BlackBerry Bold 9900

10th Aug 2011 | 16:29

BlackBerry Bold 9900

Finally some top-end specs. Has BlackBerry ripened with age?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

The Bold 9900 is certainly bold in its ambition. It may fail in some places, but in the most part, it really impresses.

Like:

Slimmest BlackBerry ever; 8GB of built in memory; Amazing screen clarity; Proven reliability of email; NFC capable

Dislike:

OS 7 not much better than OS 6; No Flash video; Camera snaps could be better; Social networking could be better integrated; Function buttons are fiddly

Overview and design

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 comes as something of a shock. You see, for years, BlackBerry has, in a sense, been catching up. That's not a dig at its parent company – it's practically royalty in push email and corporate handset circles. But it has been rare for RIM to lead the way.

Cameras, internet browsing, HTML emails – all were included on RIM's phones years after they'd become standard fare on other handsets. For recent examples of decent phones that didn't really push the envelope all that far, just take a look at the Bold 9780 and 9700.

But the Bold 9000 finally offers some cutting-edge tech, and in an attractive package to boot. Its 1.2GHz processor, high-spec touchscreen, brand new OS7 and HD video camera are all specs we never really expected a BlackBerry to have before the next millennium.

Plus, the staple BlackBerry offerings of a fantastic keyboard and top-notch security will keep regular users interested.

We've taken some time to bring you a few moving pictures to go with the words - think of it as a sidekick to our superhero prose:

And if you're stuck deciding between this and the two other recently released BlackBerry phones, never fear - we've got an enlightening group test to pit the Torch 9860, Torch 9810 and Bold 9900 against each other to see which takes your fancy:

For once, RIM is taking the initiative, thanks to the inclusion of a near field communication chip – a fairly new technology that's been talked about for years. RIM is the first to properly take the plunge and add the tech in, while the others dilly-dally about whether to include it.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

The question is: can the 9900 really compete in an already very crowded, and competitive, market?

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Pick up the Bold 9900 and you'll definitely know about it. It's 130g, so it's by no means feather-light. But would you want it any other way? Ultimately, this is a handset that's supposed to feel like it means business, and at least it feels lighter than you expect it to be.

RIM's also bucked the trend in making a phone that's bigger than its predecessor, the 9780. In fact, it's like looking at a smaller version of Ol' Grandpa Bold, the original 9900 – albeit smaller than that huge elder statesman and with a trackpad instead of a trackball.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review: side by side comparision

At 115 x 66 x 10.5 mm, you can slide it into your pocket without too much bulk. In fact, that's one of the 9900's key selling points; RIM says this is the slimmest BlackBerry yet.

It probably is on paper, but due to the design and the way that the back protrudes out slightly, it looks a bit thicker than it is.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

The high-gloss screen is surrounded by a brushed metal border, while the rear is made of a combination of matte plastic and glass. The rear cover isn't so much a cover but a door that easily pops out of the centre, enabling you to throw in your SIM card and memory card (which is not hot swappable, even after all this time).

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

With 8GB of internal storage and an option to increase that to 32GB, this is a handset that doesn't scrimp on memory.

The right-hand side of the 9900 has four buttons. Three of them are clustered together with the top and bottom ones acting as volume up and down and the middle used to pause media, which is a nice touch and saves you having to muck about on screen.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

There's also a camera shortcut button, which you can, as always, change to open something else on your 9900 should you wish. There is no second convenience key on the left, which we will admit that we miss.

That's your lot, because the left-hand side is reserved for ports, including a micro USB charging and syncing port, the latter of which we can't help feeling looks a bit naked, since you get the illusion of being able to see right inside it. Plus there's a 3.5mm headphone slot.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

The beauty here is that the headphone jack creates what seems like an unnatural lip in the contours of the back, but this gives you something to rest your fingers against as you hold the 9900 in your hand.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Up top, there's the lock button, which is aesthetically placed in the middle and conveniently situated so that your finger hits it without effort. RIM has obviously thought this through and little touches like this go a long way in our eyes.

On the front is an incredibly sharp touchscreen. It's 640 x 480 pixels over 2.8 inches and easily looks as good as anything with 'Retina' branding.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

We love it. Icons feel like they float above the wallpaper, whites are white and text looks fantastic. In fact, we never thought we'd say this, but RIM's basic black text on white background when reading emails (boring, maybe) looks brilliant.

