Review: BlackBerry Bold | Page 2

As an entertainment player, Bold predictably came second to the iPhone. It's partly screen size, partly that music still sounds, relatively speaking, dreadful on the Bold - and great on the iPhone. Bold is significantly better at audio than recent past BlackBerries, though - and it does come with stereo earbuds.

Also, stored video looks stunning, if tiny, on the high-res, 4:3 screen, and played smoothly in our tests using the Media Player, though audio was out of sync on one clip.

It's not quite so impressive with streaming media. Don't bother surfing to the YouTube site. The BlackBerry browser can't play videos at the main site. It will play videos streamed using Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), including from ZooVision and M.YouTube, YouTube's mobile edition.

The experience is nothing like as seamless as the pre-loaded YouTube applet on iPhone, however. You select a video in the browser and Bold switches to Media Player to play it.

At its best, the streaming video I watched was as good as YouTube on the iPhone over the Rogers 3G network - just in a smaller size. But it was often worse. It never hiccuped, and the sound stayed good, but video images occasionally degraded to the point of being unwatchable.

Although you'll probably want to use the earbuds most of the time for listening to video sound tracks, the Bold's speaker is surprisingly good, not as tinny as speakers on past models.

As a phone, Bold is fine, as good as any BlackBerry we've tried in recent years, better because of improved audio quality, especially when using it on speaker phone.

We still have to give the nod to iPhone in this category, though. The iPhone feels more like a phone in your hand for some reason and it sounds better, despite the audio improvements BlackBerry made over past models.

Dialing is also easier on the iPhone. This is the one area where we preferred the virtual keyboard. With BlackBerry, you switch to the Home screen and begin poking at the tiny number keys (no need to hold the Alt key down for numbers when dialing from the home screen.)

With iPhone, you switch to the Home screen, tap the Phone icon and tap great big number keys on the virtual keypad. It just seems more natural.

On paper, Bold has a slight edge as a camera and camcorder. Both devices feature 2-megapixel still/video cameras, but the Bold includes a built-in flash, missing in the iPhone. We also found it too easy with the iPhone to tap the on-screen shutter button by mistake - a little spasm of your trigger finger and you shoot the picture at the wrong moment.

But the iPhone took better pictures. We assume this is because of a better lens and/or digital image processing system. I did get some quite good pictures from Bold using the flash, better than anything I have been able to get from past BlackBerry cameras, but iPhone pics were generally sharper and better exposed.

Also, notwithstanding the mild preference for a physical shutter button, the iPhone is generally easier to use as a camera than Bold. And pictures look better because of its bigger screen.

It's not sounding good for Bold, but we haven't said anything yet about the business applications - e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, word processing, presentations.

Bold has a clear edge in the e-mail department, which for business users is really the most important or at least second most important smartphone application.

Corporate BlackBerry Server-based e-mail systems are still generally reckoned to be more secure and efficient than competitive server-based systems - principally systems based on Microsoft's Exchange Server and ActiveSync (which iPhone supports).

And the BlackBerry Internet Service offers individual users push mail for existing POP accounts from any ISP. While it's possible to set up e-mail accounts on the iPhone with providers that offer push service, you can't get push for existing POP accounts.

The edge in personal information applications may not be as large. These are for the most part the same calendar, contacts, tasks applications as in past BlackBerries, which is part of their strength. They have a pedigree, they work well, BlackBerry users know and like them.

Bold also comes with pre-installed DataViz applications that let you edit Office documents - Word, Excel, PowerPoint - right on the handheld.

We're not sure how useful this will be, but if you're inclined to carry documents on your handheld that you might send to somebody else, it's probably a good thing to be able to make small edits to correct or customize them if the need arises.

BlackBerry has an edge with its GPS application as well. Unlike iPhone, the preloaded software on Bold offers turn-by-turn directions. Turn-by-turn navigation software is available for iPhone, it just doesn't come bundled with the product.

And the Bold GPS radio connected as faster or faster than GPS radios in other handhelds we've tried, including the iPhone.

Bottom line: if you're a business user committed to the BlackBerry platform, Bold is a very cool upgrade path to HSDPA. No need to look further. All others, consider the iPhone as well.

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