Sunday, December 20, 2009

BlackBerry Bold 9700 review

BlackBerry Bold 9700 review
(from: GSMArena team)


Some handsets will work their socks off to have their fifteen minutes of fame, others are simply born into stardom. The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is certainly fortunate to carry a name that stands for popularity and excellence in the RIM family of phones. But this kind of fame can be less a blessing and more of a curse if the successor fails to live up to the standards set by its illustrious namesake.

These high expectations have quite often turned otherwise decent handsets into a byword for failure. It's simply not enough to provide incremental improvements when upgrading an iconic handset. The iPhone somehow gets away with that, but Apple usually does. But for regular mobile phone manufacturers it takes something new and it certainly takes something better for the successor to achieve the same kind of success.

Key features:

2.44" 65K-color TFT landscape display with a resolution of 480 x 360 pixels
Comfortable four-row full QWERTY keyboard
Quad-band GSM support and tri-band 3G with HSDPA
Wi-Fi and built-in GPS and BlackBerry maps preloaded
3.15 autofocus megapixel camera, LED flash
624 MHz CPU, 128 MB RAM
BlackBerry OS v5
Responsive trackpad navigation
Hot-swappable microSD card slot (up to 16GB)
DivX and XviD video support
Good web browser
Office document editor
3.5 mm audio jack
Decent audio quality
Smart dialing
Great battery life
More compact body and lighter weight compared to the Bold 9000
Good build quality

Main disadvantages:

Many features are locked without a BlackBerry Internet Service account (plan)
Mediocre camera performance and features
No FM radio
No video-call camera
No TV-out functionality
No built-in accelerometer
No built-in compass

It's pretty obvious where the RIM R&D team is heading with the BlackBerry Bold 9700. It's hard to really overhaul a handset that was considered almost perfect by most of its users without testing their loyalty, so they embarked on optimization instead. It's not a bad formula for success to just keep the same functionality, stick it in a smaller, fitter body and improve the performance wherever possible.

One glitch or an important feature sacrificed to fit the compact package and the plan goes down the tubes. The smartphone market is increasingly competitive and smaller companies like RIM know they have little room for error. The new Bold 9700 looks fit and hot, no doubt about that. Let's see if it performs to our expectations, and yours.

Well-stuffed retail package

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is not a cheap handset, so it should probably come as no surprise that its retail package is quite well stocked. We already put up an unboxing video here in our blog, so in case you're interested hop over - and don't forget the popcorn.

Back to the package contents, there's the mandatory charger inside, but it also come with three different adapters covering all the popular wall plug standards. No need to worry about keeping your device charged during your next trip from Europe to the UK or US. Just change the charger connector and you are good to go.

Moving on we have a nice leather carrying pouch and a handsfree set. You can use whatever headset you like, given the 3.5 mm audio jack on the phone. You will lose the remote functionality though.
Finally the BlackBerry Bold 9700 box contains a microUSB data cable and a 2GB microSD memory card. Of course there are also the usual guides and CD with software but they don't really count.

BlackBerry Bold 9700

The BlackBerry Bold has lost quite a few inches from its waistline since last time we met. While the Bold 9000 was quite a handful at 114 x 66 x 14 mm, the Bold 9700 and its dimensions of 109 x 60 x 14 mm are comparable to its rival- the Nokia E72.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 is also lighter than the Nokia E72, if only by 6 grams. At 122 grams it most certainly won't let you forget that it is in your pocket but it won't be too much of a burden either. Besides, we believe that every phone belonging to the business category should give off that solid feel which those light all-plastic feature handsets simply cannot match.

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 next to Nokia E72

Design and construction

With that many keys and mostly-plastic construction, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 will hardly win too many beauty contests. But the BlackBerry business charm is all there and as you know, brains and character still count.

The frame around the front panel looks like metal but the rest of the Bold 9700 body is all plastic and we really would have liked to see some steel.

