After a short break in their release cycle, Research In Motion has now brought us the BlackBerry Bold 9790 - which was first announced back in November, 2011. This phone was unveiled along with the first full touch screen Curve 9380. This was made available, soon after launch.
In many ways, this handset only lags just slightly behind the Bold 9900 in terms of features and finer details, and so it remains near the top of the BlackBerry range. On paper, there's a marginally slower 1GHz processor that proves to be sharp enough, when putting the handset through its paces. A plastic screen has also been used, which invariably will attract some hideous scratches.
Immediately, you can see that the keypad has evolved throughout the ages, and now extends its way across the entire width of the phone. This spacious new keypad introduces raised, sculptured buttons, making it easier to feel your way around. The buttons themselves however, are incredibly small and seem to welcome dainty little fingers, which unfortunately we do not possess.
The main body of the device has been stripped down to reveal a slim physique, but with smaller dimensions and less weight - all of which is a fair reflection of modern demand. The 9790 also retains its charismatic business style, with a gun-metal back cover and chrome finish along its perimeter. The Bold does lack the consummate finish of the more expensive 9900, where it feels noticeably cheaper in the hand. This is until you pick it up, as the back of the phone looks as smart and sophisticated as ever, whilst being festooned with a silver BlackBerry emblem just to emphasise its family heritage.
The 9790 also comes with NFC: hardly a new-found technology, but its full potential has only recently been discovered. If you are unfamiliar with this feature, it is a form of short-range radio technology that allows two-way communication between endpoints. This is opposed to previous ‘contactless' applications, which could only operate within a linear form of transition. This technology allows you to make mobile payments, use smart-tagging and potentially even unlock the front door.
RIM has been quick to initiate NFC on their most popular devices, not least because it is the first company whose devices are certified by MasterCard Worldwide, and more specifically the functionality of ‘PayPass'. Many more companies are increasing their stake in NFC, including Google, Nokia and Samsung. With the astonishing rise in popularity of the tablet, it seems that NFC could be used as a more permanent form of payment, if it is used within a credit card. You could then wave the card over your tablet to make purchases, as opposed to making small ticket payments and road tolls, which is as much as the current smartphone NFC functionality allows.
The 9790 has a 5MP camera with useful features such as auto-focus, face detection and image stabilisation, but unfortunately no high-quality video recording. The handset also has 8GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot; the latter of which, many phones are now ignoring altogether. The BlackBerry OS, on the other hand, maintains a dull, numbing inevitability. It's all too monotonous and outdated. Gradually, RIM has started to include more and more small icons within their menus, in an attempt to liven up the user experience, but the colour scheme prohibits any form of joviality. The white backlighting of the keys and the way the phone goes into standby mode is actually very attractive, but it's marred by the absence of a new look.
One of the obvious advantages of the new, smaller screen is a reduction in battery use. Every BlackBerry that we've tested recharges fast, so this is starting to paint a pretty picture and for the future too. If you want a dedicated messaging service, and are not so concerned with viewing videos or web browsing, then this phone should be a sensible alternative to the Bold 9900.
This phone naturally carries the classic BlackBerry look, but also benefits from great ergonomics and an ingenious pocket size. The rubber volume buttons on the side of the phone can be quite awkward to press, and you could be forgiven for missing the power button. This lurks right at the top of the device and gives little or no kinaesthetic feedback, when pressed.
Having borrowed a huge number of design aspects from previous models, the missing link really is that luxurious keypad from the 9900. The blinking LED, optical trackpad and touch screen, make up the list of ‘high-end' features that keep it in a class of its own. We only found the touch screen quicker to scroll up and down, through the menus, than the trackpad actually advocates.
The main problem is that the ‘business' aspects of the phone, such as email, messaging service and the Qwerty keyboard are the only strong points for the device. The current deals for the SIM free 9790 are around £340, where the reason for overlooking a more expensive, but more refined model isn't particularly clear. It lacks a good browser and houses a plastic screen, where we would have thought it might appeal to a younger client base because of the tiny keypad, and its innumerable messaging applications. However, the BlackBerry App World is so inept in comparison to all the other app markets that the official choice of teenagers, the Curve, fills the gap in every other respect.
As the ‘little brother' of the Bold 9900, it's only roughly 100 pounds less, which makes the 9900 a worthy investment if you are a BlackBerry lover. Alternatively, if you are buying your first smartphone it seems an awful lot of money to part with. For a phone that initially looked to have many benefits, it appears to be stuck in a bit of an identity crisis.
It's accurately priced when you consider its features, but you could argue that the latest models, from its main competitors, boast better features, operating systems and app markets - not to mention screen quality, build and price. If you're not married to the idea of a BlackBerry, it's definitely worth exploring a few alternatives before you settle on the 9790. The Samsung Galaxy S II for instance, has recently been price-slashed. So just how important is that Qwerty keypad?