RIM has hit the mark with the new BlackBerry Bold 9650. With an optical trackpad, Wi-Fi, international roaming capabilities,BlackBerry OS 5.0, 512 MB of on-board memory and plenty of processing horsepower this smartphone is the new standard bearer for CDMA-based BlackBerrys.
Although badged as a Bold, the styling dimensions and feel of the device point more to a revamped BlackBerry Tour than a CDMA-based version of Bold 9700, which is offered by the GSM-based carriers AT&T and T-Mobile.
The Bold 9650 currently retails through Sprint for $200 and Verizon Wireless for $150.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Bold 9650 is nearly identical to the Tour -- the only discernible design update is the addition of the optical trackpad.
This modelis heavier and bulkier than the Bold 9700 though still manageable in a pocket or purse.
RIM has been doing a great job in the display department as of late. The 2.4-inch 480x360 screen is crisp, bright, and manages browsing sessions well.
Like all BlackBerrys, the display will adjust to ambient light.
The Bold 9650 sports the better of the two keyboards RIM currently produces.It is accurate, responsive and quick.
Its rubbery keys are row-separated by a depressed chrome bezel.
When RIM first introduced the trackpad, I was blown away. There was almost no learning curve and I found the experience to be intuitive and accurate.
This isn't true with the Bold 9650 trackpad. I found it to be jumpy and hard to manage. Despite tweaking settings and adjusting pressure the experience simply wasn't as flawless as I've seen in the past. It's not a deal breaker but will take some getting used to your trackpad's unique attitude.
Sadly, the Bold 9650 sports the worst design feature of the Tour: a micro-USB charging port located on the right side of the keyboard. This makes it nearly impossible to type on the phone while you're charging it, a flaw which is not present on the Bold 9700.
The 9650 sports a rocker key in its top edgeto lock and mute the phone. Strangely, the rocker lock initiates a different lock than the keyboard lock -- users can't unlock the device with the keyboard after locking it with the rocker key. It would have been nice to see rocker key customization options, like the convenience keys on the side of the phone.
The BlackBerry Bold 9650 is a solid performer in almost every category. As a messaging-centric device its web browsing capabilities are weak, but for most uses the 9650 is a smooth operator.
I did experience some glitches requiring the device to be powered on and off. Resets were relatively quick and occurred without any data loss.
The Bold 9650 boasts 802.11b/g, GPS, Bluetooth with profiles for streaming music, and support for UMTS/HSPA, CDMA/EV-DO and GSM based networks. In layman's terms, this means that this smartphone is one of the few offered by Sprint and Verizon that can be used outside of the United States.
The addition of Wi-Fi is a welcome improvement over the Tour, and is probably the biggest reason to choose this model over its predecessor.
The streaming audio profiles work wonderfully; I was able to stream high-quality Pandora radio over my car's audio system after initial pairing.
Call quality is spot-on with this version of theBold. From low to high volume the speaker supports a range of sound from deep to high. The speakerphone is sufficiently loud as well.
The strongest point of the BlackBerry is its messaging.Connections to Gmail accounts sync messages and contacts seamlessly. A message sent from a computer will show up as a sent message on the device, which creates an incredibly useful completely current email record at all times.
SMS conversations are bubbled to seem like instant messenger chats, and instant messaging clients (AIM, GTalk, Y-Messenger, ICQ, MSN)all integrate well into the BlackBerry message indication system.
A neat feature I recently discovered in the newest version of the BlackBerry OS is the ability to port SMS contacts into the BlackBerry Messenger interface. This feature combined with the ability to placeBlackBerry Messenger contact icons on the home screen mean that users can place messaging icons for any of their contacts on the home screen for even quicker access. A job well done, RIM!
The entertainment options on the Bold 9650 come from the BlackBerry OS and from prepackaged Sprint apps. Offerings include the standard slew of games, (Brickbreaker, Word Mole, Texas Hold Em, Sudoku, Klondike) , Sprint apps for NASCAR mobile, Football, SprintTV, an upcoming Sprint Music Store, Pocket Express aggregator, and others. Social networking apps are also included.
The web browser is the same standard one on most BlackBerry OS 5.0 devices come with, with minor cosmetic changes.As I mentioned earlier, thisapp is one of the weakest features on the phone, and isn't even in the same league as thebrowsers offered bytheiPhone or Android OS devices.
The productivity apps, like the entertainment apps, are standard issue. The most useful apps are the Documents To Go suite by DataViz, which let you work with Microsoft Office files on your smartphone.
Other useful tools include multiple calendar support, contact grouping and Sprint navigation.
The biggest productivity asset of this device however is the BlackBerry OS 5.0 interface, which is an improvement over previous versions.
The 3.2 megapixel camera on the Bold 9650features auto-focus, video recording and flash.
Using the camera has been made easier with this model. Previous auto-focus BlackBerrys required users to first focus and then completely press the key to capture an image. With the Bold the process has been simplified to a simple point and click - the device will focus itself.
With casual phone, messaging, and browsing use I observed just less than 18 hours of usable time from fully charge to battery-induced radio off. So you can probably expect to charge this device every night.
It's true that RIM hit the mark with the BlackBerry Bold 9650. Unfortunately, that mark wasn't very high. As a messaging-centric device, the Bold is great. However, being a great messaging device isn't enough anymore to capture the consumer end of the market. As competition from Android and other platforms becomes stronger, RIM needs to innovate and add something truly unique to the experience in order to stay relevant.
The 9650 is an improvement over previous generations, but it's only a marginal improvement over the Tour and no improvement over the Bold 9700.
It's hard to look at the Bold 9650 and the competition and make an unreserved recommendation for the Bold. If you're a business user it's a different story, but for consumers, I'd say check out the competition before jumping aboard the BlackBerry bandwagon.