It was worth the wait. As befitting its name, there's nothing subtle about the BlackBerry Bold. It's the most elegant smart phone with a full keyboard we've ever laid eyes on, and its $299 price makes it the Bentley of devices in AT&T's lot. The Bold is also the first BlackBerry to offer both 3G and Wi-Fi data, and its 624-MHz processor provides amazingly quick performance. Although it's larger and heavier than the Curve, the Bold is the most powerful BlackBerry yet, and it's the best business smart phone on any carrier.
The BlackBerry Bold looks and feels like a premium smart phone. While it has the same dimensions as theBlackBerry 8820(4.5 x 2.6 x 0.6 inches) and it is one-tenth of an ounce heavier (4.8 vs. 4.7), it is a much more visually appealing device. That's because the Bold has an absolutely stunning 2.8-inch, 480 x 320-pixel resolution display; it's bright and colors really pop; in fact, every pixel looks like it was painted on. Also, the Bold's glossy black finish and silver border lend to its sleekness, and the changeable leatherette rear cover is available in different colors, including red and blue.
However, owners of the BlackBerry Curve may not like how large and bulky this device is in comparison. TheAT&T Curve 8310, for example, weighs nearly an ounce less, and it's dimensions are significantly shorter and narrower (at 4.2 x 2.4 inches), making it more pocket-friendly.
The Bold retains the white trackball for navigating its user interface; however, like on thePearl Flip 8220, this one is slightly recessed into the face of the phone. The Berry key and call button reside to the left, while the return key and end-call button are to its right. The Bold's keyboard has beveled keys like the 8800 series BlackBerry, and each is a hair larger than those found on the BlackBerry Curve. Typing was extremely easy and comfortable, and each key offered soft feedback when pressed. Fans of the Curve keyboard will love this keyboard as well.
The Bold has a mini-USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a customizable menu button that defaults as a shortcut to open tasks, and an external microSD slot that supports up to 16GB of additional storage on the left side. The right side of the unit has volume controls and a camera quick-launch button.
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Updated User Interface
The BlackBerry Bold, like the Pearl Flip 8220, sports RIM's new 4.6 operating system. We love its cleaner look, and while we thought the icons were hard to distinguish from one another on the Pearl Flip's smaller display, the text for each folder name, as well as the folder icons themselves, are large and easy to read on the Bold. Aiding in identification, when an icon is selected by the user it glows white. Three icons in particular should stand out to any new owner of the Bold: DOC, XLS, and PPT. Those are part of RIM's new integration of DataViz' Documents To Go for viewing and light editing of Office files.
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Click to enlargeE-mail and Messaging
Like the rest of the BlackBerry family, the Bold supports the BlackBerry Internet Service, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, IBM Lotus Domino, Novell GroupWise, and existing POP or IMAP enterprise and personal accounts. When we set up our Gmail account, we were presented by a new AT&T splash page, but the rest of the setup was exactly like on our old AT&T Curve, and we were ready to go in less than 2 minutes. RIM also added enhanced support for Windows Live Hotmail and AOL, so those messages are pushed directly to your phone the second they hit your inbox.
We love the new HTML support in the e-mail client, but it could use a little work. While the formatting was a bit off in our HTML signature and the image did not appear, the colors and layout looked cleaner than the typical jumbled text interpretation of HTML. On the other hand, the HTML formatting on some messages actually looked better on the Bold than it did in our Gmail inbox on our PC.
Documents To Go lets users open and edit Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files out of the box. That means you can save a Word document from your e-mail, and then edit it and respond, all from the Bold. When you open an attachment, you're given two choices: View and Edit with Documents To Go. The Bold opened a four-page Word document in a brisk 10 seconds. Formatting and HTML links were all dead-on, but if you want to use features such as spell check, word count, font changing, or even creating a new document, you'll need to upgrade to the Premium version of Documents To Go ($69.99 after a 30-day free trial).
