Google and Motorola? AT&T and T-Mobile? The death of webOS? The market is changing rapidly, and RIM's ability to compete has been taken into question several times over the course of the year. Once known as a top smartphone maker, RIM has seen their marketshare gradually decline over the years - to the point that RIM is regularly discussed as a takeover target.
Despite the negative press, the Canadian company is coming out swinging with three new BlackBerry models, one of which is the BlackBerry Bold 9930. Featuring a 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor, 2.8-inch touchscreen display, 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video recording capabilities, and BlackBerry 7, the 9930 is available at Sprint and Verizon. It's a nice device and a huge improvement from BlackBerrys of the past, but will it alter RIM's existing perception and draw in new users?
If there were a contest on looks alone, the Bold 9930 would score right behind the Apple iPhone 4. Coming in at 4.53-inches tall by 2.6-inches wide by 0.41-inch thick (that's a scant 10.5mm), it's a stunning device, with a nice metal chassis and black accents. It weighs 4.59 ounces, making it easy to slip into the pocket and much lighter than some of the Android behemoths on the market.
The Bold 9930 comes with an AC adapter, USB cable (which doubles as the charging cord), holster, earbuds (Sprint version only), and instruction manuals. On the left side of the device, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB charging port, while the right side houses the volume rocker, mute button, and convenience key. The top contains the lock button.
Throw out your old thoughts about BlackBerry devices; while the overall OS design is unchanged (more on that later), the 9930 is a whole new experience thanks to a fast 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and a much-improved web browser. After years of being behind, the gap between "BlackBerry" and "everyone else" has been bridged to a manageable level. For the most part, the performance was great, though I experienced some frustrating lag during tests.
About a week into testing, the Bold 9930 began to stutter on a regular basis. Apps would stop working, the touchscreen would freeze when trying to open things, and the phone would freeze when transitioning from one program to another. They typically lasted between five and seven seconds, and increased in frequency as the review went on. During a business trip in New York City on Tuesday, I counted 28 instances where it was affected by lag.
The Bold 9930 ships with BlackBerry 7, the newest version of RIM's mobile operating system. It's more of an evolutionary change from BlackBerry 6 (so much so that it was originally going to be called BlackBerry 6.1), and while there are improvements, it still looks dated in comparison to the other platforms on the market. The combination of a touchscreen and trackpad works surprisingly well for navigation. I found myself rotating between the two pretty regularly. They compliment each other pretty well.
The keyboard. Oh my, the keyboard. It's six percent larger than my previous favorite BlackBerry, the Bold 9000, and somehow, they managed to improve it. The keyboard is a dream. I've typed out hundreds of emails and text messages, and even managed to pound out a 900+ word document while traveling. It blows any other physical keyboard out of the water.
RIM says the web browser in BlackBerry 7 is a 40 percent improvement from BlackBerry 6 and a 100 percent improvement from BlackBerry OS 5.0. I'll be the first to tell you - it's a night-and-day difference from any BlackBerry you've ever used before. There's no lag, pinch-to-zoom is fast, and it's easy to open multiple tabs. The only limitation is the size and orientation of the screen, as a 2.8-inch landscape touchscreen isn't the best to do extensive browsing on.
The 5-megapixel camera is terrible, mostly due to a lack of autofocus. Pictures taken in well-lit areas with enough distance looked fine, but taking close pictures of text is an absolute nightmare. Editing options include scene modes (auto, face detection, portrait, sports, landscape, party, close-up, snow, beach, night, and text), the ability to set the image size, and the ability to geotag. As poor as the still camera was, the 720p HD video camera was pretty impressive. The video quality was quite good, though audio was choppy at times.
The wireless radio has been decent, but it's not nearly as strong as some of the other devices in Verizon's lineup. On the Verizon and Sprint versions, I've noticed that they regularly fluctuate between 3G and 1X, even when sitting in the same place. In call quality tests, callers said I sounded loud, though they reported an extraordinary level of background noise in each one of my test calls (in one instance, I had to reconnect due to how bad it was). BlackBerrys are business devices - as such, you would expect a cornerstone feature like call quality to be decent.
With a thin device comes a thin battery, and unfortunately, it doesn't make it through the day. Moderate use like calling, text messaging, browsing the web, downloading apps, and using BlackBerry Messenger drained the 1,230 mAh battery in roughly nine hours. If you're a light user, you'll scrape by, but everyone else should purchase a spare battery or car charger. Fortunately, the device charges relatively quickly, so you'll be able to get those quick charges in between events.
The BlackBerry Bold 9930 is the best 'Berry yet. The 1.2 GHz processor, touchscreen/candybar combo, premium construction, and improved browser finally brings the brand up wto where it can effectively compete with Android and iOS. Even better, there's two other Torch models (9810 and 9850) with similar specs that will appeal to those that prefer different form factors. I'm not sure how they keep doing it, but the keyboard on the 9930 is the best one yet; it runs circles around the Bold 9000, the former champion.
That said, the Bold 9930 isn't a game-changer. It doesn't offer any revolutionary features that will make users from competing platforms switch, and despite minor design improvements, BlackBerry's OS still seems like something out of 1998. I'm also shocked that they shrunk the battery so drastically. If you're a die-hard BlackBerry fan, want an awesome keyboard, or love to use BlackBerry Messenger, this is your phone. For everyone else, when you consider the cost - $199.99 and up - there are better alternatives on the market.
What's Good: Fast processor; web browsing is significantly improved; keyboard is fantastic.
What's Bad: Small display; battery life is poor; aging operating system still pales in comparison to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
The Verdict: The BlackBerry Bold 9930 is the best BlackBerry yet, but the high price point and clunky operating system won't win over new customers.