BlackBerry Bold 9790
BlackBerry is in trouble. The founders Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie announced they were stepping down from their CEO positions, being replaced by Thorsten Heins. Sure they might all have awesome names, but RIM's performance is far from awesome, at least when it comes to handsets.
The company continues to release hardware that's good, but never great. The PlayBook for example, its first real attempt at doing something different since the original Storm, was beautiful to hold but lacked many of the features needed to compete with other tablets. BlackBerry OS 7 feels very much the same, as does all the hardware it is running on. Hopefully all this should change when BlackBerry 10 is demoed at Mobile World Congress.
Until then we have handsets like the Bold 9790, which like nearly every other handset in RIM's current line-up, features a great battery, sturdy build and a lovely screen. So why have we given it such a modest score? Allow us to elaborate.
Typing is as easy as QWERTY
The Bold features everything BlackBerry is known for. A small is screen, responsive full keyboard and trackpad sat between four menu buttons. This is classic RIM territory and it's what they do best. No one is going to argue that any other handset currently on the market can offer a typing experience like a keyboard-packing BlackBerry.
This means from the outset, it is fun to use for prolific texters, emailers and BBM users. Just don't go broadcasting things to too many people, we might have a riot. The hardware is entirely geared towards messaging speed. Even the little silver lines that break up each row on the keyboard make it easier to bash out messages at super-speed. The nice big space bar also stops you accidentally hitting other keys and needing to go back and delete unwanted letters.
Having a 1GHz processor inside and 768MB of RAM allows apps to switch properly and load text menus very quickly. This all contributes to the speed at which you can splurge out emails and the like to your friends and contacts.
The 9790 is built a bit like a tank. This is a phone designed to be sat at the bottom of a handbag or kept in your pocket along with a set of keys. It feels like it could take several accidental drops before giving up the ghost.
Around the edges of the phone is a silver plastic wraparound. It feels much cheaper than BlackBerry's aluminium effort in the flagship Bold 9900 and we imagine will rapidly get scratched. The matte plastic back, with silver RIM logo, is slightly better, but why not opt for the carbon fibre style slab on the 9900?
On the front is BlackBerry's usual shiny black plastic, which has the screen rather nicely recessed into it. Sat on top is a rather strange lock key, which, whilst being a nice design touch, actually feels worse than a standard button.
The 9790 is nicely pocketable at 110 x 60 x 11.4mm and the 2.45-inch screen isn't so small that reading websites becomes a chore.
The front of the phone has the usual multi colour notification LED as well as responsive trackpad and buttons. On the right side are the volume and mute keys as well as a customisable convenience key, that defaults to a camera button. A headset jack is on the left and charger on the bottom. It's all laid out rather logically, works well enough and didn't cause us any issues or confusion during our time with the phone.
The battery is typical BlackBerry territory. We left the phone for two days without touching it, received plentiful emails through RIM's servers and all sorts of Facebook and Twitter fun. It made barely a dint in the amount of juice still available. This is definitely the strongest point of the 9790.
The Last point that needs to be made about the 9790's hardware is the camera. It shoots 640 x 480 video and takes 5 megapixel stills. After months of using iPhones and Galaxy S IIs, it looks bad. The 8GB of internal memory however means you can snap away until the cows come home.
Put me on display
BlackBerry actually has some of the nicest screen tech currently available. Despite having phones with such small displays, everything since the PlayBook has impressed us with balanced colours and rather decent viewing angles.
On the 9790 is a 2.45-inch screen that has a 480 x 360 resolution. This gives it a pixel density of 246ppi, which is very nice indeed for reading text and looking at the web. Like RIM's other "all-touch" phones, the 9790 has a touch sensitive screen. This is quite frankly pointless for anyone with hands bigger than an 8-year-old as nearly your entire finger will cover the display. Using the trackpad is just a better alternative although it feels counter-intuitive compared to every other smartphone we have used.
What we don't understand is why RIM can't produce something with all of its QWERTY expertise and a big enough screen to be able to control BlackBerry OS with an implement bigger than a toothpick?
BlackBerry 7 OS just isn't good enough. It completely shines when it comes to things like email and Twitter. Thanks to a newly improved Facebook app, it also does very nicely there too. In fact nothing else handles push notifications like RIM and we have enjoyed every moment of managing our work emails on the 9790.
What we haven't enjoyed, is doing just about anything else. YouTube is too small to make watching a video enjoyable. The BlackBerry App World is devoid of nearly anything we really fancied downloading and having to use a magnifying glass and trackpad to browse the Internet.
And why does the font used in every option screen look like it has come out of WordPad? We know that its a business orientated phone, but do we really need to feel like we are flicking through pages of a boring trade magazine when using a piece of technology. It's all just slightly tired, not bad, just boring.
You might conclude that we don't like the 9790. But that's not it at all. In fact we are just more disappointed at the mistakes BlackBerry has made with it. Yet again we have a phone with a lovely screen, great battery life, and a superb keyboard. All in a package and small enough to fit easily in our pocket. But this is rendered pointless by a few odd design decisions and an operating system that really needs an update.
The classic BlackBerry form factor just doesn't work anymore in the world of big screen smartphones. We need a way for the QWERTY expertise to be incorporated into something with a display larger than a matchbox.
That aside, if you are part of the social hardcore who likes to be constantly emailing and chatting with friends. This is the best value communicator you could possibly pick up. It grants you access to RIM's speedy world of push email and BBM, whilst not being so budget that it will fall apart in your rucksack.
BlackBerry is going to need to do something as significant as Nokia did with the Lumia 800 if it wants to see its decline reversed.