BlackBerry Bold 9780
17th Nov 2010 | 16:46
Will the addition of BlackBerry 6 operating system breathe new life into RIM's flagship phone?
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Overview
With the arrival of the BlackBerry Bold 9780, fans of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 will no doubt be jumping at the chance to see how good RIM's latest flagship phone is.
While there are a few physical changes to note from its predecessor, the big news is the addition of the BlackBerry 6 operating system.
We've got the Social Feeds view, a new WebKit-based internet browser, Universal Search, a richer media experience and lots more besides.
The camera has been bumped up to five megapixels from the 9700's three, while the chrome edging has been toned back to black or white and the faux leather has also been dialed down.
Inside, things haven't undergone a major revision either, with one significant exception: the RAM has been doubled to 512MB from the 9700's 256MB.
That's great news for the all-singing, all-multitasking new operating system.
Otherwise, we're still looking at 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, the full QWERTY keyboard, 480x360 2.44-inch screen and a host of built-in apps, including BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry App World.
The Bold 9780 is available in black or white and is free on contract depending on your monthly bill. Ours was supplied by T-Mobile, and was tested on that network.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Design and handling
The BlackBerry Bold 9780's design won't exactly provide a huge shock to the system for RIM fans. In fact, those familiar with the Bold 9700 (the 9780's predecessor) will be even less surprised.
It's not just Bold owners who'll be in familiar territory, though. The layout of the buttons on the phone's front is also identical to the Curve 9300.
Evidently, RIM has no particular interest in re-inventing the wheel when it comes to the businessman's favourite line of BlackBerry devices – that can be left to the likes of the BlackBerry Style.
The main difference from the Bold 9700 is the lack of chrome from earlier versions. Whether you lament this loss or feel it's better this way will come down to personal taste, but this November's colours are black, black and yellow. Only kidding! It's more black.
Not that we're complaining, you understand. The Bold 9780's glossy exterior makes for a very handsome handset. It doesn't have the smooth all-covering glass surface we've become used to on everything from the iPhone 4 to the HTC HD7, but with no touchscreen on this BlackBerry, there's no real need for that type of covering.
At 114x66x15mm, the Bold 9780 is comparable in size and shape to the Bold 9700. It's a nice thickness in the hand, and the unit on the whole is just about the right size to get your fingers around.
It weighs in at 136g, which isn't light considering its size. However, we have no problem with a bit of heft on handsets that expect you to use two hands from time to time.
The build quality is excellent (not that we'd expect anything less). There's simply no unexpected give or sloppy joints anywhere on the handset.
There are a few different materials on display here. What used to be the chrome edging is now glossy black, as are the menu keys. The QWERTY keyboard is more of a matt black, as is the area surrounding the battery cover on the back.
The battery cover itself is no longer a sumptuous faux leather. The effect is still vaguely attempted in the form of a lightly mottled plastic, but it's hardly the same. However, it serves its purpose: it's extremely grippy, making the phone feel secure when you hold it.
On the front, the 480x360 pixel screen shines out. It's crisp, clear and gloriously bright. It has automatic brightness adjustment, which is nothing unusual, but it's particularly aggressive here. You can often see it switching about several times in the space of a minute – just as the Bold 9700 did.
Beneath the screen are four familiar buttons. On the far left is the green Call button, and to the right of that is BlackBerry Menu key. In the centre we have the optical trackpad.
On the right side is the Esc/Back key and the Terminate button, which serves double duty as the on/off button.
Beneath that is, of course, the keyboard. The keys have a certain curve to them depending on whether they're on the keyboard's right or left side. We're not convinced this really makes a difference to usability, but the fact remains.
We'll go into detail on using the keyboard for messaging later in the review, but we will say that the keys have a firm click when you use them, offering a nice amount of feedback.
The keyboard is backlit too, nice and clearly. It's fair to say you'll have no night-time usability issues here.
On the left-hand side of the phone is the 3.5mm headphone port, the micro-USB connection for charging and hooking up to a PC, and a button that launches the voice dialing function.
On the right side are two volume keys and a camera shutter/shortcut. The camera and voice dialing buttons can both be customised to perform other functions, if you're so inclined.