The touchscreen is capacitive and highly responsive. Whether most BlackBerry users will migrate to it is another matter - we found ourselves reaching for the trackpad regularly for navigation, although the internet is certainly an area where we prefer to caress the screen.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

If we have one criticism, it's that we're not big fans of the buttons below the screen. The usual BlackBerry suspects are there (call, menu, back and terminate call) and they're all moulded into one big section, which makes you think they may be touch sensitive.

They certainly look like they are. But they're not and when you use the frankly excellent QWERTY keyboard, your fingers aren't able to glide over them but have to be raised up, then brought across and down to set your choice into action.

At the time of writing, the Bold 9900 is not on the shelves yet, but for a SIM-free model, you're looking at forking out about £500 based on pre-order prices with the big online retailers.

This puts it right at the top end of BlackBerry's range, which is where the Bold has always been since it was introduced to the family. Contract prices are still to follow, but they won't be cheap. We can't help feeling you'll struggle to get this as a free upgrade on anything less than a £30-£35 a month with a two-year plan.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Competitor-wise, BlackBerry has always been a bit of its own entity, a bit like the posh child from down the road who desperately wants to fit in and play with the cool kids, but can never shake off their label.

RIM is, however, a master of its own arts: email and security. That's why we can't imagine a day when we'll see the suits in Canary Wharf carrying anything else other than a BlackBerry.

Yet, we've watched the strategy change recently, with the introduction of the Curve range, the pushing of the BBM messaging app as a credible tool for teens and the desperation to get some BlackBerries included in the recipe for that ever-popular social media pie.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Although BlackBerries want to be cool, they're always going to have that air of being too classy about them. This isn't such a bad thing for the Bold 9900, which is the kind of handset you imagine anybody who wants to look like they're anybody will have.

We imagine RIM's biggest competitors will be its own Bold 9770/9780 (after two years, though, we think this is starting to look tired now) as well as other business-led communicators such as Nokia's own very credible E6, which currently doesn't command too much of the market. In this sense, RIM has much of the sector to itself.

Interface

The big selling point of the Bold 9900 is the same as the Torch touted last year – this is the first device to offer BlackBerry's newest OS.

For weeks, every sign for the Torch we saw proclaimed it was the "only handset running new OS 6". Pah! How very last year. In fact, the Bold 9900 runs the brand spanking new OS 7. That's just as well, since as we've previously reported, OS 7's hardware requirements mean it won't be coming to older models.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review: os 7

Cosmetically, OS 7 takes its cues from the PlayBook. Gone is the standard blue-and-white grid format that we got in OS5 and, to a certain extent, an updated version of in OS6. The icons on OS7 are all very much individual. In fact, it looks a little bit of a mishmash and we couldn't help thinking of the busy look that OS4 provided when you had the app drawer open in the old days.

There's no kind of uniformity here and, while we are big fans of the clarity of icons, we have to admit we think this is where it all looks a bit cheap. We know die-hard BlackBerry fans will be left open-mouthed at that statement, but it's all about first impressions.

Aside from that, although there have been some tweaks, it doesn't feel that revolutionary. This does not look like a new OS by any stretch of the imagination. It looks like an updated version of OS6 and should probably be marketed as OS6.5 rather than getting its own new number.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review: os 7

As before, you have numerous app drawers you can swipe through (favourites, recent, downloaded and so on), although you can now manage which ones you want to see via the menu.

We found these drawers to be a bit pointless and distracting on our old 9780, so are glad this option is here. RIM has also decided to remove the option to have two rows of icons on the home screen from the preferences, so you're now stuck with one.

As before, you can search anywhere within the phone using the keyboard, which is kind of like smart dialling, but searches through more than just your phone book.

When OS7 was announced, we were told that it would be easier and faster to use. And there's no doubt that it is faster. Whether that's down to the 1.2GHz processor under the bonnet, or tweaks in the code of the OS, we don't know (probably both). But next to our ageing 9780, the Bold 9900 zips along and leaves its elderly relative barely able to keep up.

BlackBerry bold 9900: search

Also promised on the original press release was the option of voice-activated searching (the web as well as your own content.) We admit we struggled to find this option on the Bold 9900 we were provided with. It could be that it didn't make the final cut, or could be a future update - but we saw no evidence of it.