AT&T Navigator, powered by TeleNav, comes preinstalled on the Bold. This $9.99 monthly service can be used for voice-guided directions, or searching for nearby restaurants, ATMs, or gas stations, or other points of interest. When you load a new map, it will alert you of any traffic incidents in the area. Also, if you want to search for something specific, you can either type it in or speak into the Bold. We were able to plot a route to Manhattan from Long Beach, NY, in just under a minute, and the Bold acquired a GPS signal in just a few seconds. The route was accurate, and the software even gave us the current traffic conditions and offered a route overview. You can minimize AT&T Navigator to check your e-mail or perform another tasks without ending the session.
The Bold has an improved Web browser that gives Opera Mobile (though not the iPhone) a run for its money. Like the Pearl Flip 8220, this browser can render pages in Page or Column view, and it will load full Web pages, not just their mobile versions. You can zoom in easily by clicking on an area of a Web page, or zoom in or out manually at any time using the + or - keys (I or O key).
Over AT&T's network, we loaded the full CNN.com site in 23 seconds and could read much of it in just 6 seconds. Ajax sites like Netvibes.com did not load correctly, however, and you can't load videos on YouTube's full site, as those require Flash support. Surfing over to m.youtube.com, we were able to load a Shaolin Monk video in 12 seconds, but playback was awful: the Bold kept buffering every 2 seconds. This happened with multiple videos.
Click to enlargeThe Bold also has 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi. We loaded CNN.com, ESPN.com, and NYTimes.com, in 19 seconds, 22 seconds, and 29 seconds, respectively, which makes Wi-Fi moderately faster.
Music and Video
The Bold focuses more on multimedia than previous BlackBerrys. You'll notice upon opening the box that earbuds are included. These aren't the stock plastic buds that come with most devices--they're comfortable to wear, and even come with rubber tips for larger and smaller ears. With these earphones, Bob Marley's "Is This Love" sounded clean, and we could make out every instrument clearly. The microSD Card slot supports up to 16GB of storage.
When a song is playing, its album art is displayed above the music controls but just as a small, stamp-size version. We appreciated that we could leave the music playing in the background while we checked our e-mail and browsed the Web.
After formatting an episode of Mad Men for the device using the BlackBerry Media Manager software, we loaded it on the Bold via a microSD Card. While the video itself looked gorgeous, voices were a bit out of sync and the audio cut out about once every ten seconds. This didn't happen when we played the same file back on our BlackBerry Pearl Flip.
The Bold's 2-MP camera (with LED flash) snapped photos that were noticeably clearer, sharper, and more colorful than shots we took with a BlackBerry Curve 8330. A photo of a co-worker and her desk ornaments popped (below right); the images taken with the Curve were bland and looked as if they were taken underwater (below left). Just be sure to have a steady hand; another shot we took with the Bold of a toy robot turned out a bit blurry.
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When we played back videos on our PC captured with the Bold's built-in camcorder, they looked pixelated, even though our subjects were standing still, and colors were washed out. Audio was in sync with the video, but our own voice was muffled when it came too close to the phone's microphone. When we played back the same video on the Bold, the audio and video were of similar quality, but colors popped more than they did on our notebook's display.
BlackBerry Bold Call Quality
A call left with the BlackBerry Bold on our voicemail sounded stellar. While outside in the rain, we left a message as a subway rumbled underground and near a noisy group of passersby. Although the Bold wasn't able to eliminate all of the background noise, we could still hear our voice perfectly with just a single missed syllable. A call to a friend on a landline sounded just as clear, and he had no problem understanding our words.
Click to enlargeBattery Life
The BlackBerry Bold offers decent battery life given all of its capabilities. After 5.5 hours of heavy Web browsing, multimedia playing, and making three voice calls, the battery was half full. We will update this review with an official talk time and data usage time after a few days of use, but we expect that you'll need to charge at least every other day.
BlackBerry fans will fall in love with the Bold; it's fast, sports a stellar display, and offers a great e-mail experience and near-perfect keyboard. Although it costs $100 more than the 8GB iPhone, the Bold is much more of a business-class device, whereas the iPhone has more consumer appeal. The $199, Windows Mobile-powered Samsung Epix directly competes with the Bold in that it offers a physical keyboard, 3G and Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen. But we much prefer the Bold because it features a more attractive design, better browser, and superior operating system. If you are willing to carry a larger and heavier device than the BlackBerry Curve, the Bold is worth the splurge.