On top of the Bold 9780 are two buttons that looks like they're touch sensitive, but actually the entire top of the handset can be depressed. On one side is the lock/unlock key, while the other is a mute button. Bizarrely, you can't use this to simply mute the ringer from the Home screen – it only mutes music playback and similar noise.
Oh, and don't worry, BlackBerry's usual little red light is at the top-right of the phone's front fascia.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Interface
While the design of the Bold 9780 might be pretty familiar, the new BlackBerry 6 OS is… also pretty familiar.
But that's no criticism. Familiar it may be, but there are changes, and they add up to significantly improve the usability. You rarely need to stray more than one menu from the Home screen to access anything, and yet it's not cluttered or confusing.
We love the new Quick Access Points, which offer immediate access to options such as connectivity settings, the alarm clock, the ringer/vibration settings and the new Universal Search.
Notifications are now also an access point, bringing your a list of all recent activity and upcoming calendar events when selected.
At the bottom is the Navigation Bar, which enables you to access apps and functions in different categories. The All option is exactly what it says, offering access to to everything in a big scrollable list, but it's the addition of the others that refines the experience.
Scroll right on the Navigation Bar and you'll get to Favourites, to which you can manually add the items you use most.
Improved media functionality is a big push of BlackBerry 6, and this is demonstrated by the fact that Media now gets its own option on the Navigation Bar, to the right of Favourites. Here you'll find everything from music playback to voice recording and ringtones.
Next up is downloads, for seeing the apps you've added to the handset. Finally, you have Frequent. This simply offers you your most-used apps and functions, changing dynamically as you get more obsessed with Twitter/BlackBerry App World/BrickBreaker.
The BlackBerry button brings a contextual menu on the Home screen, in which you can access options for moving or removing apps, opening the current 'tray' in the Navigation Bar, access the app switcher (you can still hold down the BB button to bring this up) or get to some Home screen options.
By default, just typing on the keyboard will open Universal Search (which searches for terms both on your phone and online), but you can set it back to BlackBerry 5's app shortcuts here, if you wish.
Now, we're massive fans of this new layout. It feels both usable and powerful – you need never touch, say, the access point to the connectivity settings if you're not into that sort of tinkering, but it's quickly accessible if you are.
However, these enhancements feel more suited to a touchscreen than the optical trackpad on the Bold 9780. Being able to just tap the top-left to get to the ringer options, or swipe left and right to go between the Navigation Bar's 'trays' would be far more intuitive than scrolling up and then across to where you need to be.
At first, we found getting around the Home screen using the trackpad to be infuriatingly imprecise. Eventually, we tweaked the sensitivity down to 50 from 70 in the options, and this made it much more bearable on the Home screen.
One final new interface feature to note is the Social Feeds options. It's technically an app, but because it feeds into so many of the other sections in this review, we'll include it here (plus, it's a big new BB 6 addition).
It basically integrates your online life into one giant feed, pulling messages from the likes of Twitter, AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Facebook, Google Talk, BlackBerry Messenger and more.
In this way, you can catch up very quickly with any cloud-based messages you might need to. On top of this, it has a second screen dedicated to an RSS reader.
It's basically a giant info dump, and it's confusing in the best possible way. It's just an online assault on the sense, and we love it because of that. You can filter by service (so you can, say, just see Facebook updates), and you've got the option of using all the separate apps, so if you want a careful experience for each different service, go that way instead.
This is for just looking over everything that's going by just opening your brain and pouring words in. Superb.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Calling and contacts
When we reviewed the BlackBerry Bold 9700, we commented about the boring nature of the contacts. Alas, RIM has not seen fit to overhaul this particular part of the operating system.
To be fair, there's little functionally wrong with what's here, so we're not going to hold it against the Bold 9780, but we would politely request someone at RIM take a good hard look at the rather excellent People hub on Windows Phone 7 handsets, such as the HTC Trophy and Samsung Omnia 7, and then give their own some thought.
Boring list aside, entering a contact presents you with all the information you could really need. A selection of contact info you might have entered is presented simply, and is accessible. Scroll over phone numbers and press the select key to call them, move to an email address and you'll create an email, and so on.
