BlackBerry Bold 9930 $99
19th Mar 2013 | 20:31
Questionably bold in 2011, and no better with time
Introduction and design
BlackBerry has recently made strides in overhauling its brand with the BlackBerry Z10, which serves as a strong smartphone candidate that's still a few steps behind its top Android and Apple competition. However, the Z10 is an admission from the company that the days of physical keyboards on headline devices are in the past.
For those who still demand the tactile response of little plastic keys rather than their touch counterparts, the BlackBerry Bold 9930 from 2011 remains available on Verizon's 3G network. But after nearly two years of advancement from competitors and now BlackBerry itself, is this business-focused handheld still worth hoisting?
Compared to the chunkier builds of earlier BlackBerry devices, the Bold 9930 is a sleek little number with a largely premium-feeling build (thanks to brushed metal along the edges). It stands at 4.5 inches tall and 2.6 inches across, with a thickness of just 0.41 inches and a fairly slim weight of 4.59 ounces.
With nearly half of the device face taken up by the full QWERTY keyboard, physical buttons, and the small trackpad/button combo, the display measures only 2.8 inches, and the 640x480 resolution certainly sounds meager. But due to the small size, it's actually quite clear; not up to Retina standards, but close, with solid contrast and sharp text and graphics.
Much of the appeal of the device comes from its physical keyboard, and luckily it's a stellar performer in use. The individual buttons are responsive, as well as nicely differentiated via lightly curved surfaces based on intended thumb usage. If you can't live without a physical keyboard on your smartphone, the Bold 9930's is a very solid one indeed.
Above the keyboard are four physical buttons that respectively (from left) let you make or answer a call, open up a menu, dial back a screen, and either end a call or power off the phone. Right in the middle of those buttons is a hybrid touchpad button that lets you navigate menus in place of tapping the touchscreen.
On the upper right of the phone are volume up, mute, and down buttons in succession, while the bottom half has a convenience button that by default serves as a physical shutter button for the camera, though its use can be customized. Up top is the lock screen button, while the headphone jack and USB port are on the left side. And on the upper right front of the phone is a notification light that blinks as needed.
The Bold 9930 comes with 8GB of internal storage, but you'll be offered only a tiny fraction of it – after the OS takes its chunk, we had less than 200MB to play with. Luckily, up to a 32GB microSD card can be used, which fits behind the battery under the back cover, and it's pretty much a necessity for non-casual users.
Perhaps thanks to the smaller display, battery life on the BlackBerry Bold 9930 is quite nice. It's rated at more than 7.5 hours of talk time and upwards of two weeks of standby time, and in our regular usage, it easily lasted a couple of days' worth of emails, web browsing, and other common tasks.
Interface, contacts, and calling
The Bold 9930 runs a version of the BlackBerry 7 OS, which to Android Jelly Bean or iOS 6 users might look like an evolved version of a feature phone interface. It's a very simplified approach, but for a screen this compact, such a streamlined interface makes sense.
Apps and utilities are found below in the navigation bar, which you can tap to pull up a wider selection or swipe left or right to access favorite, commonly used, media, and downloaded apps.
Notifications, meanwhile, are found beneath the time, which is where you'll see emails, messages, and social networking alerts with tiny icons that trigger a larger list when tapped. To the right of notifications is a search icon that'll seek queries on both the phone and web, and the optional voice-based search option works well.
Despite its 1.2Ghz processor and 768MB of RAM – seemingly solid stats for a UI this simple – the Bold 9930 has a tendency to get bogged down at times, particularly when installing apps or playing with the settings. Occasional touches of the screen weren't recognized, as well, which proved frustrating.
If you're not upgrading from an earlier BlackBerry device, as well, it's likely to feel like an awkward interface, with the mix of touchscreen, touchpad, and physical button interactions making getting around just a bit more confusing than it should be. It feels like the slightly confused middle step between the BlackBerry of old and the new touch-centric approach.
Contacts and calling
Contacts are added easily and feature a long list of potential fields to fill, including name, title, BlackBerry PIN, custom ring tones, and nickname, plus the option to add even more custom fields. You can also send out contact cards to others via email, PIN, text message, or Bluetooth, if desired.
While the Bold 9930 is limited to 3G service, we found the call quality to be very solid in use, with clear voice coming through the receiver and our counterparts on the other line reporting likewise performance.
Messaging, email, Internet
As a keyboard-toting handset, the Bold 9930 is well equipped right out of the gate for ample messaging. The phone handles regular SMS text messages with ease, for conversations with owners of other devices, but expectedly BlackBerry Messenger is the route to go when chatting with fellow BlackBerry users.