In fact, we quite like the rubbery plastic around the edges of the rear panel, but the leather padding simply doesn't match. It was okay on the Bold 9000 back in the day but only because the whole rear was made of it. Anyway, the leather finish is a BlackBerry trademark and many users will appreciate the familiar look and feel. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, very much so in technology too.
Display has shrunk but kept its brilliance
The display size is the first sacrifice RIM engineers had to make in favor of the more compact body of the BlackBerry Bold 9700. The device comes with a 2.44" TFT display, capable of displaying up to 65K colors.

The resolution however has been slightly increased to 480 x 360 pixels. That's a 4:3 aspect ratio, as opposed to the 3:2 screen format of the first Bold.

We really like the image quality of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 display. Its brightness and contrast are pretty great, comparable to the best TFT displays we've used. Undoubtedly, the high pixel density helps make pictures look more detailed and punchy too.

Sunlight legibility is another strong point of the Bold 9700 display. The colors are almost perfectly retained when the display is exposed to direct sun and usability isn't hurt one bit.

We would also like to mention that we find landscape displays way more natural to work with. Their rare application is explained by the limited available space but the Bold 9700 (just as the Nokia E72) demonstrates that even a compact device can have a decently sized landscape display as long as you are not wasteful with the space around it.

So small though it might be, the display on the Bold 9700 is just as impressive as the one on the Bold 9000. The increased resolution and of course pixel density are a good trade-off for the reduced diagonal.

Keyboard has the same fate

The full QWERTY keyboard of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is next on our list. It uses a four-row layout, but again has been down-sized to fit the smaller body. We have to admit that we felt more comfortable with the larger keys of the original Bold and large-handed users might have some trouble with its successor.

However if your fingers aren't too big you might be able to achieve the same typing speed with a little practice. RIM have done an excellent job of optimizing the keys, placing small edges over each of them to make it easier to hit and minimize typos. It makes the keys feel perfectly spaced, and the typing speed is great.

Due to the four-row layout the numpad is accommodated on the left side of the keys, numbers sharing a bed with some of the letters. Toggling between the two is automatic when the context allows it or manual via the Alt key in all other cases. Of course a five-row QWERTY would have been better here but one can certainly live with the solution RIM came up with.

Apart from the space bar all keys are of the same size and are incredibly tactile.

Getting around the device

The front panel of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 also has a few other functional elements in addition to the QWERTY keyboard and landscape display. Here sit the traditional status LED and the earpiece.

There are also five controls below the display, the first of which is among the greatest changes introduced by the Bold 9700. There isn't a trackball this time, but a touch-sensitive trackpad instead. RIM have done a marvelous job with it and it easily matches their class-leading trackballs.

It handles wonderfully, responding perfectly to every flick of the thumb. Its speed and precision are so impressive that we guarantee that no Bold 9700 user will miss the trackball. They won't do for usability reasons, that is. We guess a part of us will pine for the old school coolness of a sharp and zippy trackball rolling under our thumb.

Anyway, there is barely room for comparing the touchpad of the new Bold to the one of Nokia E72. The BlackBerry doesn't have a D-pad to get in the way and is so much quicker that one can hardly think of the two devices as having the same kind of navigation.

The buttons around the trackpad (Call, End, Menu and Back) remain unchanged. They provide nice press feedback and raise no usability issues.

The left side of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 features the 3.5mm standard audio jack and the standard microUSB port plus one of the convenience keys. Its functionality is assigned by default to Voice-commands but you can change it to whatever you want. There is no cover over the microUSB slot so it might need some cleaning from time to time as dust accumulates.

The 3.5mm standard audio jack and the microUSB are above the convenience key on the left

Jumping to the right, we see the BlackBerry Bold 9700 volume rocker and second convenience key. Its default function is switching the camera on and this role suits it best. It is a two-step key, thus taking proper care of autofocus upon half-press.

The volume rocker and the right convenience key

Again the two connectors for the desktop charging dock that you can purchase separately are located at the bottom of the handset.

The top of the BlackBerry Bold features the Mute button and the lock key. Those are nicely masked under the surface. We are extremely glad that the Bold 9700 took after the Curve 8900's sleek top. The top side of the original Bold was one of the parts that we liked the least and it's good that the guys over at RIM have been paying attention to user feedback.

