The BlackBerry 9700 (aka “Bold 2”)
Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen
I have spent some time using a 9700 BlackBerry (the Bold 2) provided to me for review and working on T-Mobile’s network. I have used the original Bold (the 9000) for the last few years and have liked it quite a bit. By comparison, the 9700 has a smaller footprint and thinner profile than the 9000. It also weighs less, making it a nicer fit in a shirt pocket and more pleasant to carry than its predecessor. The 9700 looks like a more sophisticated version of the 9000, smaller and more svelte. If you have seen the current edition of the Curve, the 9700 has basically the same size, but feels more solid to me.
Image courtesy of BlackBerry
The 9700 weighs in at 4.3 ounces and measures 4.29 inches x 2.36 inches x 0.56 inches. RIM claims the following battery information for the 9700—standby time: GSM, up to 21 days/504 hours, UMTS, up to 17 days/408 hours; talk time: GSM, up to 6 hours, UMTS, up to 6 hours; music playback time: up to 38 hours. In my experience, the BlackBerry devices do seem to hold their charge longer provide more use per charge than any other smartphone device that I have used. The 9700 does not vary from that experience.
One trade off for the smaller size and lighter weight of the 9700 is that the device had to have a smaller thumbboard. The keyboard of the 9700, like that of the 9000, takes up about half of the front face of the phone. The screen takes up the top half of the front of the device. It took some time to accommodate to the smaller size of the 9700’s keyboard; but eventually I did, and, after I got used to it, I found it quite satisfactory. Some time ago RIM started building its keys with ridges that make it easier to differentiate the keys and to depress them. RIM continued that practice with the 9700, making the smaller keyboard quite usable. In all fairness, if I had not bounced back and forth between the 9700 and the 9000, I probably would have felt comfortable with the 9700 keyboard sooner. I prefer carrying the 9700 to the 9000 and, having gotten past the smaller keyboard issue, I concluded that the tradeoff made sense.
One big change is that the 9700 also comes with a small trackpad instead of the traditional BlackBerry trackball. That took me about 20 seconds to acclimate to, and I strongly prefer the trackpad to the trackball. The interface works smoothly and efficiently. I expect that it will work better over time than the trackball as I have had some issues with BlackBerry trackballs sticking as they get older. I expect that replacing the trackball will solve that problem, but I have usually ended up replacing the device with a more modern version by that time.
BlackBerry made its reputation as an email device. That has proven and remained its strong suit for a number of years. For a time, BlackBerry was the system to beat in the email wars. In the last few years, other systems have caught up to the BlackBerry in email handling and also offer the push technology that made the BlackBerry OS preeminent. While BlackBerry still handles email very well, it no longer stands alone at the top of the mountain.
BlackBerry does, however, remain at the top of the mountain when it comes to larger firm and corporate IT department support. For a variety of reasons (some legitimate and some questionable), the BlackBerry remains the device of choice for those operations.
I like the clarity of the 9700’s display; but it remains one of the smallest smartphone displays I have used in some time. I prefer the larger display RIM employed with its Storm device. The tradeoff there is the physical keyboard on the 9700 with the smaller display or the virtual keyboard with the Storm and the larger display.
As a telephone, the 9700 works fine. I prefer using it with a Bluetooth earphone, as I have with most BlackBerry phones I have used (and, in fact, with most smart phones). The 9700 worked well with all of the models I tried (BlackBerry, Motorola, Aliph (Jawbone), and Plantronics). The reception will always be a function of your location and the service provider, but I have not found any significant difference in reception between the 9700 and other phones using the same carrier.
The 9700 works on both 3G mode and WiFi. I had no problem connecting the 9700 to my home or my office wireless networks. The 3G capability brings the BlackBerry into more modern times and provides a nice enhancement to speed and responsiveness.
The 9700 has a 3.2 megapixel camera. The 3.2 megapixels camera does not put the 9700 anywhere near the top of the heap in smartphone cameras coming out at the present time, several of which have 5 megapixel cameras and at least one of which sports an 8 megapixel camera. Despite its relatively lower resolution, the camera gives you the ability to take grab shots when you do not have a better camera available and actually takes pretty decent pictures. It gives you a nice alternative to carrying a camera with you everywhere you go; but if you want good pictures, you will find that a high-quality dedicated camera will outperform any smartphone, including the 9700.
The 9700 comes with a built-in GPS capability as well as BlackBerry Maps. The GPS appears to work adequately to provide you with basic directions, but does not have the sophistication of some of the iPhone apps that essentially convert an iPhone into a full-featured GPS device. That said, I still prefer a dedicated GPS device to any smartphone that I have used. Nevertheless, I often use smartphone GPS functions, particularly when I am walking around an unfamiliar area.
I just received a review unit of the 9650 (Bold 2 for CDMA). I will take a look at that and expect to review it in the next issue of the eReport.
If you need to get a new phone, want a BlackBerry, and use a provider that offers the 9700, you can confidently get one and anticipate the type of reliability that has become a standard for RIM in its BlackBerry devices. I have no problem recommending it. However, if you want a BlackBerry and use or want to use ATT as the provider for your BlackBerry, you might want to check out the Torch (9800). See my review of the Torch in this issue of the eReport.