BlackBerry operating systems have always been among the more complex to get to grips with when compared to iOS or Android. Not difficult to pick up per se, but so customisable that it can all become a little overwhelming (trying to change custom notifications for individual apps can land you with a spell in The Priory).

BlackBerry bold 9900: os 7

If you're buying the 9900 just for the basics, you'll get by OK with OS 7, but then the chances are you won't be buying this phone anyway.

We imagine anybody willing to spend the cash in order to get their hands with a premium handset like the 9900 will be doing it because they want the more advanced features. Come prepared with either past experience or the willingness to put in a little effort.

Other than that, there's nothing really that different in here unless you count a few updated icons within the settings menu and tweaks to the browser, which we'll mention later.

Don't get us wrong, though – there is nothing bad about this OS. We would much rather have it than OS6. But it just feels like a bit of a let down that not much appears to have changed. Even a couple of extra themes in there would have been nice to just to whet our appetites. Alas, no.

Contacts and calling

If you're looking for any signs of revolution in the contacts section, you'll be disappointed. Maybe RIM has decided not to fix what it doesn't think is broken, or maybe it just got lazy. Either way, contacts are the same as they were on OS 6.

In fact, we went through every single option in there and did so on our OS 6-running 9780 and not one single option has changed as far as we can see.

Again, that's not to say that the offering here is bad, because it definitely isn't. BlackBerry's contacts handling system is as top-notch as it always has been – albeit, a little boring cosmetically.

BlackBerry bold 9900: contacts

Firstly, getting contacts on the phone is a cinch. You have either the BlackBerry Enterprise Server option, via Google over the air or using the sync software. We copied our contacts over in seconds via cable and they were all there as they should be when we checked - something RIM has improved massively in recent years.

Contacts are listed with thumbnails. If you have a photo of the person, it looks great. If, like us, some do have pictures and some don't, then you'll just have what looks like an untidy phonebook with lots of missing images in your list.

BlackBerry bold 9900: contacts

Within a contact field, you can put any bit of information you require, ranging from date of birth to anniversaries, address, phone, email details plus custom information if you want to keep a note of their dog's name.

Calling a person is easy: just type their name in from the home screen and smart dialing kicks in, or do it via the contacts app. You can also add shortcuts to people to dial on your home screen, a feature that our iOS-loving friends still miss out on, unless they want to go around the houses using third party apps and web shortcuts.

BlackBerry bold 9900: in call

When in a call, you get the usual options, such as hold, add participant and so on. There's nothing new here. And the call quality is, as you'd expect from BlackBerry, pretty good.

It's clear as a bell, loud on both speaker and handset modes, and there's even the option to increase bass. The Bold 9900 can hold onto a signal and that is, of course, one of the basics a manufacturer should always get right.

Alas, despite this being a 3G phone, if you're looking for any form of video calling on the 9900, forget it. It seems BlackBerry has no time for FaceTime - although we can't see too many getting upset about this.

Indeed, there doesn't appear to be much integration with social networks here either. The Facebook and Twitter apps are largely a separate entity. The example of Android and the excellent integration into the likes of HTC Sense hasn't been followed here.

For a business handset, we can understand it, but for an OS that is also geared towards the social networkers, this is a massive omission. While you can input Facebook and Twitter info to contacts, this is manually done via the app and lacks the simple and automatic integration of other operating systems - step it up, RIM.

Messaging

News that will come as a relief to RIM fans: the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is as excellent as always for messaging.

Multiple email accounts are possible and you can use BIS (BlackBerry Internet Server) or BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) depending on your/your employer's needs. It's all easy to set up and most operators will even give you a helping hand over the phone (they're nice like that).

You can customise how you want it to look and can have your emails separate from BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), or from your SMS or throw the whole lot together into a consolidated inbox. It's not really much different to what we've seen before, but once again everything just seems to work.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

BBM is one of the big success stories of recent years for RIM. Its proprietary messaging app was always there, but nobody really used it for a long time. Then came the relaunch, the advertising campaign and now it is one of the main selling points – particularly to the younger market.

And as a staple part of the OS it is, of course, present in OS 7. It's been slightly updated but there's not really anything to message home about.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Remember how we told you how disappointed we were with the low levels of integration between contacts and social networks? Well, we have dried our eyes enough now to tell you that's not the case with messaging. Hurrah! Get yourself a tweet or a Facebook message and it'll appear in your inbox.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

While we're on the subject of Facebook, can we just say a big fat hooray? After what seems like years of the same old (bland-looking) app, Facebook has finally been given a makeover. This all-new look is such an improvement.

