standard headphone jack (yes!), mini-USB port, customizable shortcut key, and a memory expansion port. On the right side is a volume rocker and another programmable button.
On the downside, the silver trim is prone to get scratches, so don't even think about putting the Bold in the same pocket as your keys. At 2.6-inches wide, some may find it a bit too big to comfortably fit in their pockets, but I didn't have any problem with it.
Overall, I think RIM's design team hit it out of the park with this one. It's not a quantum leap from previous models, but it's a smart evolution. It's not quite as flashy or head-turning as an iPhone 3G or even the Storm, but the Bold has a subtle beauty that I think conveys a more-professional look.
The Bold is running OS 4.6, and like the handset itself, there's nothing revolutionary about it but it is extremely refined. The icons have been re-skinned to take advantage of the pretty screen, and it looks nice. But there is a noticeable difference between the top-level icons and the actual applications themselves, which appear a bit dated.
Overall, the OS has been tweaked and optimized to make it a very productive and usable operating system, particularly if you've had experience in the BlackBerry ecosystem. The system blazes along, and I noticed very little delays or lags opening programs. Have no fear if you're new to BlackBerrys as the Bold was easy to learn and use, but be ready to hit the BlackBerry button a million times -- it opens up multiple features and options for nearly any moment you're using the phone.
It's a BlackBerry, so e-mail's rock solid. It's a breeze to set up corporate or personal e-mail accounts, and the Bold can put them together in a universal in-box. While it's not new, I do appreciate the automatic spell-check feature and the automatic insertion of apostrophes. There's DataViz Documents To Go preloaded on the handset, and it's easy to open up Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other files. These can look really good on the Bold's screen, and making edits in documents is simple to do.
Web And Multimedia
I hate to make this sound more negative than it should be as the browsing is perfectly acceptable. But the iPhone and the G1 offer a much better browsing experience. I even found the Opera Mini browser to be better, that may open up some privacy concerns because it uses a remote server to preprocess the pages. I think RIM needs to go back to the drawing board with its browser, or just bite the bullet and license Opera Mobile already.
While this is definitely a productivity-first device, there are ample multimedia functions. The features are pretty good, but they do lag behind some of the competitors. There's a Roxio Easy Media Creator as well as the BlackBerry Media Sync application to get some media on the device, but I prefer to just side-load via the memory slot (which can take up to 16 GB). The audio playback's fine but lacks the panache of Apple's device. Video playback is really, really good, as the colors jump out on the beautiful screen. It's nice to see RIM giving this handset multimedia features that don't just seem like they're tacked on.
Connections And Other
Call quality was very good on AT&T's network in San Francisco, and people I spoke with said I sounded clear. The 3G network was a bit sporadic (maybe that's why there were so many delays) but fast, and I couldn't find a way to manually switch to EDGE to save battery. Speaking of battery, the Bold was a champ: An overnight charge was enough to get me through a full day of occasional calls, Web browsing, messaging, and light music use.
Switching on the Wi-Fi was a bit buried under some menus, but once it's on the range was pretty good. I couldn't quite say the same for the Bluetooth, though. While it was easy to pair the Bold with a headset, I found the connection had a fairly limited range. I had to keep the Bold in my pocket on the same side as my headset or I'd face some distortion.
The GPS was good when I used it, but it's set up to work with AT&T Navigator service. There's a free 30-day trial but then you'll have to shell out $10 a month for service. If you're a road warrior it's not a bad investment, but I was getting along just fine using Google Maps.
The GPS chip also can be used to geo-tag photos, although I found the camera to be weak. The camera has 2 megapixels with flash, zoom, and some video recording capabilities, but it's nothing to write home about. The photos are a little muddied and pixelated, and I don't get why RIM couldn't put at least a 3.2-megapixel camera in there.
Wrapping It Up
Overall, the Bold is the best BlackBerry yet. If you're looking for a BlackBerry, the Bold is a no-brainer. If you're looking for a productivity and messaging device, I'd reach for the Bold before the iPhone 3G or even the excellent Nokia E71.
I'd probably steer toward the iPhone or even the G1 if my main concerns were Web browsing, SMS, and multimedia, though. With that said, I'm very impressed with the Bold and wholeheartedly recommend it. You can snag it for about $300 with after rebates and signing a two-year contract.
Have you been rocking a Bold? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Feel free to leave comments, and don't hesitate to drop me a line at [email protected].