Adding a new contact brings up the usual name and number options, along with the expected email and address fields. Birthday and Notes options are also standard, but the ability to create custom fields could be potentially handy. There is also, of course, an option to enter the contact's BlackBerry PIN.
Call quality was perfectly good, with a nice strong signal. It wasn't the best we've heard, but the other person's voice could be understood clearly. The external speaker is impressively loud, so letting multiple people hear a call is no problem.
Of course, making a call is rather dependent on having a signal. Our Bold 9780 on T-Mobile was totally useless in any known trouble spots, losing all signal when even an iPhone 3GS (on a different network, admittedly) was holding on to enough to make a call.
When we were clear and in a strong 3G signal, speed was generally good, and signal was maintained well enough, but it's clear that people out in the sticks are not top of RIM's list of priorities (for the record: we actually weren't out in the sticks. We were in the middle of a city, and still had signal woes).
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Messaging
Funnily enough, messaging on the BlackBerry Bold 9780 is pretty comprehensive. This won't exactly comes as a shock to anyone, but it's worth remembering that all the improvements of BlackBerry 6 come on top of the famous messaging prowess the phones possess.
The Messaging app brings together your email and things like Facebook messages in one view. Select a message and you'll be taken into the relevant email account, or into the Facebook app, where you can interact with it more directly.
From the Messaging app, you can compose messages for just about any of the services on your device. Text, Twitter, IM and others are in the list, along with any of others indirectly thanks to the way it ties into the Social Feeds app.
You can set up several email accounts on the device, with services such as Gmail able to be set up with just your username and password – no fuss, no waiting.
Of course, you can't use the fancy Wi-Fi to do any of this – it's still strictly done over mobile internet only. As we said, we weren't exactly raving over the signal picked up by the Bold 9780, but if you've got a good 3G signal, setting up an email account is painless.
Emails are arranged in date order, and you can actually navigate by skipping forward and back whole days (as well as skipping to the bottom).
Enter into a message and you naturally do all the usual reply and forwarding things people like to do with emails. Handier features, such as the ability to search for terms within a message, are included, and you can copy and paste portions of emails.
It's a bit fiddly clicking and dragging using an optical trackpad, but nowhere near as bad as we were expecting.
More importantly, every part of the messaging process is fast and responsive. Even with music playing the background, the Bold 9780 had no problem handling its tasks.
Text messaging has its own separate app, though you could easily mistake it for the email inbox. With the same design and layout as the email inbox, and similar options to skip days when navigating, RIM is nothing if not consistent.
However, access one of the entries in this inbox and you get a threaded message view, detailing the conversation you've had with the contact in question.
Typing messages is nothing out of the ordinary, and you can attach everything from videos to appointments to a message.
BlackBerry Messenger is as good and specific as it ever was. As usual, you need only enter a PIN to connect to your friends.
Of course, the real meat of messaging on the Bold 9780 comes from the keyboard as much as anything. When we reviewed the Bold 9700, we were concerned that the Bold line had become a little cramped and hard to use.
Frankly, that hasn't changed. Call us fat-fingered if you like, but we had to use our nails to get any kind of consistent accuracy. When poking with our thumbs, most messages ended up with an awful lot of stray letters in them.
We preferred, for example, the Nokia C6's landscape keyboard simply because there was enough space to use it.
The thing is, the actual messaging software on the Bold 9780 is pretty much beyond reproach. Inevitably, our verdict is that it's right up there with the best, especially with the extra social integration.
But surely a less-than-ideal keyboard isn't what you want on the flagship BlackBerry phones? There's no doubt this is a messaging powerhouse, but we long for a larger QWERTY (no "That's what she said" jokes, please).
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Internet
Of all the changes in BlackBerry 6, the new WebKit-based browser was surely one of the most hotly anticipated. The same engine powers the glorious browsing capabilities of the iPhone, the Palm Pre Plus and Android phones such as the HTC Desire HD.
With that in mind, we (and many others) were hoping for a big leap forward for BlackBerry web browsing.
And, well, we've got it. It won't leave Apple or Google nervous about their dominance in the mobile browsing stakes, but it certainly produces the rich web experience we're now used to on smartphones.
