Firstly, a note to all our CrackBerrys friends: relax, it's still huge. BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) defy the recent slimming trends in mobile devices, and while the Bold may shave a millimetre off the dimensions of its forerunners, the difference isn't significant. This, of course, means plenty of room for the important things, like the full QWERTY keyboard.
RIM has definitely maintained the high level of expected quality with the BlackBerry Bold. The keyboard is the most notable example of this. We've tested most of the QWERTY keyboards on offer in 2008 and the Bold is still head and shoulders above them all. Each key is large (comparatively speaking) and features a tapered indentation which helps to define and separate these buttons. In the weeks we've had testing the Bold we've rarely found ourselves using the "backspace" key to correct typos from miss-striking the keyboard.
Similar to the BlackBerry Pearl series, the Bold makes use of a trackball for navigation. For the most part this style of menu navigation works well, although we did turn down the default sensitivity to help us move about the menus more accurately. When viewing Web pages, the trackball is excellent for scanning the page horizontally and vertically.
Surely the most outstanding physical feature of the Bold is its amazing display. This screen features an orthodox WQVGA resolution (480x320) positioned in landscape for widescreen media playback. At the launch of the Bold we watched several pre-installed video files, including the cinematic trailer for Speed Racer, and were astounded by the colour and clarity produced by this display.
It's been a long time coming, but we finally have a BlackBerry with HSDPA fast internet data transfers. In unison with inbuilt Wi-Fi, the data speeds make the Bold a strong competitor in the handheld internet stakes, indeed it would make it one of the best were it not for a cumbersome browser. The Bold also features an on-board GPS receiver but likewise suffers from terrible preloaded BlackBerry Maps.
In the past, BlackBerrys have been considered class-leading messaging handsets, and in this department the Bold doesn't disappoint. Setting up a new email account couldn't be simpler than with the Bold; just punch in your email address and password and let the phone search through a massive database of known servers for all the necessary settings.
The Bold also features the best camera in a BlackBerry to date, a 2-megapixel shooter matched with an LED photolight for illuminating those trendy inner city bars you lounge in after a long week behind your desk. As you put your feet up on the weekend the Bold will also come in handy with a 3.5mm headphone input, meaning you can plug in your favourite headphones to listen to music or when you're watching videos.
The BlackBerry handset performance has been excellent in recent releases. The Pearl 8120 impressed us with its zippy performance, and in this regard the Bold stands up well. Featuring a 628MHz ARM processor, the Bold has more than enough power to handle everyday tasks lag free, and enough grunt so that graphics heavy processes, like video playback and Web page rendering, execute without extended pauses.
Perhaps more important to maintaining the BlackBerry reputation is ensuring excellent battery life, and again RIM has succeeded, with the Bold showing some of the longest battery cycles for smartphones with its range of connectivity features. During our tests we've maintained 3.5G and Wi-Fi connectivity, enabled push email on two separate services, and made moderate use of calls and messaging, and had enjoyed at least three days between charges.
As we mentioned briefly above, some of BlackBerry's own software solutions could do with some improvements. The BlackBerry browser is OK and renders pages well, but navigating standard pages, zooming and selecting links, could definitely be streamlined. That said, the screen is so sharp and clear that zooming is almost completely non-existent. As for mapping and navigation you may be stuck with Google Maps for the time being. Checking the coverage of BlackBerry's pre-installed mapping software shows us that Australian maps aren't included. There are a few third-party mapping solutions available, including one from Garmin, but be prepared to pay extra for the privilege.
The Bold is a logical and exciting step forward for the BlackBerry line, and fans won't be disappointed. Everything we've loved about BlackBerrys of old is present in the Bold (yes, including Brickbreaker), plus there's a couple of new tricks tossed in for good measure. The handset looks fantastic, though we could stand for it to be a tad slimmer, and some of BlackBerry's software needs further revision to make it as easy to use as the competition.
The BlackBerry Bold will be available through Optus, Vodafone and Telstra from the last week of August. Optus has announced it will sell the Bold on an AU$79 per month BlackBerry services plan, plus AU$10 per month in handset repayments. This is more expensive than you can expect to pay for other smartphones, like Nokia's E71, but then you don't care, right? Your boss is paying for it.