Blackberry Bold 9900: Panic ruins a brilliant phone

By Sipho Hlongwane 17 October 2011

Not one to sit on its hands while others slaughter its market dominance, Research in Motion has brought out a replacement to the Blackberry Bold 2: the thinner, wider and altogether prettier Blackberry Bold 9900. Are we charmed? Well, yes. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

If Blackberry was a suburb of Johannesburg, it would definitely be Fourways.

Because clearly, Fourways wasn’t built for people who want to be in Fourways for much of the time. The suburb is dry, neat and the rows and rows of fake Tuscan shelters suggest one thing more than anything else: great resale value. Fourways was built for commuters.

The bitter irony of Fourways being the working person’s home is that it is almost impossible to extricate oneself from it in under an hour in peak traffic.

Blackberry devices remind me of Fourways in that way. The phones are built primarily to be a business person’s personal digital assistant. You’re supposed to be able to stab away at emails, arrange multibillion-dollar deals and message a client to meet you for lunch using nothing more than your thumbs, as you rush to catch your international connecting flight.

The Blackberry is a workman’s workhorse.

And few are more workhorsey than the Blackberry Bold 9700. Launched in 2009, it fast became one of RIM’s best-selling phones. It does email, Blackberry Messenger and all the other stuff pretty well.  But in several crucial areas, the 9700 is rubbish. It only 256Mb of RAM and a 624MHz processor, so once you overburden it with applications, it becomes painfully slow and often freezes. The preloaded browser is bad and any serious surfing on the Blackberry has to be done via the Opera Mini program.

All-in-all, the 9700 was a phone for someone who just wanted email, BBM and the Blackberry Internet Service. It’s not a difficult phone to beat.

Straight off, its successor, the Bold 9900 is massively improved in several key areas.

The first thing you notice when cradling it in your hands is its width. It’s not unpleasantly wide because RIM has used its nous and the extra space. The legendary Blackberry keyboard is bigger, as is the screen.

RIM decided to ditch the thin film transistor 65K colour screen used on the 9700 in favour of a 16 million-colour, capacitive touch screen. This was a mistake in my view, but more on that later. Not only does the screen look much better than the previous one, the operating system deployed in the 9900 is noticeably crisper and more pleasant to use.

The operating system is Blackberry 7, the latest RIM OS, a 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor and combined with the excellent keyboard and more RAM (a generous 768Mb this time) translates to a feeling of assurance from the phone. Though I didn’t try, I’m certain it could handle dozens of apps simultaneously with aplomb.

The camera on the 9900 is an agreeable 5megapixels (though RIM doesn’t seem to have cured the night photography problem. Dark skin tones still come out looking like an exhibit from Madame Tussaud’s.).

The browser, though faster than the 9700 incarnation, still feels a bit uncomfortable. You’re better off downloading Opera Mini once more.

There is 8Gb of onboard memory, which you can expand to 32Gb. The 9900, like its predecessor, has an unfussy music player. The 9900 is not a bad effort by RIM. Blackberry fans will be enormously pleased.

Still, the touch screen has ruined it. It’s not a terribly good one – I had to use a pencil as a stylus and I suspect anyone would suffer from sausage fingers when trying to use it. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone will find the 9900 touch screen dinky and slow. It annoys more than anything else. The keyboard and navigator pad are perfectly fine so there really was no need for it.

The move to put this inferior touch screen smells of insecurity at RIM – it’s looked at competitor products and decided people love touch screens, so they put one into the 9900. Wrong thinking. People don’t buy Blackberry products for their touch screens – they want BIS, and seamless email integration. By featuring an obvious weakness so prominently, RIM has ruined an otherwise fine phone.

If you’re a Fourways type of person, you’ll love the Bold 9900. It does what Blackberry has always done well. If, however, you want a phone that makes user experience brilliant and has a good touch screen, you’re far better off with an iPhone 4 or a Samsung Galaxy S II. DM

Read more:

  • Blackberry Bold 9900 full specifications in GS Marena;
  • Blackberry Bold 9900 review in Wired.



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