Review: BlackBerry Bold

Ho-hum. Another BlackBerry. Bold by name, not so much by nature.

Not that the new BlackBerry Bold isn't a fine addition to Research in Motion's (RIM's) best-selling line-up of smartphones.

It's a powerful, capable and stylish addition, in fact. And it will fit the bill nicely for corporate and other business users committed to the BlackBerry platform and looking to upgrade.

But, well, it's not an iPhone.

Sorry. We know comparisons are odorous, but especially given the near Synchronicity of their launches and the similarity of features, it's impossible not to compare them.

The iPhone launched in North America in July, Bold in markets outside the U.S., including Canada, in August. In the U.S., Bold was slated to appear in September.

Indeed, we wonder if RIM delayed introduction of Bold in the U.S. to avoid being drowned out by the cacophony of iPhone hype.

Both are powerful smartphones that work over HSDPA and GSM/EDGE networks worldwide. Both also have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS radios. Both do voice, e-mail, Web browsing, music, video, still and video photography, mapping - and a lot more.

At the time of writing, RIM has still not launched in the U.S., where AT&T will be the exclusive carrier, as it is of the iPhone. In Canada, Rogers, the exclusive carrier there for both products, sells Bold for a low price of $399. That's with a three-year plan.

Note: double the price of the iPhone.

So how do the two products measure up otherwise?

E-mail and non-Internet-related business applications and mapping: BlackBerry Bold all the way. Just about everything else, including entertainment and Internet experience: iPhone, hands down.

The iPhone interface is obviously one of the product's big seducers, compared to which the Bold's largely unmodified BlackBerry interface seems pedestrian. That doesn't necessarily mean inferior in every respect, just not as sexy.

Bold does include a physical keyboard, a full QWERTY keyboard too, not RIM's 20-key SureType keyboard. If you do a lot of text input on a mobile, a physical keyboard is a better bet in our opinion - faster to type on, less prone to mistyping. And small adjustments to key design on the Bold make for a surer touch than past BlackBerry keyboards.

Also on the plus side for Bold, hardware-wise, it has a very fast processor (624 MHz). Bold seemed marginally faster than iPhone in some applications.

Apple, of course, doesn't say which application processor it's using in the iPod 3G, only that it's a "closed platform." It has reliably been reported to be a Samsung ARM processor, with estimates of clock speed ranging from 412 to 612MHz.

The Bold also sports a great high-resolution screen (480x320-pixel transmissive TFT, 65,000 colors).

The screen is smaller than the iPhone's, though - 2.8 vs. 3.5 inches diagonally. And the iPhone screen is wider too, which makes it significantly better for viewing videos and Web pages.

While Bold can't compete with the sheer elegance of the iPhone's industrial design, it is a very nice looking smartphone, with a leather back and rounded - dare we say it, iPhone-esque - contours.

It's thicker (.59 vs..48 inches), a hair wider (2.6 vs. 2.4 inches) but shorter (4.48 vs. 4.5 inches) and it's a feather heavier too (4.8 vs. 4.7 oz). Hey, this stuff is important in the high-stakes world of mobile device design. Image is all. Score half a point for iPhone.

Bold's mobile Internet experience, while good, can't compete with the iPhone, mainly because of the disparity in screen size, but it's definitely better than past BlackBerries thanks to HSDPA and the otherwise excellent screen. We tested it on the Rogers network, but weren't able to measure throughput using online speed tests. They either didn't work at all - because BlackBerry doesn't support Flash - or delivered implausible results.

By eyeball, performance appeared little if any different than on the iPhone - possibly a tad quicker, thanks perhaps to a faster processor. No big surprise, of course, since we tested both on the same network.

We like the BlackBerry keyboard marginally better than the iPhone virtual keyboard for inputting URL text.

That said, the iPhone does make it easier to input special characters used in Web addresses - period, slash, @ sign - by putting them right on the main (virtual) keyboard. With the Bold, you have to hold down the Alt/Shift key to get special characters.


Blackberry, AT&T, RIM, Research In Motion, BlackBerry Bold
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