The two stealthy keys on top are a nice change compared to the previous Bold

The bottom of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 sports nothing but the microphone pinhole.

There's nothing of interest going on at the bottom

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 comes with a 3 megapixel autofocus camera. There is also a LED flash which should assist low-light capabilities. The flash doesn't really perform miracles, but undoubtedly the package is much better than the meager 2 megapixel excuse for a camera that the BlackBerry Bold 9000 used to have.
The other functional element here is the loudspeaker grill which is located right between the camera lens and the flash.

The 3 MP camera, the loudspeaker and the LED flash are at the back

Under the cover lays the impressive 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery. It is quoted as lasting 408 hours of stand-by or 6 hours of talk time, which is less than what we usually see from similarly large batteries on 2.44" displays. In reality its performance is pretty good taking the handset through about a week of moderate use (about fifteen minutes of telephony and 45 minutes of using the other phone features a day).

The Bold 9700 has an ample battery

The other thing of interest under the battery cover is the microSD card slot, which this time has no trouble handling 16GB memory cards. However, taking a card out is pretty hard as you need to pull pretty strongly and you only have a small edge to grip.

The microSD card also goes here

The build quality of BlackBerry Bold 9700 is pretty good and we like it better than the original Bold. Adopting some of the latest Curve design solutions has resulted in a much sleeker and sharp-looking body.
And with the width reduced, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is even easier to operate with one hand. Even single-hand typing is possible, although in this case it is admittedly much slower.

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is good-looking and palm-friendly

BlackBerry OS turns five

One of the major changes introduced by the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is the new version of the company proprietary OS. Upping the counter to 5 from 4.6 implies a big enough upgrade but there is actually nothing major. There are changes in virtually every department but most of them would actually need to be pointed out to be noticed at all.
Truth be told, the classic main menu looked decent the first time we saw it and until recently had its own conservative charm, but now we are just tired of it. The icons are overdone and perhaps outdated - the BlackBerry OS must blush with embarrassment when compared to most other platforms out there. Of course customization options can improve things somewhat, but we weren't able to do anything about the sub-menus for example.

BlackBerry OS 5

That's right, tons of plain ugly text-only submenus can still be found in the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Even with the slickest theme selected you are still just a couple of clicks away from these eyesores.

Granted, target users are not all about the eye-candy but this kind of attitude from RIM must be getting too much. Just because a person has a busy life doesn't necessarily mean that they are blind or will put up with any old Windows 3.11 crap on their 2010 smartphone screen.

We are just curious how long it would take the community to realize that something needs to be done about the looks of the interface. We can accept that most people don't care and some BlackBerry faithfuls even like it but if it is to become appealing to the rest of the 2 billion mobile phone users out there then it really needs an aesthetic overhaul.

It's not much of looker when you dig deeper

It's exactly that kind of attitude that dooms the BlackBerry handsets to a niche market. They are more of a complement to the service that the company offers than worthwhile handsets themselves, though we doubt it that was RIM's original intention. They have some pretty nice ideas - it's just that the overall implementation fails to impress.

The new version of the BlackBerry OS has retained the menu structure almost completely so any experienced BlackBerry users will feel at home. Newbies, on the other hand, might need to dedicate a day or so to learning its ins and outs as it's quite different from the other platforms on the market.
The homescreen is pretty well organized with 6 (by default) shortcut buttons placed at the bottom and all status icons at the top.The profiles can also be accessed straight from here, as well as two other features that you choose to assign to the convenience keys.
Menu navigation on BlackBerry devices (and the Bold 9700 in this case) is somewhat different from what most competitors have to offer. Most other brands use soft-key based navigation where the available options for every menu item or feature are assigned to the context keys below the display.

With RIM devices the menu key is in charge of all the contextual options and it's really a new experience if you're used to the soft key labels keeping all options in sight. There is no caption here so you should check out what the menu key does in every situation.

As far as the performance is concerned the BlackBerry Bold 9700 did manage to impress us, showing almost no lag for the time of our review. We did have a lot more trouble with the BlackBerry Desktop manager but that is a whole other story.
The snappy CPU of the Bold 9700 handles most tasks perfectly and delivers a perfectly good user experience.