The BlackBerry 9800 (aka “Torch”)
Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen
The RIM PR people provided me with a BlackBerry 9800 (“Torch”) to review. For reasons I will explain in detail below, I liked it enough to upgrade my personal BlackBerry from the 9000 I carried for the last few years to the Torch. Put in its most simple terms, I consider the Torch the best offering RIM has made to date and a significant step up both in hardware and software for the BlackBerry devices. Due to its unique (for a BlackBerry) slide out keyboard, it provides the best of both worlds: the bigger display of a Storm and Storm 2, and the physical keyboard of the other BlackBerry devices.
Images courtesy of BlackBerry
The 9800 weighs in at 5.7 ounces and measures 5.83 x 2.44 x 0.58 inches. The 9800 works on GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 MHz. It works with 3G and with the EDGE high-speed data network. It also works with WiFi. RIM claims that the Torch will provide standby time of up to 14 days and talk time of up to 5.5 hours on a single charge.
The 9800 marks a new form for RIM, the slider phone. At first glance, the 9800 appears to have no physical keyboard, but only a touch screen with a virtual keyboard (as in the Storm and Storm 2). Upon further examination, however, the bottom of the unit slides down and offers you a physical keyboard (see illustrations above).
Like the 9700, the 9800 comes with a small trackpad instead of the traditional BlackBerry trackball. I strongly prefer the trackpad to the trackball. The interface works smoothly and efficiently. It appears quicker and more responsive to me than the trackball as well.
The 9800 offers a multifaceted physical interface. You can use the trackpad, the touch screen, the virtual keyboard, and the physical keyboard or any combination of them to enter data and interact with the device. The touch screen worked far better than the one I experienced with the Storm, although not quite as well as the touch screen on the iPhone.
The 9800 has the best display I have seen on a BlackBerry device. It is sharp and clear and almost twice the size of the Bold, but about the same size as the Storm and Storm 2. The display is 3.2 inches and has a 480 x 360 resolution.
I have no issues with the telephony features of the 9800, other than the fact that I have some coverage issues with ATT, and the Torch is only available on the AT&T network. The Torch has a very functional speakerphone, but I prefer using it with a Bluetooth earphone. The 9800 worked well with all of the models I tried ( BlackBerry, Motorola, Aliph (Jawbone), and Plantronics). It also worked well with the Bluetooth speaker system built into my car. As always, reception is a function of your location and the service provider, but I have not found any significant difference in reception between the 9800 and other phones using the AT&T network.
The 9800 works on both 3G mode and WiFi. Connection to my home and my office wireless networks proved easy to set up and maintain. I found the 9800 speedy and responsive both on the 3G and the wireless networks.
The 9800 comes with a 5.0 megapixel camera and a 2.7 zoom feature. The 5.0 megapixels camera moves BlackBerry near the top of the heap with respect to camera functions in smart phones as 5.0 megapixels ties the 9800 for the second-highest resolution in contemporary smartphone cameras. The camera gives you the ability to take grab shots when you do not have a better camera available and actually takes pretty good pictures. It gives you a viable alternative to carrying a camera with you everywhere you go; but a high-quality dedicated camera will outperform any smartphone, including the 9800.
The 9800 comes with a built-in GPS capability as well as BlackBerry Maps. The GPS works well, but I still prefer a dedicated GPS device Nevertheless, it offers a convenient option for use when I am travelling in an unfamiliar area.
The 9800 comes with the BlackBerry OS 6. BlackBerry OS 6 represents a significant upgrade and a substantial enhancement to the feature set of the BlackBerry OS. The setup of the device occurred easily and simply. I suspect that if you have a decent connection, the set up process is close to bulletproof. I easily downloaded and installed some apps to add to the device. I had no problem setting up connections to most of my email accounts, connecting automatically AOL, GMAIL, Yahoo, Microsoft, and one private email server. I had to manually insert information to make connections to another private server.
I liked the browsing experience with the Torch and OS 6 better than any previous BlackBerry Internet browsing experience I have had. When I had a good connection, pages loaded fairly quickly and the larger screen made them much more easily readable. I like the new browser interface as well. The search bar added by the new OS worked well and enhanced the experience.
The Torch and OS 6 lean toward social networking, as do many of the new smartphones and their operating systems. I am not the world’s biggest fan of social networking sites, so that did not prove an exciting new capability for me; but for those of you who find social networking irresistible (or at least attractive), the Torch and BlackBerry OS 6 will give that to you.
I have not decided whether this results from the new OS or an improved touch screen or both, but the virtual keyboard on the Torch is significantly better than the one RIM introduced on the Storm. I have not had the opportunity to work with the Storm 2, so I cannot compare it to that device. The bottom line is that the touch screen on the 9800 works well as does the virtual keyboard.
My overall analysis of BlackBerry OS 6 is that, while it somewhat closes the gap between the BlackBerry OS and Apple’s iOS 4 and Android 2.2, in my opinion the BlackBerry OS remains in third place behind both Apple and the Android OS.
If you need to get a new phone, want a BlackBerry, and use or want to use ATT as the provider for your BlackBerry, I strongly recommend that you look at the Torch. For my money, RIM has never made a better or more functional device. There are other smartphones I would choose over the Torch (but surprisingly few), and certainly no other BlackBerry units. If you work in an environment that requires that you use a BlackBerry, I would choose the Torch over all other models (exclusive of carrier considerations).
Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen with a general practice that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. Graves & Allen is a small firm in Oakland, California. Mr. Allen also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He serves as the editor of the Technology eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GP Solo Magazine. He also serves on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. Mr. Allen regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for attorneys and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, Jeffrey has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He is an associate professor at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. Mr. Allen blogs on technology at www.jallenlawtekblog.com. You can contact Jeffrey via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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