Review: BlackBerry Bold 9930 (Verizon)

Posted by Dan H. on Sep 12, 2011

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While companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been pumping out new devices with modern features, RIM has been lagging behind. They’ve been saying that they’re bringing QNX to BlackBerry smartphones, but time is ticking away for the Canadian phone manufacturer. RIM responded to this with three new devices running their new OS, BlackBerry 7: the Bold 99xx, Torch 9850/9860, and the Torch 9810.

We have been using the Bold 9930 as our daily driver for the last few weeks, and we’re here with our full impressions of the device. Is it enough to hold RIM over until the QNX transition? Keep reading to find out.

Hardware

First, a little history on the “Bold” branding: when RIM launched the original Bold 9000 a few years ago, it was commonly called the flagship BlackBerry – it was a rather large device, but in return, you got a rather large display, and an incredible keyboard. When RIM launched the 9700, and later, the 9780, quite a few people disliked the smaller design, and wanted the original 9000 design back. But of course, RIM improved the design along the way. The 9900 series is the thinnest BlackBerry yet, and features an aluminum (no really, it’s not plastic!) ring around the side. It feels amazing in hand.

Well, RIM listened, and the 9930 is the 9000, but modernized and improved. On the front, there’s a 2.8-inch, 640 x 480 resolution display, which is also a touchscreen. No, it’s not the clicky SurePress screen, it’s a proper, non-clicking touchscreen. The display is fantastic, pictures and text rendered crisply. 640 x 480 in 2011 doesn’t sound exciting, but it actually looks pretty good – and that’s because the pixels are being squeezed into a 2.8-inch display.

If RIM does one thing right, it’d definitely be keyboards. Easily. And the 9930 isn’t any different. The keyboard on the 9930 is glorious. The keys are just the right size — big enough so you can type comfortably, but not too big so you get lost when you’re typing. The keys are also angled out from the middle of the keyboard, making keys easy to find.

If you’re a fan of good keyboards, the 9930 won’t disappoint. Above the keyboard, RIM threw in navigation buttons – Call, Menu, Back, End – with a trackpad placed in the middle, just like every other recent BlackBerry. A nice upgrade with the trackpad is an awesome backlight outline of it.

On the left side of the 9930, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microUSB port for charging and sync. On the opposite side, there’s a mute button sandwiched between volume buttons, along with a programmable convenience key that defaults to Camera. On the top, you’ll find the sleep button.

On the back, you’ll find the 5MP camera (no auto-focus) + flash, along with a smudge-prone battery door that houses the NFC antenna, which unfortunately, isn’t enabled on the Verizon 9930 (at least with the stock OS).

Overall, the 9900 series is a very sound improvement over the original Bold 9000. Hardware wise, this is most certainly the very best BlackBerry to date.

Software

The Bold 9900 series, along with new Torches, ship with BlackBerry OS 7. While originally slated to be an update to OS 6, RIM decided to ship OS 7 as an entirely new OS, which will only run on new hardware. Unfortunately, there’s not tons changed from OS 6, besides a new browser that finally feels competitive. What OS 7 does bring, mostly because of the much improved CPU clock speeds on the new BlackBerry lineup, is some very smooth OS operation. Moving between home screen panels is buttery smooth, as well as zooming and scrolling in the browser.

The spinning clock of misfortune, which BlackBerry users are all too familiar with, is still very much a part of the OS 7 experience unfortunately. Installing apps is still a huge performance killer, as is using the browser in the background. App installation still requires device reboots far too often as well. But thankfully boot speed is much, much improved over any previous BlackBerry devices.

So, while OS 7 is a solid improvement over OS 6, we are still left waiting for the elusive QNX powered BlackBerry. Hopefully it comes soon, because we can’t imagine even the latest crop of BlackBerrys to do much for RIM’s slow bleed out.

Battery Life

With this being a BlackBerry review, you’re probably expecting us to report multi-day usage without issue. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case with the new Bold 9900 series. RIM had to cut battery capacity in order to keep the slim form factor, and combined with the new CPU, the Bold was only able to get us through about one day of use. We imagine heavy users may have an issue getting through the night, but certainly a full business day is possible. So, for the very first time, we might recommend picking up a spare battery if you choose to go with a Bold 99xx device.

Call quality, signal, etc.

Our 9930 review unit was on Verizon’s fabulous 3G network, which means solid call quality, solid data speeds, and superb coverage. Calls were crisp and never choppy, and we certainly never dropped any calls. Signal level was iffy at times, with the Bold often dropping down numerous bars while being held – but this isn’t anything new for us, as we’ve seen all of the BlackBerrys in recent history do the same.

Conclusion

The Bold 9930 is an absolutely stellar BlackBerry, probably the very best one made to date. Those who are accustomed to the OS will find it a pleasure to use, with the touchscreen adding a pretty nifty way to interact with the OS and apps that was previously limited by the trackpad. But for those who are expecting a killer smartphone experience with apps galore, you won’t find it here with OS 7. RIM still has a very long way to go before they are completely competitive in the consumer smartphone space, and even their grip on the business market is slipping.

Additional reporting by CR H.

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Dan H. (119 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook


Dan H. is a gadget lover. The computer is his mother tongue; he started using them since before he could remember. He specializes in mobile devices, and is nuts about any kind of new technology. Follow me on twitter: twitter.com/techshoe. Contact: dan (at) mobilitysite (dot) com

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