The original Bold (9000) has been one of RIM's most successful handsets to date, and deservedly so. Combining distinctive looks with great build quality, easy operation, and a wealth of features, it still sits high on our list of top QWERTY keyboard-equipped smartphones over a year after its release. Nevertheless, with smartphone competition being so fierce at the moment a new model was certainly due and now it has been delivered in the shape of the Bold 9700.
Despite its heritage and name, the new Bold is actually quite a staid looking device. Gone is the completely faux-leather covered back with its metal camera surround, to be replaced by a much smaller patch on the back, while the chrome trimming round the front, though still present in part, is less distinctive. The whole device has shrunk as well, most noticeably in width, which is down from 66mm to 60mm. All told, RIM has toned down the look and feel of the Bold to the extent that a name change to Bland would feel more appropriate.
In truth, though, while the design isn't as strong in theme, it remains attractive and exudes class in an understated way. Likewise, the phone feels secure and comfortable in the hand and all the buttons fall easily within reach for one-handed use, though of course typing is generally a two-handed affair.
Aside from its tweaked design, the other most notable change with the 9700 compared to the 9000 is its use of the new optical trackpad that replaces the old trackball, or Pearl as RIM liked to call it. Reaction to this new trackpad has been mixed and we can see why. While it is responsive and is just as speedy to use for large movements, finer adjustments, like moving the cursor one character in a text document, can be tricky. With a bit of practice you get the hang of it – laying your thumb flat, rather than using the tip, improves tracking – but some people might find the change a bit frustrating to start with. Nonetheless, the fact that it won't get gunked up and become unusable (as many people find with the trackball) should alleviate these issues in the long run.
Aside from this, the front layout is the tried and trusted BlackBerry layout with a wide aspect screen up top, call answer, menu, back and call end/power buttons across the middle, and a QWERTY keyboard below. All the keys are backlit, have a reassuring positive click and respond quickly thanks to a nice shallow action.