Old-school phonebook

No really, we mean it. Remember those large phonebooks that used to lay on the desk of the principle back in your school days. Well the BlackBerry Bold 9700 offers equally "impressive" graphics in its 2009-10 phonebook.

Frankly even if you asked us we would hardly be able to come up with a more basic-looking application. The search line color has been changed from black to white in the new 5.0 version but that hardly makes up for all its omissions. Actually, that doesn't make up for much at all.

At least thanks to the virtually unlimited capacity and good organization it gets the job done. We are not saying that some extra features wouldn't go amiss, but a good percentage of the users would never use them anyway.

The contacts get listed alphabetically by first, last name or company in one of those black and white lists that we warned you about. You can search a contact by gradually typing the desired name like on almost any other phone, only this time it's much faster and easier with the QWERTY keyboard.

A phonebook as old-school as it gets

You can put your contacts in one of two categories - personal and business and then filter your phonebook accordingly. There is also grouping available this time and you can create as many groups as you like.

Editing a contact gives you a vast number of fields which are organized in several sub-groups. You can also replicate some of the fields (those that you are going to need to anyway) as many times as you like.

Editing a contact on the Bold 9700

Telephony comes with smart dial

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 did well in its main duty - making calls. We didn't experience any problems with reception or in-call sound quality.
While that might be expected and doesn't bring any bonus points, Smart dial is certainly a great asset. With the QWERTY keyboard at hand you may never want to use your phonebook for dialing numbers again. And it works when inserting contacts in messaging too.

We really dig the smart dial feature

All you need to do is punch a few keys on the homescreen and the names that have the typed letters will appear on the screen instantly. You can then select them with the trackpad and initiate a call - it doesn't get any simpler than that, does it?

Another worthy call feature is the Voice dialing which gets activated by pressing the left convenience key by default.

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 did reasonably well in our traditional loudspeaker test too, producing a Good score. It is on par with most of its rivals so there is little to be gained or lost in this department by choosing one over the other. The only exception is Nokia E72, which was pretty disappointing as far as speakerphone volume is concerned.

Messaging: Email plays nice with BIS users only

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 handles messaging pretty well as you would expect. It has support for all common types of messages - SMS, MMS and email. It also has the BlackBerry Messenger and Google Talk IM clients preinstalled.

The BlackBerry OS has a fairly simple and easy to use organization of the messaging department and all messages are composed through a common editor.There is a counter at the top indicating the remaining characters to 160, and another one showing the number of parts the message will break down into for sending.

Sending Dexter a message on the Bold 9700

Emailing also has a remarkable set of customizable options, probably one of the best in business. However just out-of-the-box you can only set up BlackBerry Internet Service email accounts on the Bold. This means that without a proper Blackberry service plan, the handset is just a plain no-email device since you need to have that before you go setting up any other email accounts.

That's definitely a drawback in our books as there are quite a lot of carriers globally that do not support BIS yet. But then again, you would hardly be buying a Blackberry device if you don't intend to use the Blackberry services.

The changes brought by BlackBerry OS 5 in this department include the option to resize photos to 1024x768, 800x600 or 640x480 for sending, flag emails and filter them by request, color, status, as well as create, edit and delete folders from the device itself.

Music player gets a facelift, some extras

Conservative looks is what best describes the BlackBerry Bold 9700 music player. Luckily the new version of the OS also brought some nice features to the music department such as equalizer presets.

The music player sorts the music library automatically by artist, album and genre and you can search your tracks by gradual typing. You can also create your own playlists in no time.

There are a few changes in the music player

Album art is also supported and there is single track repeat option - those were the two main omissions from the previous Bold.

Quite naturally, the player can also be minimized to play in the background. You can then go back to it via the task manager or the main menu. Unfortunately, there's no indication of the currently playing song on the home screen.

Decent audio quality

The audio quality of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is almost level with its predecessor's, the Bold 9000. That means it's quite good, but the competition is also making strides in this area so it doesn't stand out as much now as it did back then. As a matter of fact, the Nokia E72 manages to outdo the BlackBerry with better frequency response, while all the other results seem identical.

