Blackberry Bold 9000 review

Most likely I won’t add anything new since I am far form being an early adopter, so why bother? Perhaps because myself I prefer checking out experiences from other people and not from fancy magazines where they are spoiled by a lot of different hardware. Hmmm, who said I am not spoiled? :)

I was never a big fan of any platform, I’ve started ever with Nokia’s, then entered the PDA world with Sony PalmOS-based SONY PEG-SJ30 (great thing, still gathers some dust around; UPDATE: actually Psion was the first the still the best platform, starting with Revo and still having MX5, although I don’t dare to call it PDA as it is much more than that), and then I’ve got my first ‘dumbphone’, which was cool by that time, but slow and perky compared to some ‘normal’ phones, that was SE P910i by the way. Again, still lying around, but since UIQ was not particularly the most popular platform, the joy was over as the new version was not compatible, the applications were not updates anymore, so it was time for something new. Since HTC became the coolest thing on the block (yes, no half-eaten apples yet), the Kaiser II (you know, sliding keyboard, notebook-like tilting screen) became the next passion for the last two years. Well, nothing particularly wrong, except that the keyboard was not really handy and the fact that there was some mechanical movement amused my nearly 2 years daughter especially when it was smashed against the floor. Amazingly the thing survived, but… when it was time to upgrade, my dear service provider explained that I can only get full list of services when I get my… a ‘free’ phone. Yeah, so be it. I already had something in my mind anyway.

The choice
So why a hack a BB? Isn’t iPhone not the coolest thing that have ever arrived into the cell-space? Well, kinda. But… (If you don’t hate the word ‘but’ yet, get yourself to live in Dutch society for a while, you get enough brain massage with the dutch equivalent ‘maar’ to get a tick form it).

First, and the most important thing – the shiny soap container (yes, I am very picky on the external shapes) is only available from T-Mobile in the country inhabited by the people from the above mentioned society. The whole point moving to my current provider (Vodafone) was to get some descent coverage in places where I spend 99% of my time (read work and home). For some reason I would only jealously watch other people talking while I was only wishing I can send a short message. No go.

Second, the iPhone is something I, as a Mac user must have, but… I am not really a Mac fan. Let me put it straight. I like the hardware (to some extend), I like the plug-and-play, but I spend most of my time sharing command line (ok, half of the readers scared away, no big deal), browser and Eclipse. It is not particularly the Mac terrain, but that’s what need. And not the music-video-graphics-creative thingies I am happen to be particularly bad in. I am not fond of watching fun videos (how people get enough time for doing that???) or listening to music ONLY. I listen when I program. Or go somewhere. But then I don’t need a screen to stare at. I that sense I don’t need a pocket entertainment center. Well, I do have one. It is called iPod Classic and it has ALL music I own except the CDs I am too lazy to rip. I don’t want to choose what I will be listening on the way back home. I DO NOT KNOW! Worse, I don’t want to know. I want it all! So unless 320 GB microSD are on sale for next to nothing I am not in. Not for long perhaps…

Finally. I am not sold on gestures. I love input devices, but I don’t want to be ‘doing magic things on my phone’ to get something out of it. Can you do all gestures with ONE hand? I prefer that I can. Of course, typing on keyboard does involve two thumbs, but that’s it. And talking about keyboard – no touch screen so far replaces a good physical keyboard. Which leaves me only one choice…

The review
All right, after some emotional start, what is BB Bold (BBB) about? Well, I was sold on (guess what) keyboard, the looks (yes, it is plastic, so the Mac I am typing this review on!), the nice screen, the connectivity (but who doesn’t have this today?) and the plugs. More below…

The good

  • The Keyboard. You can type on it. It is not a full-sized keyboard, but it the best small thingy I have tried so far. It is not miniscule one on P910i and not a mimic of a real one on HTC. No, it was designed to work in this size. And that’s the whole point. I like the feeling, the feedback. I hope it will last long.
  • The Screen. It may be a big too small for some people (yes, it is not consuming the whole phone surface, but I was not buying an undersized TV after all), but the quality is great. The wallpapers are looking so crisp that I force myself putting something I won’t be staring for hours at.
  • Regular headphones jack. Not that I need it badly, but it is a nice thing if you DO want to listen to music or find replacement (and not proprietary) headphones when you dog/cat/whatever-you-have found the original ones not only sleek but also yummy.
  • miniUSB sync/charge connection. This was essential just like having keyboard. You can charge almost everywhere. You can find cables anywhere. You are not bound to the proprietary connectors. And being able to charge and sync (if you still do this via cable) is just the right thing.
  • The looks. Overall, it is a utilitarian thing, which expresses certain mind set that somehow fits me.
  • Plenty of software. RIM is a closed platform, but it is widely used with a lot of third-party apps. Perhaps it is going the UIQ path, but I think there is enough time before I get another phone :). BTW, the Java SDK is available freely to download. Time to polish my Java a bit :).

