The Bold Choice of Function Over Form
Screen, full keyboard, 3.5mm jack
The Bottom Line:
If email and texts are a must and video is a plus, then the Bold can answer call - but for quite the price.
After a bit of cajoling, I got to play with my friend's RIM Blackberry Bold. And then I stole it from him...but only for a few hours. We had to drive around and do some things together so I got to mess with his phone and test out all of its little pleasantries and misbehaviors. While I am not sure that this is the phone for me or anyone else outside of the office/business world, it is a wildly capable and fantastically featured phone. It can do much of what the iPhone does and perhaps even do a few things a little bit better, but it is bigger, heavier, and a whole lot uglier than the iPhone would ever dream of being. If you need the all the goodies, and you can't live without a solid screen and keyboard, and if you can handle a handset without the beauty, then perhaps this is the phone for you.
The most obvious thing about this phone is its bulk. It's over 4" inches high, about 3" wide, and nearly three quarters of an inch thick. Even with all of that mass, the screen, although brilliant, is only 2.75" when measured on the diagonal (but more on that later). The phone is split approximately equally into the screen and keyboard, and so done by the trackball and a few main keys in the center. The back of the phone is rather interesting in that RIM has forgone the predictable plastic and instead chosen to go with plastic, except that they made it look like leather. I assume that this is supposed to add some class to the phone but I'm not sure who would think that cell phone designers would actually purpose the death of thousands of fake cows to improve a cell phone and call that class. If it is there simply to give the phone some more texture while in hand, then it does certainly do that. The front of the phone has a bit of flair from the silver trim which accentuates the mostly black phone. Of course, since this is meant to be a business phone, flair and class are not the objectives, or at least are far less so than performance and features.
To access the features, one must be able to view them on the screen - and this phone has a doozy! The screen is only 2.75" but it has exactly half the pixels of those boxy old 15" computer monitors at 480x320. While I have yet to work out the math, I believe it would suggest that this screen has a pretty fair bit of resolution. I don't know the criteria for calling a phone screen HD, but this is probably the closest thing on the market, except perhaps for the iPhone. Both picture and video playback on this screen are fantastic and brilliantly colored. While watching some short video clips, I was amazed at the clarity and felt like I was looking at a DVD on the screen. While this may not make for more productive work time, it will certainly make that long train commute to work far more enjoyable.
As I already mentioned, the phone is split in two by the trackball and a few of the most important buttons. Probably because of the overall size of the phone, RIM engineers decided to make the keys as big as possible. The most important "send" and "end" are far bigger than anything else and can practically be pressed by an elbow should you be in a fix of some sort. As for the rest of the keys, they are laid out especially skillfully on a huge QWERTY keyboard. Gone are the days of shared buttons. Each one of those 26 missives gets its own plot of land. To make things even nicer and more tactile, each piece of land has a gently rise to it. The combination of these two features makes this a supremely usable keyboard. Even those afraid to enter the world of texting and emailing from their phone will feel right at home when it comes to these ivories.
On the left side of the phone you have 4 important items: headphone jack, USB, card slot, and shortcut key. The headphone jack is a delight in that another phone manufacturer has seen the light and decided to include a 3.5mm jack. This means that you can use any pair of headphones you have lying around and not just the ones that were supplied with the phone and lost three days later. The card slot accepts microSD cards up to a capacity of 16GB. For the moment that actually meets the capacity of the top iPhone. Even if you choose to get a card half that size, you will have trouble filling it for some time to come - unless you plan to stick a few movies and all of your music on there. To make your phone more compatible and perhaps encourage you to use fewer cables, the Blackberry phones use miniUSB for charging and data transfer. There are so many other devices out there that use this size that you probably already have one of these at your home, desk, and in the car. The shortcut key is self explanatory and is user customizable. This means that you can have quick access to your email, or phone book, or anything else that you like. The right side of the phone has the volume rocker and another shortcut key. The volume rocker is conveniently placed on the side that you can turn your caller volume far above or below what anyone might need. As with most, if not all, Blackberry phones, the top of the phone has the mute, which has the magical power to make your phone disappear when you really need it to.
Since the screen is so big, beautiful, and perhaps even bold, there is plenty of space for information to be displayed. The ever ubiquitous icons are still there, but each one is now complemented by an icon as you scroll over it. Also to be displayed on the screen is the massive amount of multimedia available today. With the aforementioned 16GB of optional space, you can store plenty for the viewing on this screen. The onboard video player can handle most of the formats out there which you might need to use with all of your downloaded video. It can also playback just about any audio format you may have your catalog stored in. I took the time to watch a few short videos on this phone and they really did look fantastic. I have been impressed with some other phones, especially when it came to displaying cartoons and other low data, simple color video, but this phone seems to be able handle all the data and color you throw at it. And not only does the phone render every pixel of the image well, it does it with a real bang. The bright colors show up just as bright as they do on the computer screen and the blacks are just as deep as you can hope for from a cell phone.
Email has always been one of the strengths of the Blackberry line and the Bold is no exception. You can have multiple email accounts synced to your phone, and should your data plan and wallet permit, you can have them on and syncing all the time. This means that as soon as someone sends you an email, you will receive it on your cell phone. Setting up an account is extremely easy on the Bold, although not quite as easy as doing the same on the iPhone. In addition to receiving the emails from work, you can also view and edit any attachments you might get in those emails with the included software. While no one would want to really do a lot of editing in a Word file or drastically change a PowerPoint file, you can easily do a bit of tweaking with the onboard software. Also, you can take solace that there is no phone in existence today that can really handle lots of work on any of the Microsoft suite of programs, including the iPhone. They really all require a much larger screen and a real keyboard and mouse.
The final, and perhaps most important, aspect of the phone is its battery. The folks at RIM claim that the phone has over 4 hours of talk time and about 10 days of standby. I was very impressed when I looked back after my day of playing with the phone and noticed it had exceeded the manufacturer's suggestion. All in all, I used the phone off and on for about 7 hours. During that time I made and received many calls, spent 2-3 hours on the internet, and played with the phones various other oddities quite a bit. While one might expect for the phone to be completely dead after going through its paces for that much time, it still had about 35% battery remaining.
The Blackberry Bold is not the smallest phone on the market today. It is not the lightest phone on the market today. It is also not the cheapest phone on the market today. What it does have is a solid set of features and a lot of attention to exterior detail. This phone will do wonders for anyone in the business world and will make a whole lot of other people happy. If you want one of the best keyboards on the market today and a screen that is arguably the best of its kind, the Bold might be the phone for you...if the company is picking up the bill.