There's now a drop-down grid that gives you access to all of the major functions and it just looks so much better. It's been a while in the making, but this is how it should have always been. Facebook places, Facebook chat, photo slideshows, an improved news feed – the list goes on.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Twitter is also sporting a new look. It's not as radical as the Facebook one, but still a little prettier. The improvements are more basic and include a lighter colour scheme, the option to hide the tweet composer in the home timeline and so on. Nevertheless, they're all welcome. As for that display, again it really sets the Twitter app off.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

BlackBerry's own Social Feeds app is also present, although we feel that this is a waste of time and memory. When you click on any feed, it takes you to the relevant app anyway and we were unable to open it after the first instance without restarting the Bold 9900.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Other IM methods, including Google Talk, Yahoo and Windows Live, are on board and you can always add others within seconds.

As for typing, we can comfortably say that we think this is the best BlackBerry keyboard RIM has ever offered up. It's same old BlackBerry but has more of a matte finish than the gloss of the 9700/9780, which makes it easier for fingers to grip and key presses give a satisfying click.

Not only that, because it's slightly bigger than the 9700/9780 (which we have used with ease), we found that it was the perfect size and couldn't believe how quickly we were bashing out lengthy messages on it.

Internet

It wasn't until the launch of OS 6 that BlackBerry really managed to convince us you could surf the web on one of its devices. Quite frankly, the older browser was appalling.

OS 6 came along boasting of its WebKit prowess, but it still wasn't enormously quick on the 9700/9780 and navigating pages was a bit of a bore because of the device's screen size.

Apparently, part of the attraction to OS7 is its increased web capabilities. According to the PR blurb we should expect general level performance gains from Liquid Graphics, which should deliver faster rendering and seamless panning and zooming, plus the bonus of a JIT (just in time) JavaScript compiler to improve the load time speed of web pages.

We really, really wanted this to be true. However, our findings weren't as promising as RIM's.

Firstly, the good news: pages, when loaded, do look great. That's mainly due to the resolution. So even though the screen isn't as large as iPhone or Android handsets, that's not a problem.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

But in our experience, pages didn't load as quickly as they do over other handsets - the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S2 both had the edge in side by side tests, although the Bold 9900 is definitely a step forward.

When the page did load, we panned around using the touchscreen - although here we encountered a problem as the screen sometimes proved unresponsive and the display didn't follow our finger.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Another issue was the page rendering - when we zoomed in on an article and then scrolled down, we were frequently shown the dreaded white and grey checked background.

It was only momentary, but it spoiled the experience somewhat, and we're getting used to not seeing it with today's dual core offerings.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Don't get us started on Flash though, or rather the lack of it. We don't buy the excuses that it's horrendously buggy, since our Samsung Galaxy S2 and HTC Incredible S have managed it for months.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

RIM, if you're going to bang on to us about how this phone has such a great processor, then also give us one of the basic elements of modern web browsing.

So what if it supports HTML5? Both that and Flash should be included as standard and we should not even have to write this paragraph again on another review. It should just be there, like the speaker, the hang up key and an internal antenna.

At least RIM has updated the bookmarks – so instead of getting them in a list format, you get little thumbnails of all of your sites. The same goes for your history.

The browser now isn't too far off the rest of the competition when it comes to a competent browsing experience; it just needs a couple of iterations further (and in this case, a larger screen) to be considered class leading.

Camera

BlackBerry bold 9900

To be fair to BlackBerry, the camera on the Bold 9900 isn't its main selling point. Which is just as well, because it's pretty average.

What we're given is a 5MP snapper – the same as we had on the 9900's predecessor, the Bold 9780. It's not too shabby but also not very adventurous, considering that various phones (including the iPhone 4, which is more than a year old) come with that spec.

Thankfully, it comes with an LED light too, which makes things a little bit better in darker conditions.

Having said that, pictures taken on the Bold 9900 at max resolution are actually slightly smaller than those taken on the 9780 (2560 x 1920 versus 2592 x 1944).

The camera app is exactly the same as before. The only notable exception is that the autofocus option has disappeared from the menu. We assume this is because it is now automatic. If that is the case, somebody really needs to tell it, because on several occasions it didn't bother to rise to the challenge. We reckon a touchscreen should come with tap-to-focus functionality too, but that wasn't present here.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Photographs taken in good light reproduced well and colours were fairly representative. Those taken close up in normal light with the LED on auto mode seemed to be bathed in something that made everything look more yellow than in real life. We thought our dog was auditioning for The Simpsons at one point.

