The BlackBerry 9900 runs BlackBerry 7 OS, which features a fairly hefty number of updates over its predecessor, the most prominent change being the new so-called liquid graphics. This refers to RIM’s very sensible decision to ensure that, with its phone now having a touch interface, the interface should react smoothly and swiftly, with none of the clunkiness that some models exhibit – and this is something the company has definitely achieved.
Moving around web pages, scrolling through lists and navigating menus are all tasks made fluid and intuitive thanks to the perfect way the touchscreen tracks your motion and the display transmits it back to you. It’s a subtle thing but getting this feel exactly right is precisely where many touchscreen handsets fall down, and is often where Android handsets can still feel a little bit clunky. Here, though, you’re always left feeling confident of your movements.
It’s also surprisingly intuitive flitting back and forth between the touchscreen and the optical pointer that sits smack bang in the centre of the handset. Ostensibly it’s completely superfluous as all actions the pointer can perform can also be done using the touchscreen but sometimes it just feels right to scroll through a menu or pinpoint a cursor using it. And, returning to the touchscreen once you’ve done so doesn’t result in any odd reactions from the software; it just carries on responding exactly as you’d hope.
No doubt helping here is the vastly improved processor sitting at the handset’s heart. Previous Bolds have maxed-out at 624MHz but the Bold 9900 has a 1.2GHz Qualcomm 8655 chip. It may not be dual-core but it makes mincemeat of the BlackBerry OS, with there seldom being a sign of slow down or stutter.
The overall styling and layout of the interface hasn’t changed all that much with the homescreen still eschewing the trend for icons and widgets, and multiple… well, homescreens. Instead you get a blank section in the middle – all the more space for your favourite picture – with information and notification sections above and a thin strip of app shortcuts and a link to the main app launcher/menu below. The combination of these works superbly, giving you quick access to useful information and making most apps quickly accessible.
The top-most section shows all your basic phone information such as date, time, and signal strength in a clean and simple manner, and tapping this brings up a convenient selection of options, including Wi-FI and Bluetooth and Alarms. Again BlackBerry seems to have got the selection here just right, with there being not too much so as to bamboozle but not so little as to require constantly delving into the main menu.
Below this is the notifications section, which is just a thin bar that at a glance shows how many messages you have, apps that need updating, calendar appointments you have, and such like. Tap this and the screen is filled with a list showing the full selection of information (with a maximum of three notifications per app). Like much of the phone’s interface, the style is quite stark – each set of notices is just a text list – but it doesn’t feel backward because of this, just functional.
The final piece of the homescreen is the app launcher. This sits at the bottom of the screen, and can be either completely hidden, a single line of six apps or two lines of 12 apps. You can then either tap or drag up the bar to fully open the list of apps. Here you now get the chance to arrange apps in whatever order you please, putting them in folders or even hiding them from prying eyes. You can also sort them into categorised pages, though you can’t add (or remove) pages so the default selection of All, Favourites, Media, and Downloads is your lot.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a system that works well and once you’ve arranged your apps as you please you can generally get to your favourites in double-quick time. The only difficulty is the lack of labels on the icons, meaning there’s a bit of a learning curve in working out what icon infers what.
The search function is another boon of the homescreen. Start typing while on the homescreen or tap the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner and the search feature will kick in. Instantly you’ll start seeing contacts, messages, calendar entries, apps and more that match your search, and as you continue typing the search will be refined. And in a subtle but welcome touch, when you click a search result, it doesn’t forgot the search you just made so if you jump to a search result then tap the Back button a couple of times to get back, you aren’t greeted by a blank page. This is in contrast to much of the competition that ditch the search as soon as you navigate away.