Mar 31 2009

BlackBerry's Bold New Look

This new smartphone is nimble, has a sharper display and improved audio features.

This new smartphone is nimble, has a sharper display and improved audio features.

End users like their smartphones because they’re fun and cool; busy faculty and administrators at colleges and universities tend to view these devices as indispensable for keeping tabs on the office. Don’t believe me? Think about President Obama’s insistence on keeping his.

In response to such devotion, Research In Motion has introduced the BlackBerry Bold. RIM’s latest 3G device is chock-full of various design, performance and productivity improvements.


The first thing you’ll notice is the sharp new look: a deep-black casing wrapped in silver metal trim (with a leatherette backing that makes the 5-ounce device easier to grip).

The Bold serves as proof that touch screens aren’t close to replacing fixed, tactile full QWERTY keypads. I found the backlit keypad’s tightly spaced but large beveled keys worked very well. I could type without lifting my thumbs, and the thin metal bands separating each row make it easy for me to keep my place. Four buttons provide quick access to the phone and menus, and users can assign other features to the two additional “convenience keys.”

The Bold sports a 480x320 pixel half-VGA display, which is twice the resolution of earlier models. The resolution bump means more information packed into a relatively small area on an incredibly sharp display. The iPhone, for example, boasts the same 480x320, but its display is twice the size of the Bold’s. The Bold display adjusts to ambient light, and the device has an illuminated, center-mounted trackball, too.

To better isolate noise, RIM changed the 3.5mm stereo headset from an earphone to ear buds. If you want to use a wireless headset, you can take advantage of stereo Bluetooth capabilities. RIM also moved the microphone from the center to the side, which seems to improve voice transmission quality, make it less susceptible to wind and better able to filter out background noise.

Some users will view any headset as optional because of the crystal clear voice quality of the handset. Using the speakerphone function, I could leave the Bold on my desk and walk around the room during a conversation without dropping out.

RIM also reduced display clutter by creating a single row of icons for commonly used applications. Pressing the menu button fills the screen with other available apps. The browser can handle streaming video without latency. Also notable are the Word-, Excel- and PowerPoint-compatible applications that allow viewing and editing of Microsoft Office documents.

Why It Works for IT

RIM has practically defined business-class mobile communications with corporate e-mail integration, centralized deployment and management, corporate data access and unsurpassed security. The processing power of the Bold and the speed of the 3G network translate into quick wireless enterprise activation, synchronization and application installation. The option of separate Short Message Service and Multiple Messaging Service messages from the e-mail inbox eases data management, and the RIM Enterprise Server supports all major platforms (Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise).

The Bold features a 624-megahertz processor, 128 megabytes of application memory and 1 gigabyte of secured built-in memory. To add storage, a Micro-SD slot can be accessed easily on the side of the device. Is there a compelling case for more storage? Maybe not, but it’s a feature that many users will likely take advantage of to stow large music, image or video files.

To provide fast network access for times when 3G is unavailable, the Bold supports Wi-Fi Protected Access capability. I didn’t notice much performance difference between Wi-Fi and a good 3G signal.

The Bold has a built-in Global Positioning System chip that works with several GPS navigation applications. It works like a charm with both the wireless carrier’s navigation application and Google Maps. Other apps can provide voice directions and traffic alerts, extending full GPS functionality to the Bold. Beyond the usual GPS advantages for directionally challenged travelers, organizations can utilize GPS tracking.


A common complaint about 3G phones generally is short battery life. The Bold did not outlast my EDGE-network RIM Curve, which often stays alive for two days on a single charge. The Bold needs a full charge at the end of a typical 10-hour workday, but I find myself favoring the Bold because of its improved phone and browser features.

Unlike with batteries in some smartphones, the Bold battery is removable. For diehard road warriors, you might want to consider purchasing RIM’s Mini Extra Battery Charger, a mini-USB compatible device to charge a phone and spare battery.

The switch of your third-party apps from one BlackBerry to another can create a minor headache. RIM’s activation procedure will retain all data from previous devices, and it is possible to provision back-end software for automatic software installations. But you will have to reinstall all third-party apps.

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