Less sass, more class: BlackBerry 9700 review

26 Apr

Bold 2

RIM surprised many people when it unleashed the Bold 9000 on the smartphone community in 2008. Unlike other BlackBerry devices of the device, which had been hidden their powers behind subtle exteriors, the Bold was very much an in-your-face handset, with a massive (for a BlackBerry) and brilliant 2.6 inch screen, a span that stretched most palms and a leather covered back that screamed “hunk” at all those who looked at it(and many were the people who did). It was not uncommon to see a swagger in those who used it – the device almost seemed to demand it. 

All of which made it a heckuva tough act to follow. So when RIM announced the 9700 aka the Bold 2 last year, people were curious as to what the company would conjure up. We have the answer now – a device that seems to hark back to classic RIM in appearance and even in performance. Which is not a bad thing at all for RIM loyalists.  

If the original Bold had screamed for attention, its new avatar is a lot more restrained. Don’t get us wrong – the 9700 is not a bad-looking phone, it is only less likely to get noticed than the (c)hunky original.It is as if the folks in RIM decided to temper the overwhelming maleness of the original Bold and ensure that its successor appealed to both sexes. And that it certainly does, mainly by adhering to the classic BlackBerry looks and losing weight as well as width, although it remains just as thick. The screen has been shrunk to a more modest 2.4 inches, although the resolution has been upped from 480×320 to 480×360, which makes for some very decent multimedia viewing. Another casualty of this slimming exercise has been the keypad, which retains the classic BlackBerry layout, but is now a tad cramped with the keys very close to each other, although they do seem to be more sharply edged than before. The most spectacular change on the front is the inclusion of the trackpad instead of the trackball – a welcome change, especially while browsing Web pages. 

There is a chrome band running along the side of the phone and the leather back is very much there, although this time, it  spans only the battery cover. The volume keys and the dedicated camera key on the right side have the rubberised look that came in with the 8520, as is the function key on the left – some might like these, but we thought that they let the device down in the looks department, although they worked perfectly well. Perhaps RIM feared that users would not believe that this relatively svelte gadget was the successor of the Bold, so the word “Bold” has actually been printed on the leather – totally unnecessary and a tad tacky, we think.  

But BlackBerry loyalists will point out that what makes their devices special is their performance rather than their appearance, and here we must admit that we found very little to complain with the 9700. Apart from handling e-mail with traditional BlackBerry excellence (so traditional that it’s almost not worth mentioning), it also moved along at a brisk rate of knots, even though it uses the same 624 Mhz processor as the original Bold (perhaps the 256 MB RAM helps – the Bold had 128). The device runs on BlackBerry OS 5.0, which is not a very radical overhaul of its predecessor but is definitely easier on the eye with its  larger icons and its carousel like arrangement of program shortcuts on the lower part of the homescreen. The inclusion of Documents to Go adds MS Office file editing and viewing power to the device and while the browser still remains a tad ancient by Safari and Chrome standards, Opera Mini more than compensated. It is when you are typing out text that you miss the expansive keypad of the original Bold. The new keys are certainly sharper, but they are nowhere as comfortable, especially if you have fingers as chunky as ours.  

The presence of BlackBerry’s App World allowed us to indulge ourselves with a lot more downloads than we normally would have – it ain’t the App Store or the Android Market, but it sure beats hunting around the Net for downloads.  The most spectacular improvement, however, has been on the multimedia front – the 3.2MP camera did a very good job with still, although video still remained a tad iffy and jerky. The presence of a 3.5mm earphone jack means one can plug in one’s favourite cans to the device and the sound quality was pretty good too. Onboard storage has been trimmed from 1GB to 256 MB but it can now be expanded to 32GB rather than eight.  

Traditional BlackBerry strengths of call quality and battery life have been very much maintained –  we used the device with mail running all the time and lots of calls, surfing, snapping away with the camera and texting and it managed to see us through the better part of two days before screaming for help. And as for connectivity – it is all here from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi to GPS to 3G. 

All of which makes the Bold 2 a very worthy addition to the BlackBerry line of devices, and is likely to appeal to BlackBerry loyalists, although newcomers might find it Rs 31,990 price tag a bit on the higher side, especially considering that the competition has equally good specced phones at a lower price. The 9700 packs in more muscle in the multimedia department and performs more than ably in others as compared to the 9000, but we cannot help but feel that it does not just quite do justice to the Bold aura. It is a sleek-looking performer, but a hunk of a smartphone it ain’t. 

We cannot hear the ladies – and quite a few men – complaining, though.

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