RIM's relevance in the mobile market has been highly debated as of late (I'm putting them on the spot myself with my 30 day "BlackBerry Challenge"), but they're not taking the onslaught of criticism laying down. The Waterloo-based company is in the process of rolling out three new smartphones to compete with Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and the other platforms in the marketplace. They're not QNX devices (those are scheduled to launch next year), but from a hardware standpoint, they're much-need upgrades to the BlackBerry line.
The BlackBerry Bold 9930 was announced at BlackBerry World in May, and it launches on August 21st on Sprint, August 25th on Verizon (through you can order it now), and August 31st on T-Mobile. Packing a 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor, 2.8-inch touchscreen, 5-megapixel camera, full QWERTY keyboard, and BlackBerry 7, it's quite the feature-packed 'Berry.
I've had 24 hours with the Bold 9930, and so far, I'm really enjoying it. Some first impressions:
- RIM's decision to include a full QWERTY keyboard and a 2.8-inch touchscreen in their usual candybar form factor might be the smartest design decision they've made. There are times I want to type on the keyboard and use the trackpad, and other times that I want to pinch-to-zoom. With the hybrid design, I can use both to my heart's content.
- The BlackBerry Bold 9930 is the best looking smartphone RIM has ever made. Similar in shape to the Bold 9900, the 9930 features black plastic, a carbon fiber battery cover, and introduces a metal exterior housing. It screams "PREMIUM!" at all times, and on looks alone, blows past most of the Android handsets and settles in right behind the iPhone 4 as one of the sexiest (yeah, I said it) smartphones out there.
- The Bold 9930 is rocking a 1.2 GHz Snapdragon CPU, which is roughly twice the speed of the 624 MHz processor found in previous generation BlackBerrys. It's fast. Oddly fast for a BlackBerry. Within the first few hours of using it, there were several times where I had to actually adjust my use because it was moving so quickly.
- The keyboard. Oh man, the keyboard. Prior to the new crop of devices, my favorite BlackBerry was the Bold 9000. The size was perfect, the display was vibrant, and perhaps most importantly, the keyboard was absolutely excellent. I didn't think RIM could improve on an already great keyboard, but they did; the Bold 9930's keyboard is six percent larger than the 9000's, and the keys are more tactile. I've been sending a number of emails, text messages, and BBM messages from the device, and haven't gotten tired of it yet.
- The Bold comes with a 5-megapixel camera, and thanks to RIM's decision to exclude autofocus, camera performance is pretty bad. Unless you're taking a picture outside from a reasonable distance, there's going to be some distortion.
- The Bold 9930 is the thinnest BlackBerry yet, and the sacrifice comes in battery life. With a 1,230 mAh battery combined with a fast processor, BlackBerry fans are going to see a noticeable decrease in battery life. It's way too soon to post official battery life thoughts, but at this point, I'm struggling to make it through a day with moderate use.
- Yeah, it's a 3G only device. Verizon's LTE radios are still bulky and in their infancy, leading to large devices. Not only would the Bold 9930 have been substantially larger, battery life would have been even worse. BlackBerry with the battery life of an Android device? No thanks.
- Despite the improvements, I found myself saying "seriously, RIM? It's 2011!" a number of times:
- BlackBerry App World continues to be way behind the competition, and if you're downloading apps, you have to stay on the download screen - you can't multitask. Migrating away causes the app downloads to pause.
- There's no ability to save applications to an SD card. I understand that BlackBerry applications are relatively small in comparison to their iOS and Android counterparts, but it's still frustrating.
- My biggest pet peeve about BlackBerry devices continues over into BlackBerry 7, and that's the inability to use the wireless radio when the battery gets too low. Once the battery reaches a critical point, you can't use the wireless radio until it's charged back to a certain point, even when the charger is plugged in. That just doesn't make sense.
- I rarely mention pricing, but at $249.99 with a two-year agreement, the Bold 9930 is overpriced (I really feel bad for the T-Mobile folks that'll be paying $299.99). At that price point, it's competing directly with the HTC ThunderBolt, Samsung DROID Charge, and LG Revolution - all 4G LTE smartphones. Not to mention the iPhone 4 and its $199.99 price point. Do I like the phone? Absolutely. Could I recommend it to others when they could get one of Verizon's 4G LTE devices for the same price, or better yet, the iPhone 4 for $50 less? I doubt it.
Pricing aside, I'm really impressed with the Bold 9930. It's not going to woo many iOS or Android users over to the platform, but as a former BlackBerry user, it's the first device I see as a legitimate contender to the other platforms on the market. The web browser is a tremendous improvement, the phone is incredibly fast, and the keyboard is the best on the market. RIM still has some work to do, but the gap between "BlackBerry" and "everything else" has been bridged to a point where I could carry the 9930 on a regular basis and not feel l like I was missing out on features. Unfortunately, RIM's brand has been tainted as of late, and that combined with a high price point may sway smartphone buyers to other platforms.
Check out the unboxing video, and stay tuned for more coverage on the BlackBerry Bold 9930!