Speed-wise, it doesn't win any awards. We'd say its comparable with the Internet Explorer browser on Windows Phone 7 devices, such as the LG Optimus 7 or the HTC 7 Mozart, and is lagging slightly behind Apple and Google's respective efforts.
Once a page is loaded you can zoom into text and it will reflow fairly quickly to make it legible on the 2.44-inch screen. The browser does an excellent job of this, and type is nice and readable thanks to a fairly high 245ppi display density.
Navigating a page using the trackpad feels awfully old-school on a phone these days. Moving a cursor around feels odd, but is perfectly serviceable in the end. It changes to a magnifying glass when you're over something worth zooming in on (such as a text column), and then turns to a standard text cursor when the words are big enough.
Using this, you can copy and paste parts of websites, and there's also a Find on Page option to quickly search for a term.
Tabbed browsing has arrived, and you access it by selecting the button in the browser's top-right corner. There's a neat Cover Flow-style interface to flick through, and you can close open pages from here.
Responsiveness when browsing tabs was all over the place. Sometimes we'd be waiting a couple of seconds for any commands to be picked up, while other times it would be smooth as butter. Tabs don't need to load when you open them thanks to the ample 512MB of RAM on the Bold 9780 – you just choose them and they pop up ready to be browsed.
Pages can be added to your Home screen for fast access to them, and there's bookmarking and the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds (and they'll then be added to the Social Feeds app).
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Camera
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 features a five-megapixel camera, which is a handy improvement over the 3.2-megapixel snapper in the Bold 9700.
There's an LED flash, geotagging, and you can quickly access the mode options (including Face Detection, Sports, Text and Party, among others).
The Autofocus mode can be set to Continuous or Single Shot, and there's a 3x digital zoom.
There's no metering or white balance options, or any effects – but the camera functionality has definitely been improved from previous versions.
WASHED OUT:On a rainy November day, the Bold 9780 actually manages to pick up plenty of light, but not much in the way of fine detail – the tree in particular is ill-defined
COLOUR:The colour reproduction here is really very good, and there's enough detail to pick out individual petals in many of the flowers. Note, however, the crushed white on the white flowers to the right – all detail has disappeared
CLOSE UP:Indoors, but with strong natural lighting, this picture is actually very good. The main subject is crisp and detailed, and you can see every crease on the Baby Ruth bars' packaging
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Video
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 isn't a video recording powerhouse, but it takes 640x480 (VGA) videos at 24fps in 3GP format.
And, you know, the quality isn't bad. It takes a few seconds for the Autofocus to kick into gear, but once it does, the tray in the video has visible texture and you can even just about make out some of the dog toy's fur (no small accomplishment for VGA video).
There are one or two random jerky moments, but the dog's sudden flip is actually recorded quite smoothly. There also aren't as many compression artefacts as we've seen on competing phones.
You might also notice that the microphone does a very competent job of picking up sound.
Overall, we were fairly impressed with the video abilities of the Bold 9780, considering its spec sheet.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Media
A revamped media interface is one of the points RIM is really pushing with BlackBerry 6. The music player sports a further refined interface, now boosted with the addition of album artwork.
You can browse songs by Artist, Album, Genre, Playlist or you can just go through all of your songs.
The Now Playing screen features the usual play/pause/next/previous controls at the bottom, along with repeat and shuffle in the top corners. If you scroll to the name of the band or album on this screen, you can click to bring up the full song list or list of albums respectively.
Interestingly, if you scroll onto the actual album art, you can then flick through to the next song's album art – very similar to Windows Phone 7, in fact. Just like on WP7, this is somewhat pointless when you're on one album, but is nice if you're shuffling all your songs.
The audio quality from the Bold 9780 is actually quite good, if you dump the provided headphones. Stick a higher quality set of speakers into the 3.5mm jack and the music has plenty of detail, and you can tweak with the equaliser to get it how you want it.
There's now a native podcast client, along with a YouTube app, though all it does from the Home screen is offer to take you to the YouTube mobile site or enable you to upload a video. However, this serves its purpose of getting you to the Sesame Street Old Spice spoof.
Similarly to the addition of album art to the music menu, the video player now generates thumbnails to give the menu some character.