The Bold 9700 has cut-off bass frequencies as evident in the graph below. This helps to explain the disturbing corresponding reading in the table too. It is the same issue/solution that we witnessed with the previous Bold and we suspect the hardware that's responsible for the audio output has remained unchanged.

The rest of the readings are excellent with noise levels, dynamic range and stereo crosstalk comparable to the best in class. Distortion is also kept well within standards. All in all, you will be enjoying some great sound with BlackBerry Bold 9700. Business or not - a pat on the back is due.

The video player is great

Watching videos on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is a really nice experience. The landscape screen and its great picture quality are a great start and the wide variety of supported codecs makes it all the better.

The video player usually works fullscreen with the virtual buttons only appearing upon a key press.

The best part about the Bold video player is that it comes with DivX and XviD support, incomplete though it might be. RIM claim full DivX 4 support on the Bold 9700 but only limited compatibility with DivX 5 and DivX 6 videos.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 makes a good portable video player

This is pretty much what we experienced too when we tried playing various videos. Just as its predecessor, the Bold 9700 played successfully about 3/4 of the videos with the rest displaying no video but only sound.
So in most cases you will only need to upload the video to your Bold and start the player - no converting necessary. Now add the impressive picture quality and the landscape screen and you've got yourself a decent PMP on a business-minded handset.

Gallery is fine

The image gallery of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is almost identical to the one found on its predecessor.
It has standard functionality including thumbnail and list view of the images.

The gallery is hardly grounbreaking stuff

Quite naturally the photos can only be browsed in landscape mode. There is no accelerometer to provide auto screen rotation of any kind.

Luckily, this time you can skip to the next photo without returning to the gallery. It is much more convenient than the outdated solution of the Bold 9000 where you needed to enter the menu for that purpose.

Zooming in on a photo

Overall, picture browsing is decently fast. Both zooming is panning is pretty quick and probably equal to what we saw on the Bold 9000. We can easily think of a few handsets that do better

An average 3 megapixel shooter

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is equipped with a 3 megapixel autofocus camera and a LED flash. It's hardly an impressive performer but it seems like the best BlackBerry camera we have ever seen. And considering the original Bold probably had the worst camera ever produced, this is a major step up.

The camera interface is somewhat basic with a limited number of customizable settings. Since the display now has the same aspect ratio as the camera sensor there was no need to waste a part of the viewfinder. The problem is that the indications at the bottom cover a part of the frame and can make proper framing a bit hard.

Another issue is the camera key which is not ideally located considering that you need to do most of your shooting, when holding the phone vertically. Maybe a camera key at the place of the Mute key might have been more comfortable but we are just speculating here.

The BlackBerry Bold camera user interface is quite basic

The camera options however are also pretty uncomfortable to access as there are no shortcuts on the screen meaning that you have to dig in the menu. Not that there are too many settings you can apply, but still.

The available camera options

The "best" part of the camera is undoubtedly the image-geotagging, which allows you to automatically record your location in the images EXIF data.

The few other settings available are: white balance, color effects and digital image stabilization. There is also the obligatory picture size and quality.

The image quality of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is about average for the 3 megapixel league. We are not enjoying particularly good weather around the office these days so the camera samples might seem worse than usual to you, but actually the amount of resolved detail is pretty decent. The noise levels are also about average for a 3 megapixel shooter in those kinds of conditions.

Contrast is ok, hardly impressive and the colors could have used a tad more saturation but they aren't too bad overall.

Here go several samples so you can judge the image quality yourselves.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 camera samples

Truth be told, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is hardly a phone you will consider if photography is your thing, but it might just do the trick if you use it to take the occasional contacts photo.

Synthetic resolution

We also snapped our resolution chart with the BlackBerry Bold 9700. As you can see its perfomance is quite far from the 5 megapixel shooter of the Nokia E72. You can check out what that test is all about here.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 resolution chart photo • 100% crops
Nokia E72 resolution chart photo • 100% crops

Video recording improves

The first Bold was a major disappointment as far as video recording was concerned. It used to produce videos that looked bad on the display itself let alone when watched on a larger screen. The Bold 9700 however brings some improvement in this department.

