BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 4 Stars

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It looks like BlackBerry is making a play for the Android and iPhone market with its latest BlackBerry Touch 9900. After waiting a year for anything new to appear from the handset maker, we’re now being treated to a new OS and three new phones. Take a first look at the 9900, and you might think it pays more than lip service to its predecessors the Bold 9700 and 9780, but in addition to the QWERTY keyboard you’re expecting, there is also a touchscreen.

Slim pickings

Pick up the Touch 9900, and it feels slim – in fact it’s the slimmest of the BlackBerrys, measuring just 10.5mm in depth. Okay, the iPhone and Galaxy S II beat that, but it’s not bad for a handset that includes both full QWERTY keyboard and a bigger display (at 2.8 inches it’s almost a quarter of an inch larger than the screen on the 9780). It feels pretty sturdy and resilient as well.

Everything with a chip

Anyway, enough about its looks, what else does the Touch 9900 offer the user? Well, there’s a five-megapixel camera, a 1,2Ghz chip, 768MB RAM, a Liquid Graphics screen and the ability to shoot 720p HD. Its USP is its ability to make contactless payments, as it features an NFC chip. This of course, is when everyone else has caught up and the infrastructure is in place to do this.

The display is of the more desirable capacitive type, and is really responsive.

Leisure suits

In the past, BlackBerrys have been the preserve of the business user, rather than your average consumer, but now, as smartphones have progressed, the BlackBerry’s features are desirable to everyone. And it is getting its own back now – by offering more ‘leisure’ facilities. Witness the Facebook facilities on the 9900. You’ll find Facebook calendar events, emails and text at the top of the screen, as well as all your synced emails. The universal inbox is very efficient and brings everything together in one place, which is enormously useful. In fact, it’s the first phone that we have seen that manages to bring all of these events together in this way.

Blackberry has also seen fit to place a Facebook app on board, which allows you to sync Facebook friends’ profile images with your contacts book – it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a nod in the right direction of rival smartphones. Apart from this, you’ll get much the same experience you’d get on a desktop – the main news feed runs across the screen while your new messages, friend requests and notifications sit in the top right-hand corner.

If you’re looking at a post, try pressing the menu button – up will pop a choice of options to interact with the post, or the contact that wrote it. The only area where it falls down is that the phone's camera app doesn’t allow you to send your snaps straight to Facebook.

The Touch 9900 also lets you browse the web, input messages and make calls with ease.

Lucky 7?

BlackBerry has brought with its new phones a new operating system – BlackBerry 7. The main change is that whereas the Menu button has been central to operation in the past, now you can simply hold down the icons to see pop-up menus – just as you would on Android, Windows Phone 7 and iPhone handsets.

Looks-wise, it is much like earlier versions – there are five panels (Media, All, Downloaded, and Favourites – Frequent is updated automatically with most-used apps) that allow you to organise your apps as you want.

This organisation of the apps works really well, and using the touchscreen and keyboard together works incredibly well – it’s a step up from the experience we had on the Bold 9780. You can move the apps around, but it’s a tad clunky – first hold down an icon, click move on the pop-up menu, and then move the app using the trackpad.

It’s in the apps area that BlackBerry needs to improve – the trouble is that it can’t compete with the likes of Apple’s App Store and Android Market, which boast more than 400,000 apps apiece. The 15,000 BlackBerry apps seem measly in comparison, and you’ll miss a lot of games and the more 'fun’ programmes.

Feel free to browse

Access to the web has been a tad disappointing on BlackBerrys in the past, but the new operating system brings with it a speedy browser (up to 40% faster, says RIM)

If you want to view a site that has not been optimised for mobiles, you’ll see that it autofits to fit the screen – you can also choose to autofit certain sections or columns simply by double-tapping on your desired area. The touchscreen makes surfing the net far easier – you can copy and paste, pinch to zoom and you have more accurate input recognition for typing in links.

While you can copy and paste, it is a different process from that on iPhones and Android devices – you have to hold down the desired text until a pop-up menu appears – then press select, which will bring you a pair of tabs that can be dragged to highlight your text. Hold down to copy and hold down again to paste.

Video star

There is no Flash support (like the iPhone), but we’re not convinced this is much of a problem really – and Blackberry’s new screen technology makes websites look clear and bright.

Onboard memory adds up to 8GB – not bad – and you have the opportunity to increase this up to 32MB via the microSD slot. You can sync iTunes and Windows Media Play, so it’s simple to transfer your music collection onto your phone.

If you want to watch downloaded films you may have a problem. You can only watch standard formats – not the Xvid and DivX so popular for online video. Having said that, you wouldn’t really want to be watching much video on a display of this size.

Happy snapper

BlackBerry cameras are not known for being that impressive and the 9900’s is no different. It has a five-megapixel lens, but its images are disappointing – noisy, with faded colours – especially in low light. The flash overexposes and the shutter has a second’s lag, so you’ll get some blurry images unless you have a steady hand. However, it also offers options such as face detection, geo-tagging and various settings. It is also possible to take a picture using the trackpad.

Our conclusion

While the Bold Touch 9900 might look like other BlackBerry devices it is quite a different creature. The touch-screen offers a completely different experience, and means that you can finally use the panel home screens to their best advantage. The universal inbox is also really efficient. Both business and leisure users will get plenty out of the Touch 9900; it’s just a shame that the app store is so far behind the Apple App Store and Android Market.

Pros:
Efficient universal inbox; fastest browser on a smartphone; really user friendly; keyboard and touchscreen combination is efficient.
Cons:
Average camera; App World disappoints.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 4 Stars
  • Ease of use 5 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 5 Stars
  • Battery life 5 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice