IT Pro Verdict
There are still some question marks over the buggy, but drastically improved web browser and a slight concern over the build quality of the battery cover, but otherwise RIM has delivered a long-overdue return to form with a device that will delight long-time CrackBerry addicts, will send Nokia and its E71 back to the drawing board and gives the iPhone credible competition in the enterprise marketplace.
A few years ago RIM released the BlackBerry 7290, widely considered to be the best of the BlackBerry handsets to date. We can only assume that the lead designer quit or was eaten by a bear shortly after this, as subsequent BlackBerry handsets have been, to be frank, rubbish.
A distinct change in design direction saw RIM pump out a succession of bland, plastic devices that ditched many of the features that made the BlackBerry the addictive, indispensable device of the decade. Even the patented BlackBerry mini-Qwerty keyboard was ruined, shrunk and crammed into such a tight space that only the smallest new-born babies could type on it, if they could type.
The growing discontent from the enterprise faithful, still the core user community for RIM's hardware, has finally hit home and provoked the release of the quad-band GSM/tri-band UMTS BlackBerry Bold 9000.
Just in time too as the likes of Apple's iPhone and Nokia's E71 two excellent, enterprise-friendly devices that do everything a BlackBerry can do and more are primed and ready to bite huge lumps out of RIM's market share.
So what has RIM actually done to reinvent and improve the BlackBerry? Well, quite a lot really, and not just in the hardware.
Bigger and bolderWe will cut to the chase the keyboard has been sorted out. The keys are bigger, more responsive, better defined and are more tactile.
If you've struggled to type on a BlackBerry Curve or 8800 series, you'll immediately enjoy and appreciate the improved keyboard ergonomics and button size. A slightly curved arrangement to the key layout, a throwback to the 7290, makes thumb typing much easier. The layout curve is in fact the opposite of the 7290, but works even better. Across the top of the keyboard are four main buttons for answering and ending calls, accessing menus, the back/exit button and the mini trackball for navigating around menus. A selection of well-placed buttons along both sides of the device control earpiece volume and one-button camera access.
The Bold is an even bigger departure from previous models, and the first to introduce both 3G and HSDPA data support. Both have long been dismissed as unnecessary for email download, and we agree. However, for web browsing it's more important, and steps have been taken to make the Bold more web-friendly, which we will come to in a moment. There's still no Bluetooth data modem support, which is a massive oversight, but tethered modem support is still there.
Round the back you'll find a camera. It is only two megapixels, but image quality is good. The LED flash worked admirably in almost pitch-black environments including a dingy West End pub, my back garden at one in the morning and underneath my car, where I used it to photograph the dent a speed bump left in my exhaust.
The build quality is a mixed bag. On one hand, the Bold immediately feels more sturdy, solid and expensive than previous models. Gone is the Fisher Price thick plastic of the 7290, and gone is the wheelie bin plastic used to make more recent models. The battery cover on the rear is even covered in a leather-like finish, making it delightfully tactile to hold. It instantly reminded me of the leather gear knob on my car - and that's a good thing.
However, there are some build quality issues to consider. It didn't take too many presses, without excessive force, on the battery cover release button to bend it permanently inwards to the extent that the cover didn't clip securely in place.
Also, the microSD card slot - which is on the side of the device rather than under the battery as with most smartphones - jammed and the cover doesn't clip into place properly. This is a let-down on a device that it otherwise of high quality and specification, but it is not a deal breaker.