The screen itself is bright and crisp, and videos look great on it. However, it's undeniably small, and we don't recommend anything too long on it.
BlackBerry's website only lists MPEG-4 Simple Profile, H.263 and WMV as compatible video formats, but it also plays 3GP (since it records in it) and we loaded an H.264 video on for fun, which played without any problems.
The picture gallery is snappier than ever, with little or no waiting for pictures to load. You can easily send anything you snap as a message or email, or send it straight to Facebook.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Apps
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 is positively bursting with apps and things to do. We've already looked at the Social Feeds feature, but there's also dedicated Twitter and Facebook apps that it ties into.
The Facebook app is styled very much like the messaging portions of BlackBerry 6. There are icons at the top for News Feed, Notifications, Upload a Photo, Friends, Add a Friend, Write on a Wall and Send a Message.
Each of these has a shortcut key assigned, so you don't have to scroll all the way to the top from the bottom of your news feed to get to them.
If you ever feel limited by the app, you can go straight to the Facebook mobile site from the options that come up when you press the Menu key.
The Twitter app is actually more comprehensive than the Facebook app (though it's a simpler service). You can use it to just view your Twitter feed, or check your mentions, your profile, your direct messages, and you can see current and recent trending topics.
All of these options don't have shortcut keys, like the Facebook app, but you can instead use the Menu key to bring up shortcuts to them.
Pretty much all the functionality you'd want is here, and you can click any links to open them in the browser.
The calendar can sync with the email address you used to set up the device, as well as with services such as Google Calendar. This was all totally painless for us, and the ability to see upcoming events from the notification Quick Access Point on the Home screen is very handy.
The Calendar app itself is, once again, styled quite simply. The amount of information you can fit on a 2.44-inch screen is understandably limited, but it presents what you need to know well enough.
The Calculator app cunningly has conversion options rolled into it, which is great because it means you can convert something and then do any calculations you need to with the new figure.
The Calculator is a little confusing at times. You can either navigate all the buttons on-screen using the trackpad, or press the corresponding button on the keyboard. While this works fine mostly, things like having the 'C' option on the calculator not corresponding to the C key below (because that's the 9 key), can take a bit of getting used to.
For the IM lovers among you who don't use BBM, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and AIM are all included (not surprising, since they tie into Social Feeds).
Word to Go, Sheet to Go and Slideshow to Go are all included for viewing any Microsoft Office documents you're sent.
Should you find yourself with some down time, there are a load of games included. The optical trackpad really makes a meal out of simple concepts such as Klondike and BrickBreaker, but they're playable (and there's always Texas Hold 'Em anyway!).
The BlackBerry Maps app really wasn't keen on opening on the Bold 9780. The first few times we tried to bring it up, we were greeted with a frozen handset (although bringing up the App Switcher enabled us to get back to normalcy). After that happened a few times, it just stopped acknowledging our attempts to open Maps at all.
Not that it matters that much – our handset already had Google Maps downloaded, and we'd only suggest you pick it up yourself. There are no issues with getting that open, and it's far nicer to use than BlackBerry's option.
The BlackBerry App World store is coming along, but at the moment isn't much more capable in terms of discoverability than Nokia Ovi store. There are some nice apps to be found, but with RIM's renewed interest in developers recently, we're hoping to see more from this in the future.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Battery life and connectivity
Unsurprisingly, given the lack of physical changes from the BlackBerry Bold 9700, it will probably come as no surprise at all that an identical 1500mAh battery lives inside the Bold 9780.
That's actually on the large side for most modern smartphones, and it shows in the battery life. With very light use, you could easily get four days from a single charge.
But what sort of madman only uses their BlackBerry lightly!? Well, the good news is that the battery should still last you comfortably for a day of serious playing. You'll probably need to charge it pretty much every night (particularly if you're taking advantage of the Wi-Fi and new media-rich browser combination), but you won't have to worry about it letting you down in the middle of the afternoon.
3G and Wi-Fi handle data duties on the BlackBerry Bold 9780, and the ability to quickly access the settings for them from the Home screen is great if you're wary of battery life.
