RIM made good progress towards closing the gap between its handsets and those of the competition with its BlackBerry Bold 9900. It was beautifully built, feature packed, had an improved interface and crucially had a relatively large touchscreen, but it was quite an expensive handset. Now BlackBerry is back with a new more affordable touchscreen Bold, the 9790. Sadly, in cutting the price, BlackBerry has cut quite a lot of the appeal too.
First impressions of the BlackBerry Bold 9790 are good, though. Its black-and-chrome styling looks as classy as ever and build quality is excellent despite the majority of the handset being plastic. The only cause for concern is that the curved screen is plastic rather than glass so you'll need to buy a case to avoid it getting heavily scratched - you don't get one in the box.
An advantage of the smaller size of this phone, and its curved edges is that it sits nicely in the hand - and it's easy to reach all the buttons. The soft touch plastic on the removable backplate also adds to this easy-grip comfort.
Underneath the backplate is a 1,230mAh battery, the SIM slot and a microSD slot, which will take cards up to 32GB in size but doesn't come with one installed. Instead you get 8GB of inbuilt storage, which is enough to make a start on your multimedia and app collection. Also on the back is a 5 megapixel camera with its LED flash
General ergonomics are helped by responsive, well laid-out buttons. The keyboard, for instance, stretches the full width of the phone with absolutely minimal gap at the edges, making it as spacious as possible. Above it the five navigation buttons are nice and responsive. The central of these is an optical trackpad that for the most part is unnecessary, as you can just use the touchscreen, but it's useful for pinpointing the cursor for editing text amongst other things. In fact, it's arguably more useful on this device than its bigger brother as the smaller screen here is more of a struggle to use for everyday navigation.
Coming back to the keyboard, it's of the premium BlackBerry type. Each key is separate and sculpted to better fit the shape of your thumbs as they strike. This is as opposed to the cheaper BlackBerry keyboard used on the Curve range, which uses a single sheet of more rounded buttons that causes surrounding keys to flex and move as you press a key. As such the typing experience is pretty good, though the two columns of buttons on the edges take a bit of getting used to.
Both the keyboard and the navigation keys are stylishly backlit in white, which is essential for typing in the dark. We rather like the way the phone goes into standby mode shutting down the screen and keyboard back then slowly dimming the nav button backlights – it's like something out of a sci-fi movie.
The main navigation buttons are for call answer, menu, trackpoint, back and call end/power functions. While touchscreen navigation systems have come far in recent years there's definitely something about having a physical button to press to answer a call, or always knowing where to tap to bring up an options menu.