In pitch black, the LED light does its job well, picking out images from complete darkness. Whack it into a low light setting or just turn the light off completely and you'll see that objects are almost impossible to see.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

There are various snapper modes from face detection to sports, landscape and party. In reality, we noticed little difference.

As a phone camera, it's manageable, but you won't be taking it as your only one on holiday. We're sad that for such a premium handset, an average 5MP camera with last season's software is all RIM could manage to give us.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Close up, our image looked quite yellow and looked slightly blurred even with minimal movement.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Colours reproduced well but the autofocus couldn't seem to get out of bed.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Taken in good light with artificial lamp ahead. The image looks slightly grainy when it shouldn't considering the conditions.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

In pitch black, the LED light picked out our show-off frog with little difficulty.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

In macro mode, text wasn't focused on automatically which made us wonder what the point was in having it

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Some images seemed overly processed and the colour in direct sunlight wasn't true to life. This blue ended up looking more grey,

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Same here – this was daylight at 2pm on a bright day but looks like some kind of filter has been applied.

Video

But while the Bold 9900 won't be boasting about its stills snapper, at least it can about the video recorder. Because this baby comes equipped with a HD video snapper.

Whereas before users could only shoot in a maximum VGA resolution (640 x 480), now, by default, the Bold 9780 will happily film away in glorious 1280 x 720.

YouTube logo

Videos shot in good light came out well. When you go from light to darkness, it copes admirably and fixes the shot as appropriate. But in dark settings, you'll have to turn the light on, otherwise you may as well forget it. This is no great surprise and we can't hold it against RIM.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

What we can hold against the company, though, is the act of turning that light on, because it's all a bit of a pain.

Despite there being a shortcut on the screen, our unit didn't actually let us click it. So we had to go into the options, tick to turn the light on, accept the mandatory warning that the light will use battery life, click save, go back and start recording again. Worse, that process automatically ends your recording, which is annoying.

We can't help feeling that if RIM had spent more time concentrating on getting these little things right and less time on banging on about processors and the new OS, the video app could have been much better.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

As it is, although the video is HD, the actual experience is only really adequate. Interestingly, files are encoded as 3GP rather than the MPEG format we'd have expected.

And you'll have to email all videos to share them via direct messages, because a good 30 seconds worth of footage will be around 40MB (way above the 300k limit most operators impose on MMS.) Alternatively, you could transfer them via the cable or use an app such as Dropbox. At least you're presented with various options.

Media

RIM knows that media is a big selling point and that to challenge the prominence of the iPhone (which is itself trying to encroach on RIM territory), it has to get this right.

With the BB lines being targeted at media-savvy youngsters, it's good to know that RIM hasn't completely ignored this category and what we have is a perfectly respectable media experience. It's pretty much the same as the previous model, but it does just work.

Syncing with the official software even lets you get your iTunes playlists across with full recognition of names in the right places (Android users will be familiar with this pain) and copy across all non-DRM protected purchases. Syncing music is fairly speedy over USB.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

But if you plan on syncing video, make sure you do it overnight, because even copying a five-minute piece took a good half an hour due to the fact it was doing some kind of optimisation. Not good if you're in a hurry and also not good because you can't use your phone for anything else while the 9900 is plugged into the computer.

Memory wise, you have 8GB plus a maximum of 32GB memory card option, which beats the top iPhone model (for now) and there's no reason that this can't take the place of an iPod.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

We love how you can not only create playlists on the phone, but also create automatic playlists based on particular criteria or algorithms. That and the fact that album art transfers perfectly and looks great on the Bold 9900's amazing screen is a real feather in its cap.

Sound quality is brilliant through headphones and we had high hopes for the on-board speaker, remembering how fantastic music sounded on our original Bold 9000.

Although it was loud, the bass got a little bit too carried away with itself on certain songs (Adele's 'Rolling In The Deep' really suffered) and made them sound terrible. But there was also something else we noticed.

Now, we promise you we haven't had a drink. Nor have we taken a knock to the head. But when we listened to certain songs, we actually heard bits of them we'd never heard before. It may sound odd, but it's true.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

For example, 'Bright Lights Big City' by Cee Lo Green begins with quite a large orchestral piece. We've played that song hundreds of times through an iPhone and a home stereo, but only when listening to it on the BlackBerry Bold 9900 did we notice some of the strings and layers we'd never clocked before.

