RIM always introduces new hardware at its annual conference, and 2011’s BlackBerry World is no exception, with the arrival of a new flagship smartphone: the Bold 9900. The thinnest and fastest BlackBerry to date, the new Bold also sports RIM’s new smartphone operating system, BlackBerry 7.
Only 10.5mm thick, with a stainless steel frame and an attractive glass weave battery cover, the new Bold is a hybrid device, boasting both a 640x480 pixel capacitive touch screen and a full Qwerty keyboard. Underneath the skin, it’s a modern smartphone with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor and 768MB of RAM.
The Bold also has 8GB of flash storage (expandable with up to 32GB of microSD cards). There are plenty of radios, too, with support for tri-band HSPA+ high speed data, and for quad-band GSM/EDGE connectivity, as well as dual-band WiFi (2.4 GHz 802.11 b/g/n and 5 GHz 802.11 a/n) and Bluetooth 2.1. As usual there’s a replaceable battery, with charging points at the bottom of the device that work in RIM’s “pod” charger.
RIM has improved the Bold’s camera, with a new 5-megapixel sensor that supports 720p HD video recording, as well as image stabilisation. There are plenty of other sensors too, with a compass, and accelerometer and GPS – giving the Bold the tools needed to support augmented reality, and RIM is bundling Wikitude AR with the device.
The Bold is RIM’s first NFC device. Using this you’ll be able to tap your device on a tag to get a link with a prompt to open it in the device browser. There’s a developer API for NFC in BlackBerry 7, and RIM expects it’ll be used for everything from payments to quick PIN-less pairing of Bluetooth devices and headsets.
In the hand the Bold is light and responsive. The keyboard is extremely comfortable, while the touch screen reacts smoothly to the touch. The new Liquid Graphics GPU-accelerated user interface works well, with smooth animations and fast transitions at up to 60 frames per second.
There were no rendering delays when scrolling through documents, and zooming in and out of a PDF was smooth and easy, using the familiar pinch-zoom gesture. The screen was good for watching videos, with good clear blacks and vibrant colours.
We found it a good, fast, browser, showing full desktop versions of web pages. Under the hood there’s support for HTML 5 canvas and video, as well as bleeding edge technologies like websockets and webworkers.
RIM has also included tools for handling geolocation in the browser. However, there’s no Flash support, and we’ve been told that RIM is focusing its Flash work on QNX and the PlayBook, so we’re not expecting to see it on the Bold or in BlackBerry 7.
If you’ve used BlackBerry 6, you’ll find the look-and-feel of BlackBerry 7 very familiar. There are some changes though, including new brighter, more colourful icons, and the ability to customise the panes of the front screen.
RIM has also tweaked BlackBerry’s universal search, with support for voice recognition and deep links into application content. BlackBerry 7 also supports the new BlackBerry ID, using it as a single sign-on for Twitter and Facebook, as well as managing applications in App World.
The new screen is a higher resolution than on previous BlackBerrys, and there may be issues with some existing applications. We did try several applications on a test device running a beta version of BlackBerry 7, and everything worked and looked good on screen.
RIM is bundling new applications with BlackBerry 7 and the Bold 9900, including a new version of its Facebook application with support for Facebook chat. There’ll also be a premium version of Docs To Go, with the ability to edit Excel and Word and present PowerPoint slides.
First look verdict
RIM’s BlackBerry Bold remains the company’s flagship device. The 9900 is fast, powerful and light, with a hybrid keyboard/touch user interface that should suit all types of user. Combined with the new BlackBerry 7 operating system, this looks set to be the BlackBerry for your pocket.