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By Hanleigh Daniels 16 September 2011

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In contrast to the small step from the BlackBerry Bold 9700 to the BlackBerry Bold 9780, BlackBerry holding company Research In Motion (RIM), has taken a giant leap with its latest Bold smartphone. The BlackBerry Bold 9900 isn’t only the best looking Bold by far (and the thinnest BlackBerry smartphone), it’s also the company’s first touch-and-type (QWERTY keyboard and touchscreen) Bold device.

Familiar looks, new design

If you place the Bold 9900 next to the outgoing Bold 9780, people wouldn’t necessarily notice that you have the new version since it looks much the same. The new Bold sports the familiar iconic Bold design, now enhanced by a brushed stainless steel frame that’s nicely contrasted by the all black glossy plastic body. Another design element we really liked is the stylish high-gloss glass-weave backplate, covering the battery and slots for the SIM and non-hotswoppable microSD memory card (supports cards up to 32 GB in size).   

RIM’s new Bold measures in at 115 x 66 x 10.5 mm and weighs 130 g, making it extremely comfortable to hold. Its 10.5 mm profile means that you’ll be able to easily slip it into even the back pocket of your skinny jeans.
As you’d expect, the Bold 9900 offers one of the best QWERTY keyboards available on a smartphone, but now enhanced with a 2.8" (640 x 480, 287 ppi) Transmissive TFT LCD capacitive touchscreen - hence the touch-and-type experience (much like the Torch). Although the pixel density (ppi count) on the display is quite high, it still doesn’t match that of the Nokia E6 (328 ppi) or iPhone 4 (326 ppi).   

This screen is very responsive, boasting some excellent viewing angles and nicely saturated colours. Even though it is susceptible to displaying reflections when utilised outdoors in direct sunlight, webpages and apps such as Facebook are more legible on this display than on the iPhone 4’s Retina Display for instance.   
BlackBerry Bold 9900
 
BlackBerry 7 OS features

The new Bold is the first device to be made available locally operating on RIM’s new BlackBerry 7 OS, which RIM says is 40% quicker than OS6 due to Liquid Graphics and enables some new features such as NFC and voice-activated search.

This new mobile OS introduces the company’s next generation BlackBerry browser with a significantly faster browsing speeds. According to RIM these speeds are up to 40% faster than BlackBerry 6-running smartphones and up to 100% faster than BlackBerry 5-powered  smartphones. Although it is faster with seamless panning and zooming, it still takes longer to load pages than the iPhone 4’s Safari mobile browser (both devices using 3G on Vodacom’s network).

A more significant inclusion is Liquid Graphics technology, which combines a dedicated high-performance graphics processor with the speedy CPU and VGA resolution display, to deliver a highly responsive touch friendly user interface. We found it noticeably quicker than the user interface of BlackBerry 6-operating smartphones, although it looks virtually identical to the previous OS.

Voice-activated search functionality has been included and as is the case with Google’s search functionality in Android, its a bit of a hit and miss affair, but it is pretty snappy and when it works it offers a much more convenient way to search for content on the smartphone or web.

Built-in NFC (near field communications) support is included, which is a new technology enabling functionality the likes of pairing the smartphone with NFC-enabled accessories and reading SmartPoster tags with a simple tap of the smartphone. Since the latter isn’t yet dotted round the local landscape, we didn’t employ it.

BlackBerry 7 OS is easy to use once you get used to it, but it definitely isn’t the most intuitive mobile OS on the market, or the most customisable.  
BlackBerry Bold 9900 image

New powerplant under the Canadian hood & other features

Despite forgoing the current dual-core trend for top of the line smartphone offerings, as made evident by the Samsung Galaxy SII and newly announced HTC Sensation XE, the new Bold is no slow-poke. It‘s powered by a single-core 1.2 GHz QC 8655 processor and sports 768 MB of RAM, keeping any hint of lag at bay, whilst we navigated the OS, browsed the web or viewed videos.

Also onboard is 8 GB of internal storage space, Wi-Fi 802.11 n, 3G HSDPA, Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, GPS with aGPS support and a 5 MP camera with face detection, image stabilisation and LED flash. The latter can record HD-Ready (720p) videos, that look crisp with plenty of detail and aren’t privy to any jerkiness at all.  

Final word

RIM’s new Bold 9900 sports some excellent specs such as the 5 MP snapper with HD-Ready video recording and a speedy CPU. It’s the thinnest BlackBerry handset so far and the best looking Bold device as well, with a quick (but not the most user-friendly or customisable) mobile OS.

The Bold 9900 goes for a recommended retail price of R7694, making it a lot more expensive than the old Bold and its Finnish touch-and-type counterpart, the Nokia E6 (R4499), as well as the touch-and-type HTC ChaCha (R2350).

Pros

Touch-and-type experience, really good display, speedy CPU, OS 7 is much quicker than OS 6, excellent built quality and stylish, thin design.  

Cons

Not the most affordable touch-and-type device out there, BlackBerry OS 7 not very customisable as a lot of other mainstream mobile OS’s are, placement of the camera shortcut button.   

 

PROS
Touch-and-type experience, really good display, speedy CPU, OS 7 is much quicker than OS 6, excellent built quality and stylish, thin design.
CONS
Not the most affordable touch-and-type device out there, BlackBerry OS 7 not very customisable as a lot of other mainstream mobile OSs are, placement of the camera shortcut button.
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