Whether it's the way the music is processed or recorded or whether it's just down to the equaliser is anybody's guess, but it sounded amazing and we were sold.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Watching video back is a pleasure too. The blacks are black, whites are white and again the audio is very well represented. In fact, when you get your videos on here, the only reason you would choose not to watch them would be because of the screen size.

However, making the screen bigger would change the form factor and alter the phone from what it is meant to be, so the company has done its best with what it's got and the result looks good and works well.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

We tried all the major formats and didn't manage to throw the Bold 9900 off course. We doubt you'll be watching full movies on it, though. For a quick burst of YouTube or short clips, the Bold 9900 does a champion job.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Speaking of YouTube, if you're a fan, you'll be pleased to know there's a YouTube icon on board. Then you'll probably be dismayed that still it is merely a link to the YouTube mobile site and not a fully functioning app.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

There is no FM radio either. Not that there ever has been on a BlackBerry, but lots of people do like to listen to the radio on their phones. In the end, we downloaded the TuneIn Radio app and streamed stations instead - but RIM needs to add this feature in as a large number of people like to use it, in our experience.

Battery life and connectivity

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

For years, nothing could compare to BlackBerry battery life. The phones truly were the proverbial workhorses, able to last for days and days. In fact, aside from the legendary Nokia 6310, many would say BlackBerry battery life was unmatched.

Sadly, that's changed over recent years as the colour screens, cameras and other signs of the 21st century have arrived on Planet RIM. They're still good for a day or so, though, which is more than can be said about certain Android handsets. That's not bad, but it's not amazing either.

We're still sad to see that the Bold 9900 only comes with a 1230mAh battery. That's less than the 1300mAh of the Torch 9800 and significantly smaller than the 1500mAh which came with the original Bold 9000.

RIM may argue that OS7 is more battery-friendly, but let's not forget that this handset is also packing a 1.2GHz processor and that's bound to have an effect on battery life.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

We don't understand what RIM was thinking. Yes, this may be the slimmest BlackBerry ever, but is that because they have scrimped on battery size? And if so, is that the right approach for a flagship handset that's evidently aimed at the power user?

In reality, our battery got us through a day with moderately heavy use. Namely, it was taken off charge at 6:30am and since that point we got a few emails pinging in, 26 messages sent (between text and email), about half a dozen photos and videos shot, music was played on a 45 minute journey via headphones, we made 30 mins worth of calls and did about half an hour's (painful) web browsing over 3G and Wi-Fi. By 11pm, it was down to 10%.

That's fairly respectable but if you have a really heavy day, you may need to keep a portable charger with you. Luckily, like so many handsets these days, the Bold 9900 charges over micro USB and with cables cheap as chips, it's no great hardship to keep one in your bag or work drawer to connect the phone to your computer to charge over USB.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Connectivity-wise, we have the usual suspects: HSDPA 3G and HSUPA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS. Bluetooth is not just reserved for calls but also streamed music wirelessly to our stereo via A2DP which we were very happy with.

The Wi-Fi signal was strong and we had no problems with the speeds of our T-Mobile 3G signal, although we did have page loading delays which we mentioned earlier.

Of course, the big plus here is NFC. Near field communication is to phone operators now what integrated GPS was back in 2007. All of the manufacturers are talking about it and telling us it's the future, yet BlackBerry is one of the first to bring it to market, which you really have to commend them for. In theory, the technology will let you use your phone to pay for goods by touching them against a sensor.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

We tried it years ago when O2 were trialling it using an older Nokia handset and it allowed us to use our phone as an Oyster pass (for those outside London, it's what is used to navigate the tube network.) We could definitely see the potential.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

In practice, it's not that much use yet, because nobody's really using it. It's nice to have and we are sure some retailers will use it as a selling point, but aside from bragging to friends you have an NFC mobile, we're slightly unsure what good it is. You may also look like a wally when said friends challenge you to show what it can do.

Maps and apps

If you're looking for fantastic mapping software, you can breathe a sigh of relief here. Don't panic, everybody, because the BlackBerry Bold 9900 comes preloaded with BlackBerry Maps.

