Design and Build
It would be hard to claim that RIM has made a revolutionary leap forward in terms of design: a BlackBerry is a BlackBerry, after all. The company's habit of producing smart, sleek phones that do anything but stand out is a hangover from its days of targeting exclusively business users. There are, however, two or three little changes.
At 109 g, the new autumn-winter version of the Bold is now thinner and lighter than its predecessors and very easy to grip. The controls underneath the screen are now real physical buttons with a clear distinction between each one. They're much easier to reach, especially for users who like to be able to use some features without having to constantly look down at their phone.
The build quality is absolutely exemplary, with the rear covered in a soft-touch material that doesn't pick up greasy fingerprints. And even if you've been using it for a long time, the Bold 9790 won't slip out of your hands.
We would, however, have liked an easier way of getting to the SIM card. You might not have to change it very often, but on the rare occasions when you do, you'll need to pull out the battery, which really isn't very handy.
The 2.44'', 360 x 480 pixel multitouch display performed well in our lab. That's especially true when it came to colour reproduction, where it had a deltaE score of 3.9: a screen is considered to reproduce colours perfectly when it scores below 3.0 on this test. Compared to the bright garish colours found on smartphones with Super AMOLED screens, the Bold 9790 does well. The contrast is good too, with a contrast ratio of 1510:1, with deep blacks even if Super AMOLED-based phones—and especially Samsung's—go one better with infinitely deep blacks. Our final test, which looks at brightness, saw the Bold 9790 come in at 483 cd/m², meaning that it remains visible, even in bright sunlight. Overall, then, the display quality is more than acceptable, so ultimately, the real problem is one is the limited size, which will certainly make some multimedia apps less enjoyable than they otherwise would be.
We found that we didn't actually make much use of the touch-sensitive screen for accessing the interface, instead relying on the optical trackpad in between the screen and the keyboard, especially when we needed more accuracy. Of course, writing e-mails and messages always goes via the top-quality (and ultra-fast) physical keyboard.
The latest OS update has included several changes in the look and feel, often to accommodate the switch to touch-based navigation. It's not as intuitive as the QNX software found on RIM's PlayBook tablet, but until that's been ported to run on the company's smartphones, we have few complaints about the current interface, which is generally pretty logical and straightforward. The icons for various app categories can be stored together, but unfortunately can't be renamed or reorganised. Social networking and instant messaging are as popular as ever, so RIM has included a Social Feeds app that brings together accounts from services including Facebook, Twitter, Google Talk and MSN.
A 1 GHz processor for the BlackBerry Bold represents an upgrade based on the previous generation. During our tests, the handset didn't show a moment's hesitation, even when we were running several apps at once. Whether you're flipping through the menus, downloading a new app from BlackBerry AppWorld or simply browsing the web, the handset is very responsive. The new-look AppWorld is more attractive than it used to be, but it still offers fewer titles than its rivals from Apple and Android, and a lot of those that are on sale are very expensive.
We'll start the multimedia section by looking at the combined photo and video camera: with just 5 Megapixels, the Bold 9790 was never going to work miracles. Not only are 5 Megapixels just not enough, the non-backlit sensor just doesn't do much with what's it got to work with either. All we can say is that it is a little better than previous business-orientated smartphones. The photos we took suffered from a lot of electronic noise, especially in darker areas, and there's not much point in looking for too many details. If you're just looking to take a few snapshots to share by e-mail or on a social network, then the quality is good enough.
If, on the other hand, you fancied watching a DivX video on that tiny screen, you'll first of all need to go and download a proprietary app because there's no native support for the format in BlackBerry OS.
The headphone jack is on the left-hand side of the handset, which isn't the ideal location. We prefer to either find it on the top of a mobile, or else at the bottom (so that when you pull the phone out of your pocket to see what's playing, it's facing the right way up). The line out is nice and clean and keeps up with the standard set by the best smartphones. Be careful with the bass-boost feature: it might add a little extra oomph, but it also adds a lot of unwelcome distortion too.
The mobile Internet experience has also progressed: the browser is faster, but not as polished as the mobile versions of Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Opera.
With a screen this size, of course, gaming isn't that much fun. You might contend that the Bold 9790 is mostly aimed at professionals, but lots of them now want their mobile phone to be an all-rounder, not just a business tool. Some of RIM's rivals—including Apple and Samsung, to name just two of them—have definitely taken this on board.
Let's end by looking at the Bold 9790's battery life, which is not just very god but verging on excellent for a smartphone.