The Bluetooth 2.1 capabilities of the Bold 9780 can also be accessed through this same menu, and A2DP audio streaming and mono/stereo headsets are all supported.
As we said before, our Bold 9780 on T-Mobile didn't exactly blow us away with its mobile data prowess, but when we had found a good, strong 3G signal, speed was perfectly acceptable. In the event that 3G isn't available, Edge is also supported, of course.
The GPS was highly accurate and reasonably fast in Google Maps.
Connecting to PC through the micro-USB will take you into the realm of the BlackBerry Desktop Manager, which enables you to back up your device, as well as syncing options for Tasks, Notes, Contacts and Calendar.
You can bring music across too, and it ties into your iTunes playlists, enabling you to selectively import songs.
Alternatively, you can just sync all of your songs, but many people might struggle to fit them all on the 2GB microSD card included. (Oddly, our test sample only came with a 1GB card, but RIM insists that the retail version includes a 2GB card.)
You can swap out that microSD for a larger one, of course, and then just go nuts with your music.
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Comparison
The most obvious comparison for the BlackBerry Bold 9780 is the Bold 9700. The new Bold flagship is almost physically identical to its little brother, save for the improved camera, increased on-board memory and lightly tweaked exterior.
The real upgrade is the new BlackBerry 6 operating system, and we'd say any BB owners will find a significant evolutionary step from their current system. The new Home screen is very well thought-out, and the new browser could be worth the price of admission alone.
While three of these are touchscreen, and so offer a different experience to the Bold 9780, the HTC Desire Z features a landscape QWERTY keyboard.
However, our review found the build quality occasionally suspect and the battery life fairly disappointing. For those reasons, we doubt it will win over BB purists, but Android is extremely capable when it comes to messaging, so remains a viable alternative.
There is also, of course, the iPhone 4. While the slick nature of the iPhone's internet and media experience won many BB users over previously, BlackBerry 6's huge strides in these areas have narrowed the gap considerably.
However, BlackBerry App World is still far behind Apple's App Store when it comes to diversity and sheer quality in third-party applications.
It's also worth looking at the Nokia E5, which is the closest to the Bold 9780 in terms of form-factor (though is a generation behind in terms of software).
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Hands-on gallery
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Official gallery
BlackBerry Bold 9780: Verdict
Ultimately, the story with the Bold 9780 isn't the hardware, but the new BlackBerry 6 operating system.
The aim was to be more refined and take another step towards appealing to a market outside of the business types normally associated with BlackBerry.
That's not to say no tweaking was made on the phone, with a welcome camera improvement and some spec tweaks to really get that new operating system humming along.
BlackBerry 6 is a great stride forward in terms of refinement and usability. We're big fans of many of the tweaks made – especially the Quick Access Points. The Social Feeds app is another very handy addition, and works to make social networking as integral to the BB experience as messaging.
The browser is probably the single biggest change, and it bumps the internet experience on the phone right up to date. It may not be class-leading, but that's fine. It's plenty good enough.
The changes to the media options are nice too, with music in particular being much improved.
The improved camera is a bonus, though it's hardly the best around. Still, it can take some nice photos, and the video recording wasn't too bad either.
As usual, the Bold 9780 is a very well-made device, with a sturdy build and nice materials. The screen is also lovely and sharp, just as it was on the Bold 9700.
The keyboard hasn't changed from the Bold 9780's predecessor, which might not be an issue for some, but we're not keen on it.
BlackBerry 6 does have moments when it feels like a new operating system, despite it being generally polished overall. More than that, it seems far better suited to a touchscreen than an optical trackpad.
On T-Mobile, we found we got far worse signal than on other smartphones. When you're in a clear, strong area, it's fine, but any trouble spots were really bad – losing signal completely while other phones had a couple of bars of Edge.
The BlackBerry Bold 9780 is a worthy upgrade to RIM's flagship range. The new operating system is a significant improvement, making the phone more relevant to the wider market than anything that's come before.
While we're still not too sure about the size of the keyboard, there's no denying that this does what BlackBerry does best – integrated messaging – and then some. It's a far better internet and media experience than ever before, and social networking addicts are well taken care of, too.
But you are better off using it the middle of a nice 3G-covered city. Maybe on a high floor.