We are, of course, joking. This is a dreadful piece of software. It's been shocking since the days of the BlackBerry Curve 8300 range, when we first encountered it, and it is still dreadful now. In fact, all that seems to have changed is the icon.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

We're genuinely perplexed as to what RIM sees in this programme. It's not as if it's ever been improved or gets better. It's been consistently bad. Why not divert resources to solving some of the other issues we've mentioned in this review and drop this rubbish? Anybody with any sense will immediately download Google Maps and be done with it.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

The good news is that when you do install some good mapping software, it can get a GPS fix very quickly. Still not as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S2 – which we have never been able to match – but it's definitely respectable. Even indoors without a view of the sky, the Bold 9900 knew where we were within 15 seconds and that was from a cold start.

In terms of other apps, there are a few new bits in there such as a new 'Smart Tags' programme, which is related to the in-built NFC technology and allows you to track all the tags your phone reads using the new tech.

There's also BlackBerry Protect to help keep your data secure – remember, security has always been one of RIM's biggest selling points, so there's no surprise it is cashing in on this.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

The usual suspects are in there too such as Tasks, Calculator, Password Keeper and a premium version of Documents To Go is present also, for which the corporate types will be grateful.

We do wish BlackBerry would update things at the other end of the scale, though: the games section comes with BrickBreaker and Word Mole.

While the latter has only been with us a few years, BrickBreaker has been present for so long that you have to compete against Moses for a highscore and what's more, apart from a very minor lick of paint, it still looks exactly the same.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

How about a couple of new games? Even the most hard-nosed of businesspeople like to have some brain dead time now and again.

Thankfully, you can download extra apps and games from App World, which is getting better. It may lack the oomph of Apple's App Store or Android's Market, but it is making some headway - although we doubt it will ever have the large numbers of the others' stores.

BlackBerry bold 9900 review

Apps are, we think, still hideously overpriced, but at least the choice is improving. There are also third parties, such as Handmark, who've offered BlackBerry downloads for years and continue to do so.

Verdict

BlackBerry bold 9900 review: front view

You may have noticed that we have spent a lot of this review moaning about certain aspects of the Bold 9900, but it's hard to completely chastise this phone, because what it does well, it does extremely well. It's just that certain parts feel like they have been completely forgotten about.

It's almost as though RIM has concentrated on a few features and thought the rest would take care of themselves. Luckily for it, most of the people who buy this handset will be doing so because they want the Bold 9900 for a specific reason.

And we suspect that they will be corporate types who want unchallenged email capabilities and security. The fact that they can boast of having the slimmest Blackberry ever may also help - but it needs more than that to be a real iPhone rival.

We liked

The Bold 9900 looks very cool and BlackBerry is a secure system that has proven to be useful and effective.

The screen borders on the magical, striking the perfect mix between stylish and functional. It's nice to have a touchscreen – even if we did forget it was there – and shooting in HD is a good addition. Plus, you know that in the majority of cases that what you're getting here will just work and work well. RIM has taken a proven formula and built on it.

We disliked

We were not enamoured by the browser, which still needs a little tweaking to make it really industry-leading. That's annoying, because we find we use our phones for surfing more than calling these days - although it's by far the best iteration RIM has ever popped on a BlackBerry

Battery life was adequate but not earth shattering, and we were disappointed that the camera still is only 5MP. What is this? 2009?

The interface isn't that much of an update either, and still needs something more to make it class leading. It feels like we're getting a stop-gap OS until the real power of QNX is realised, so let's just hope that RIM is still at the sharper end of the smartphone market when that opportunity rolls around.

Verdict

It's hard not to recommend the Bold 9900, because here we have a fantastic piece of kit that we can confidently describe as RIM's best BlackBerry to date. That's saying something, because the manufacturer has pumped out some cracking handsets over the years.

Yes, we're dismayed by the lack of a decent camera and slightly disappointed about the web browsing experience, but all of this is irrelevant if you're just buying this as a messaging device, which many people will. And if email is your bag, you can't do any better.

If you want this as a media player, it's definitely adequate and performs well - but given the smaller screen size, it's only really going to be used for music over video.

The Bold 9900 is certainly bold in its ambition. It may fail in some places, but in the most part, it really impresses. We can see this one shipping by the bucketload, especially compared to the keyboard-less Torch 9860, as it ticks all the normal boxes and adds in a premium chassis to boot.

Thanks toExpansys for our BlackBerry Bold 9900review handset.

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