BlackBerry has been up against it recently, its handsets really only holding their own based on people's love of the form factor and their abilities at basic phone duties. When it came to apps, web browsing, and other smartphone fripperies, though, they lagged well behind. Research In Motion hopes to change all that with its latest handset, the BlackBerry Bold 9900. Available now for around £415 SIM free, it's not cheap but is just about on the money for a premium handset.
RIM has made some interesting design decisions with the Bold 9900. Gone is the leatherette back, replaced by a carbon fibre panel. The shiny chrome strip of old has been replaced by an iPhone 4-aping stainless steel band that no longer loops round the front and back like on its predecessor, the BlackBerry Bold 9780, but harks back to the original Bold 9000 by only encircling the front. The edges of the back have also been bevelled and given a soft touch matt black plastic finish. The result is a phone that looks at first glance very familiar but up close retains a modern vibe – the carbon fibre is a particularly nice touch.
The design changes haven't affected the phone's build quality either - this is possibly the best-built BlackBerry yet. Everything just fits perfectly, with no hint of wobble anywhere. There's a little flex in the carbon fibre panel but this doesn't concern us. It also remains very comfortable and secure, the bevelled edges allowing the phone to nestle, rather than dig, into your hand. The lock button that sits on the top edge is a bit of a stretch, though, and is recessed a little too much, making it a little awkward. This is a little annoying as it's a function you use everyday.
Otherwise the general layout and selection of buttons and other external features is excellent. On the right edge you have volume buttons flanking a play/pause button and a camera button. That play/pause button allows you to play or pause your music without unlocking your phone, which is immensely useful – this is even more convenient than the iPhone, and much more than most alternatives offer. The camera button is also very handy as it will launch the camera app when pressed, enabling you to get to taking a photo with just two button clicks – unlock then camera button. It's not quite as convenient as just holding down the camera button as on Windows Phone handsets but it's just as speedy.
On the left edge is the microUSB socket, which is used for data transfer and charging, and - rather annoyingly - the headphone jack. Having the socket here means that your headphones stick out at an awkward angle, making it a pain to get the phone in your pocket, unless you have an angled headphone jack.
Get through the challenge of prising the back plate off and you can access the rather modest 1230mAh battery or add a microSD card to bolster the phone's 8GB of inbuilt storage with up to 32GB more (40GB max total). You can't swap either the SIM or microSD card without removing the battery, though. Above the back cover is the camera, along with its LED flash.
A nice bonus is the decent leatherette case included in the box, along with a modular charger (UK and AU plugs), a separate USB cable and a headset with inline mic and remote - for answering calls and play/pausing music - and an angled jack.