Hands on with BlackBerry Bold
Pity the Bold. In ordinary times, this new model BlackBerry would have sent CrackBerry addicts into a frenzy.
But of course these are not ordinary times, and the Bold (left) has been overshadowed by two other new BlackBerries also launched around Christmas: the touchscreen Storm (below right; read NBR’s review here) and the Pearl Flip (bottom), a clamshell version of the narrow-body Pearl. (Vodafone chose not to release the Flip here, saying its line-up is already saturated with smart phones. Roll-on more direct competition when Telecom’s 3G network goes live in June; the candy bar Pearl is sold here.)
At first glance, it’s not hard to see why the Bold ($1199 on Vodafone) got less press. While the Storm and the Pearl Flip represent radical new designs, the Bold is an evolutionary upgrade to the Curve, the classic model in BlackBerry’s line-up with its wide body and full QWERTY keyboard.
Putting the Curve and the Bold side-by-side, the two phones’ dimensions are almost identical (the Bold is 114x66x15mm and weighs 138g; that is, indistinguishable in heft from an iPhone)
The Bold’s buttons are also the same as the Curve’s, key for key (Bold’s keys are much more closely positioned, but clever bevelling means most won’t miss the Curve’s gappy keys, and the whole effect looks smarter).
So why go Bold? Six reasons:
A detachable black leatherette backing makes the Bold the most stylish model in the BlackBerry line-up, and the most comfortable to hold. These things matter.
2. The sharper image
Things also look good onscreen, too. The Bold’s 65,000-colour display is the same physical size as the Curve’s (2.5 inches, on the diagonal) put provides twice as sharp an image. Its 480 x 360 pixel screen makes the Bold the same resolution as the physically larger Storm display.
3. HSPA (aka 3G Broadband)
Until the arrival of HSPA+ with Telecom’s new 3G network in June (and a likely Vodafone upgrade to match it), HSPA is the fastest way to connect a smartphone to the internet. The Bold and the Storm support HSPA; the Curve and the Pearl run on the slower GPRS 3G standard only.
Infamously, the Storm lacks wi-fi; a feature deleted to boost the phone’s battery life, already reduced to barely a day thanks to the handset’s huge, power-hungry flatscreen. Without a giant display to support, the Bold’s power management can easily accommodate wi-fi; a boon for anybody after the convenience of wirelessly transmitting media from their laptop, plus clever types into wi-fi VoIP calling.
5. The physical QWERTY keyboard
If you’re a BlackBerry-curious iPhone user, then the touchscreen Storm, and its choice of virtual keyboards, remains your best bet.
And if you value pocketability over functionality, then go for the Pearl.
But if you like life as straightforward as possible, the Bold is your BlackBerry.
Not being of the super-thumb txt generation, I find its full physical keyboard easily the best option for messaging.
And while there’s no doubt the Storm’s roomy display offers more, and better, music, video and other media options, and more besides, its touchscreen also requires you to be constantly thinking about which way to orientate the phone, or which one of a couple of dozen options to choose. Like any new interface, the Storm gets easier the more you use it. But if you don’t want to use any of your brain’s processor cycles thinking about whether a certain app requires a horizontal or vertical virtual keyboard, go Bold.
5. Call quality
A couple of overseas reviews complained about the Bold producing hiss on the line or tinny reception. I didn’t encounter either issue during a month of using a trial unit. Calls were strong and clear. Issues encountered by US reviewers must have been tied to network quality, or issues solved by subsequent BlackBerry operating system software incremental upgrades.
The Bold shares the Storm and the Curve’s GPS chip, which I found worked speedily with BlackBerry Maps (which comes bundled with the handset); Vodafone’s Compass and its turn-by-turn driving instructions (available at extra cost via Vodafone Live); and Google Maps, which downloaded and installed in under a minute, and niftily illustrated the new BlackBerry version of Google Street View.
You also get a voice command option (which works well, if your Kiwi reticence will allow you to bark commands at your smart phone in public); 1GB of internal memory; a voice recorder; video recording; a so-so 2 megapixel camera (actually a downgrade from the Curve’s 3.2mP); a 3.5mm jack and bundled ear buds.
Of course, the Bold also supports all the push email goodness that originally shot BlackBerry to fame, this time with some minor tweaks, such as a blue glow appearing behind a highlighted icon, and an easy process to create your own shortcut menus. The Storm shares the same BlackBerry OS makeover, but improvements under the bonnet mean the Bold can do some things better. For example, HSPA means (when in an HSPA coverage area) websites load much faster.
It’s very much evolution over revolution. But if you’ve got conservative, touchscreen-hostile taste, you’ll find the Bold the best BlackBerry yet.