The service allows BlackBerry owners to swap instant messages, with delivered and read notifications, plus you can share photos and files, conduct voice calls over Wi-Fi, and share information from other apps and social networking services. It's a direct lifeline to friends and associates who share your OS preference.
BlackBerry's inbox delivers a mix of new emails and Facebook and Twitter notifications, which can either make it a useful epicenter of activity or just a bit cluttered, depending on your needs. Scrolling through emails via the touchpad is a nice ability, though, and helps you breeze down the lists with ease.
Reading the actual emails can be a cramped experience, though, due to the size of the screen and the fact that it sometimes displays the contents zoomed in too far. Additionally, having to pull up a menu each time to display images is disappointing. It's a serviceable client, overall, though one limited by the hardware.
As with email, browsing the web suffers on the Bold 9930 due in large part to the display size. Mobile versions of sites typically only show a fraction of the page, while the full versions – despite the visual clarity – are displayed too zoomed-out to comfortably navigate.
The touchpad serves as an optional mouse pointer during browsing, though, which is a helpful boost for more precise (though slower) movement, and the built-in browser does allow for multiple tabs. It's just not a very smooth or comfortable browsing experience in general.
Camera, maps, and apps
At just 5-megapixels, the Bold 9930's camera isn't designed for much more than snapping quick shots and sending them to friends and family. The photos we took often looked grainy and had considerable noise in the backdrops. On the upside, the convenience button can be used as a physical shutter button, but don't expect to pull any spectacular images here.
Likewise, the video footage we shot with the camera didn't particularly impress with clarity. It's rated at 720p, but we wouldn't recommend using the camera for more than quick clips for personal use.
BlackBerry's built-in maps software is a remarkably sparse offering – one that lacks anything resembling a satellite or street view, plus there's no public transit info. It'll find your location with GPS and map you to a destination via vehicle directions, but it doesn't do much more than the absolute basics.
Luckily, there's an easy fix. Simply navigate yourself to Google Maps in the web browser, download the app when prompted, and enjoy the fully featured maps program whenever you need it.
The Bold 9930 comes preloaded with a handful of useful apps, including Twitter and Facebook – both of which are limited by the display size, but usable – plus YouTube, Documents to Go, various IM services, and a couple of simple games. Naturally, more are available for download and/or purchase online.
Navigating a messy, sluggish interface when there's a suitable reward at the end is bearable. Doing so when the contents within are lacking is utterly frustrating. Sadly, the latter is the case with BlackBerry App World, the terribly designed and lag-filled app store offering found within the Bold 9930.
We frequently found App World to freeze for numerous seconds at a time during navigation, while installation of a tiny app would sometimes take several minutes to complete and essentially halt all other operation of the phone in the meantime. Sadly, there's little worth finding on App World. Headline apps and games from other phones are almost completely MIA; what you'll find instead are lazy knock-offs and other limited-use offerings.
When the BlackBerry Bold 9930 debuted in 2011, it was already seen as a device to hold the company's users over until it took the plunge with a new OS. Now that the Z10 has ushered in a new era for BlackBerry and other manufacturers have made strides in the meantime, the Bold 9930 can't help but feel dramatically dated.
BlackBerry continues to hold significant appeal for business and government users due to its enterprise controls and framework, and the Bold 9930 remains an option for those folks who also want tactile keys.
It's obvious from a glance: the keyboard is a huge selling point for the Bold 9930, and luckily it's a stellar option. The rounded keys feel good under thumbs, and make it easy to hammer out messages and emails.
The slim build is a step up from past BlackBerry models, and with the brushed metal sides making it seem like a premium handset.
Much as the screen impresses with its clarity, the small size makes many common tasks feel very constricted. The screen dimensions particularly limit reading email and surfing the web, and even tapping items on the condensed interface can be a hit-or-miss venture.
Despite the 1.2Ghz processor, the BlackBerry 7 OS hits odd spurts of slowdown, which can freeze up the device. Even when it's running well, the 3G connection makes for very slow web browsing and downloads when not using Wi-Fi.
BlackBerry App World is terribly designed service that holds little of worth within. And the device gives you very little free space to utilize as it is, with less than 200MB available from the 8GB total of internal storage. A microSD card is essential.
We could see the BlackBerry Bold 9930 being a suitable freebie phone on contract for business users or keyboard aficionados who don't plan on doing much beyond emailing, messaging, calling, and occasional web browsing.
But at the regular going rate of $99.99 with a two-year agreement, even the stellar keyboard and solid build can't justify the price or commitment with so many better and more capable phones on the market. It's still available for purchase, but nearly two years after its debut, the Bold 9930 hasn't aged well – it just feels old.