Camcorder UI is even worse

It ups the maximum resolution to 480 x 360 pixels from 480 x 320 and improves the amount of captured detail dramatically. There is still way too much compression applied and if you compare the Bold 9700 to one of the best examples on the market it would look pretty bad, but in this family even C students are considered over-achievers.

Videos are captured in 3GP format and if you still fancy them, you can apply various color effects on them. The LED flash can also be set to work as a video light. We still doubt anyone will take video recording with the Bold seriously though.
BlackBerry Bold 9700 camera video sample

Connectivity: Third time is a charm

Following the footsteps of its predecessor, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 gives you all the connectivity you might need and manages it pretty nicely too.

The quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support secures global roaming and the 3G with HSDPA gives you the extra speed. The Wi-Fi is also present with a nice and easily customizable Wi-Fi manager taking care of all the connections. Bluetooth with A2DP support rounds off the list of wireless connectivity options.

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is also equipped with a standard microUSB port that is enabled for both data connections and charging. Once connected, you can sync your data with the mobile phone including your iTunes collection, save for the files that have DRM. You can even use the handset as a tethered modem.
Finally, you have the option to use your microSD memory card slot for file transfers.

The trackpad scores a point for the browser

The web browser on the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is certainly one of the best we have seen among non-touch phones. Good software, quick-QWERTY input and precise trackpad navigation add up to a combo that is hard to match.

Panning is great thanks to the trackpad and the virtual mouse cursor. You just push it towards the border of the page et voila.

Page rendering is near perfect displaying almost every page like on a desktop computer. The high resolution display is another welcome bonus here, as it allows more content to fit on the screen.

Web browsers don't get much better than this in the touchless world

By default, pages are loaded to fit the display width with the virtual cursor taking the shape of a magnifier. You then just click on the part you would like to read and it gets zoomed in to fill the screen. A press on the back key and you are back to the fit-to-width view. Repeat until done.

Some of the available options

In fact the only bad part about the web browser of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is the lack of proper Flash support.

Other than that, the handset provides probably the best user experience in browsing the web as far as non-touch handsets are concerned. Its inability to show Flash content however might tip the scales in favor of the competitors, like the Nokia E72 for instance.

Excellent organizing skills

True to its business objectives, the Bold 9700 has superb time-management capabilities. Its organizer includes a decent set of applications and although some of them are hardly lookers, their usability cannot be called into question.
The calendar has monthly, weekly and daily view modes and allows easily customized events to be set up. We have to admit that some event presets would have been useful but sadly the device fails to provide them.

The calendar is another not quite nice looking app

Thanks to the BlackBerry OS v5, calendar entries can now be forwarded and conference call information can be merged into the Calendar.
Mobile office is also fully functional, with preinstalled applications able to open and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Furthermore, document editing is also supported right out of the box, unlike some competing phones. Unfortunately, there is no PDF viewer preinstalled so potential users will have to get one themselves.

You can not only browse, but also edit documents with the Bold 9700

The organizer package also includes a calculator with a built-in unit-converter, as well as a voice recorder and a Notes application. A handy To-do manager allows you to set-up and organize your upcoming tasks.

The calculator and its built-in unit converter • Voice memo recorder

The alarm application has only one alarm slot and fails to impress. It's quick to turn on but most of its settings can only be adjusted from the settings menu. There you can change the tone, snooze time and the volume as well as the vibration intensity.

The rest of the alarm settings are burried in the settings menu

Finally, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 comes with a stopwatch and a timer. Both are accessed from the clock application and have the usual functionality.
The clock also offers a bedside mode that turns off the status LED (unless you set it otherwise) and displays a large clock on the screen.

There are some nice games onboard

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 has the same games as its 9000 Bold predecessor - as many as five titles are preinstalled on the handset.

The first two titles include a version of the all too popular Bricks game and Word Mole, where you have to compose words with the letters available on the board. We did find Word Mole quite amusing as it offers various bonuses and extra levels.

