Design: goodbye leather, hello plasticThe supposedly classy leather finish has gone, and the Bold 9900 marks a return to a mixture of plastic and metal. Anybody who's used a Bold 9700 will be glad to see that the plastic trim that covers the top edge of the phone that remains unprotected by a standard carrycase has been replaced by a stainless steel rim.
Others will be disappointed by the return of plastic elsewhere. But given how slim the Bold 9900 is, now measuring just 10.5 mm from front to back, it seems churlish to complain. At the same time, it's longer and wider, closer to the shape of the Bold 9000 and with room for a larger keyboard.
The 2.8'' touch-sensitive display has a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, which is more than enough for the size. It's bright, has plenty of contrast and is reasonably accurate at reproducing colours. The quality is good enough without having to turn the brightness up to maximum, which gives a welcome boost to battery life. The touch-based interface works well, and we didn't notice any of the sluggishness we saw on the first generation of touchscreen BlackBerrys.
Interface: long live the trackpadBlackBerry's trackpads have made the same transition as HTC's, moving from a touch-sensitive spot to a more reliable optical sensor. Except HTC's next move was to get rid of them all together. RIM has kept the faith and we're very glad. The screen is a great way to interact with the phone, but when you want to select a very precise area on such a small screen, then the trackpad is perfect.
The look and feel of BlackBerry OS 7 have changed, but nothing much else is new.
RIM has made some progress with the web browser, which, although faster, is nowhere near as good as the mobile versions of Safari, Chrome, Firefox or Opera. There's still no support for Flash, either.
Multimedia: getting better, but plenty of room for improvementAs you might have guessed, the multimedia experience on a BlackBerry isn't always great.
There has definitely been some progress: with support for OpenGL 2 at last, the graphics are much faster, and there's now finally a Qualcomm processor running at 1.2 GHz. The new version of the App World platform is also much more user-friendly.
But on the other hand, the collection of apps is still somewhat restricted and more expensive than elsewhere, and although you can now interact directly with the screen, it's still too small to be able to enjoy games. It doesn't take much before the rather average camera adds a bit of electronic noise to photos or leaving them blurry when light levels fall.
The music player, however, is a real treat, and there's support for both recording and playing 720p video.
Compare the BlackBerry Bold 9900 to other phones in our Product Face-Off
But the one are where the Bold 9900 really does well is the one in which always knew it would: all of the business-orientated communication tools, including BBM, are excellent.
Third-party developers can now integrate the instant messaging tool in their own apps, making it even easier to use. The most obvious example is an augmented reality tool which suggests nearby users based on the area you're taking photos in. But for that to really take off, you'll need to have a lot of Blackberry-owning friends, which isn't necessarily true for everybody.
Handling incoming messages is child's play. Whether you've got several e-mail accounts that are full to the brim or SMS and MMS coming in non-stop, everything is simple, intuitive and—most importantly—easy to reply to. The physical keyboard is closer to the one on the original Bold 9000, and is therefore roomier than the one on the Bold 9700. It's softer, and a gentle tap will activate each key; finding the buttons is easy to find and typing is fast.
Indeed, the Bold 9900 keeps doing everything that business users want from their BlackBerry. The e-mail client is top notch, and the amount of information available about each contact is incredible. Even if you use WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G, the battery life is excellent, even if just a tad less generous than with the Bold 9700. What actually causes the biggest headaches for the Bold 9900's battery is the improved media apps which leave users tempted to run more apps and games at once than before, even if that experience could still be improved on further.
Once again, we can only say how keen we are for the QNX OS to arrive on BlackBerry smartphones to open them up to a wider range of users than the busy professionals they currently serve so well. Unfortunately, the current generation won't be compatible with RIM's new OS. There are, of course, a number of technical hurdles to cross before that happens, but that will no doubt hold some devoted fans back.