More good…
After the first weeks of usage I can say even more nice things:

  • The sound. Well, the phone sound is just great. I was hugely disappointed with my refabrished HP I’ve got for business needs. I didn’t know there are bad ones. There are. Now I know there are also really good ones and apparently I also own one from now and on.
    What was even more striking is the quality of the external speakers. Well, yeah, there are TWO. This “business phone” has stereo. And it sounds like a … descent stereo! I was shocked when I heard the “Ring-ring-ring” ringtone from SE sang by a woman’s voice behind my back. I thought there was actually somebody behind. Real one. Ok, I may need to change the ringtone, although I am so much used to it. I just still get a bit of shock when I hear it now :). In fact you can play music on this thing and it won’t be “squeezed” in a tiny speaker somewhere behind your phone. Not that I ever want this, but having a small kid… you never know :)
    As if this is not enough one small pleasant thing is the default sounds/ringtones supplied with BB. For the first time I am not irritated by the alarm. The opposite is true – I LIKE hearing it. Weird. Perhaps personal, but still… :)
  • Performance. Descent. Very. I don’t know if I just have too few applications running (do I NEED to know?), but I don’t tend to press ‘Hang the damn phone’ key five times as on the Win Mobile to get the screen away. Apps are starting reasonably, only the initial boot is asking for some coffee. Well, I’d rather have slow boot than slow apps if I may…
  • Trackball works. I was really pessimistic about this one, but it seem to do a good job. Not the direct pointing device, but for sure you don’t have problems with selecting ‘that exact pixel’ on the touch screen which was made only for the stylus and never for you ‘dirty fat fingers’ (I still hate SE for their settings with tiny checkboxes which never actually wanted to go off when I needed). You know what? Using stylus requires an extra hand. And I expect a device like a phone to be operable with only one hand (didn’t I already say this before?).
  • The shortcuts in menus. I haven’t read any TFM, but it was rather natural to try pressing keys while in menus and… it worked! Well, you don’t get clues (a usability glitch), but hey, I don’t have to scroll menus, just press a key and you get there. I love shortcuts!

The bad
Ok, this is personal, but something to be aware of. This may be not listed on some other reviews.

  • The memory card. Well, nothing wrong with the standard 1 GB one. Unless you decide you want to take it OUT. I thought the BB will end up next to the poor motherboard I have once wrecked when trying to get the standard cooler from the chipset. It is not trivial and you need to be patient. It was NOT designed to be taken out by mid-sized fingers. I am not talking about really big ones. Anyway, I could do this several times, but it was not fun. I thought I would end up without memory at all.
  • The battery life. What a disappointment. I expect modern devices to live days if not week(s). Alas. With several calls a day and some mails here and there, few pages in browser it does not live until the end of the second day. Ok, I can charge it everywhere, but I didn’t think it was a must!
  • The browser. Ok, I may need to install Opera and forget the problems. It is quicker than the Mobile IE, but I couldn’t browse through the website with weather forecast which I used to check every now and then with HTC. It just does not show up the pages and redirects me to the default page. Perhaps I miss some settings, but I don’t get any warnings.
  • Interface. Well, you can some sleeky stuff under first click or two. But then try to change settings. Well, it is a half-step above the command line (yahooooo, I was almost there :)), but it seems that ‘PalmOS was there’. And a very old one. It is very simple, but no sign of sleekiness whatsoever. I would call this perhaps ‘inconsistent user experience’ at least. You start all shiny and end up with text-based thingy. I am not shocked from it (hey, it works and didn’t hang on me yet!), but my expectations were set above that by the first screen. Perhaps this is just me seeing BB for the first time, but still I find it a poor-mans solution. I love consistency (but know it is not coming for free).

So for closure, I like the thing and still enjoy it without a single afterthought about the iThing (only for this review :)). It is a good business companion and still has enough media capabilities to entertain yourself unless you enjoy to wipe the phone with your fingers every time you need to get something done. Can I recommend one? For sure. Is it for everybody? Noooo! Otherwise it will be not fun to have one :).

Happy BBying!