Review: RIM BlackBerry Bold

The very name of the BlackBerry Bold hints of a whole new experience from Research In Motion, but the company is overselling things a bit. In truth, BlackBerry vets will find that the Bold is really nothing more than a solid — if long overdue — upgrade to the standard BlackBerry hardware. Black-heads will love the update; the unconverted will wonder what the fuss was all about.

Some improvements are immediately visible, even to novices. The non-touch screen, at 480 x 320 pixels, is now on par with the iPhone, though it’s quite a bit smaller at just 2.6 diagonal inches. Impressively bright, it’s easy to read even birdseed type (which you’ll probably do a lot) — the web browser is one of the most capable we’ve seen on a BlackBerry to date.

Considering RIM’s long history in handsets, it’s hard to believe it’s only now adding 3G to its lineup. But it’s finally here, and, as many have observed with other phones that made the 3G leap, performance is hardly the great leap forward that you might expect. Web browsing is definitely faster vs. EDGE, but not a lot and browsing over WiFi can also be slow — I found the Bold dropping the WiFi signal almost at random and hustling back to EDGE, even 15 feet from the router. Fortunately even in the worst case scenario, performance is acceptable, if uninspiring.

Audio is loud without any fuzz — whether you’re taking a call or playing music — and videos look great, with only the smallest amount of stuttering. (Bring your micro SD card to expand the 1 GB of on-board memory.)

That said, I do have two complaints. First, the UI has been refreshed, and it’s more cluttered than ever with 29 unlabeled and often ugly icons on the main screen. There’s so much repetition and unneeded junk here, with useless and duplicate apps front and center and important stuff buried down a level — it’s begging for a wholesale redo. An even bigger concern is battery life. With WiFi turned off, I squeaked out only four hours, 15 minutes of talk time and barely made it through the weekend on standby (RIM, however, claims the Bold gets almost two weeks on standby). I know WiFi and 3G eat power, but this is barely enough to get most executives through a few conference calls before scurrying back for a recharge.

Here is the bottom line: If you need 3G or are still without WiFi or GPS, the Bold is a solid upgrade. Everyone else might be wise to wait for the extremely promising BlackBerry Storm, due out later this year.

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