BrickBreaker and Word Mole

The new games include Texas Hold'em King 2 which, as the name suggests, is a mobile version of the popular card game. The other two games are Sudoku and Klondike solitaire. There's hardly anything to explain here as both of them are familiar enough.

BlackBerry App World kicks in

Starting March this year, BlackBerry are also boasting their very own mobile application store called BlackBerry App World. There are already almost four thousand applications in there but only about one hundred of them are free. Yet the rest are hardly too expensive, typical price tags revolving around 5 dollars.

Just recently, BlackBerry even started to allow developers to upload themes to the App World, so you can easily use that to customize you BlackBerry as well.

You can check out the nicely organized App World over here, straight from you desktop computer if you want. There are enough categories and a search box to make searching easier, plus there is filtering by free and paid apps.

There's a basic filtering system as well - it allows you to check out the highest rated free and paid applications, as well as the newest ones. In general there's hardly much to complain about the BlackBerry App world, it being probably the nicest bit of software the company has produced recently.

GPS navi double

As one would expect nowadays, the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is equipped with a built-in GPS receiver and comes with A-GPS support. For navigation you get BlackBerry Maps preinstalled. Unfortunately it is yet another application that only works with a BlackBerry internet plan activated. This means that voice-guided navigation is out of the question for the ones that buy it SIM free and then use it with their regular plan.

BlackBerry Maps provide basic map functionality plus voice-guided navigation. You can enter an address straight from your phonebook and you can also save your favorite spots so you don't have to type them every time.

BlackBerry Maps also allow you to send your location to anyone via email or SMS, and that rounds off a decent but certainly not spectacular application.

RIM promise the Maps should now work about twice as fast under the new OS version. Also, addresses that are included in messages are automatically detected and can be displayed on the map at the expense of a few clicks. The map data has also been updated, including more cities than ever. We can still think of at least several apps with more detailed maps but let's not rain on their parade.

Final words

When we reviewed the BlackBerry Bold 9000 we said it had everything a BlackBerry fan could want, except for maybe the more compact body of the Curve. And it's pretty obvious that someone over at RIM has been paying attention. They've done exactly that. And no, we're not taking credit, just giving it.

It's been more than a year between the official launch of the two devices and the Bold 9700 understandably faces much tougher competition. Yet the more compact and more powerful handset seems fit and ready to take on its rivals just as successfully.
The tight connection between handset and service is a double-edged sword however. You either have to take the whole package or nothing at all. A Bold 9700 without a Blackberry service plan is about as good as a 100-buck LG GW300 so it's barely worth spending so much on it.

Now, regarding price we have to point out that a BlackBerry Bold 9700 is about 200 dollars more expensive than a Nokia E72 unlocked so some users might find themselves priced out of alternatives. Plus the Nokia ships with a lifetime Nokia Messaging plan - so push email is something you don't need to spend a dime on once you get the handset itself.

That same Nokia E72 is the new Bold's main market rival. A much better camera and overall multimedia experience come in a pretty sleek steel body. So unless you need the level of security of the BlackBerry Servers, we have to admit the E72 does look like the clear winner here.

Nokia E72

One can also take a look at the Nokia E71 and its E71x American counterpart. It now sells much cheaper than the BlackBerry Bold 9700 at about 270 US dollars and offers a similar camera and connectivity options. E71 is one of the most successful smartphones ever produced by the Finnish manufacturer and has a tad worse performance due to its slower CPU, but even the outdated Symbian S60 UI is more user-friendly than the BlackBerry OS (be it v5).

Nokia E71

Windows Mobile also has a few alternatives to the BlackBerry Bold 9700 to offer. The Samsung B7330 OmniaPRO and the HTC Snap are both powerful messaging tools that will cost you less than the BlackBerry and would offer similar connectivity and organizing capabilities.

Samsung B7330 OmniaPRO • HTC Snap

Yet all those are mere alternatives and cannot fully replace the Bold 9700. This is not about the phone, it's all about the service you get WITH the phone. If you are a keen BlackBerry fan and user then head straight to the shop - the Bold 9700 is RIM at their best. If you are not, it would be good to know that the Bold 9700 (without BlackBerry service) ranks kinda low in terms of pure bang-for-your-buck.

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