For first time BlackBerry users in emerging markets and those who want to hold on to BIS or the BlackBerry 7 experience, the 9720 is for you.
The BlackBerry 9720 is the latest BlackBerry OS device to be launched by BlackBerry. Many have questioned the need for another BlackBerry OS device as opposed to BlackBerry 10, however I think that there is still a place for this little guy, especially in the corporate section. It is already available in the U.K. and should be popping up in other regions soon.
Going back to a BlackBerry OS device was certainly no easy task for me as I hadn't used one since I got my Z10 on the January 30th launch day. However, I felt in order to give this device a chance I had to jump in and use it full-time to really get to know it. It was a bit of a learning curve and I was swiping here and there for a while but soon the old habits came back and I was able to get back into the stride of using BlackBerry OS - though I do find myself still swiping every now and then.
You can see by the name that BlackBerry has dropped the model names and just opted to call it the 9720. The 97xx series has always been the Bold series but when you see the device it looks a lot more like the Curve models, especially with the keyboard. You'll find I'll compare the 9720 a lot to the Curve line even though is doesn't have the Curve label.
The 9720 runs BlackBerry OS 7.1 with some added new features like a new lock screen with a camera shortcut and the addition of Multicast, an app that allows you to post to BBM, Twitter and Facebook simultaneously.
We've had our first impressions already but now let's take a look a little deeper into the 9720.
Device unboxings are a tradition here on CrackBerry, so a 9720 unboxing is expected. In the U.K. retail box you'll get a USB cable, U.K. wall plug, earphones and of course the manuals.
The 9720 runs pretty smoothly for the most part but with my usage I found 512MB for RAM a little to low at times. It's far less than what we commonly see in newer devices but still enough for the 9720 to get by at most times. It sports a 2.8 inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 480 x 360. A big adjustment coming from a BlackBerry 10 device. It has a 806 MHz Tavor MG1 processor, which I feel also lacks especially when I have a few apps open. The 9720 has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and a built-in FM Radio. The battery is a Li-Ion 1450mAh removable battery.
As I've said, it could have perhaps benefited from a bigger processor and more RAM. The specs are somewhat understandable for the market of this device but I did find apps crashed if I pushed it too far which could be concerning for some users.
At first glance, the 9720 has lots of similarities to Curve models. It has the chicklet style split-keyboard that all Curve models have and comes complete with the clicky sound too. It's much like the keyboard on the BlackBerry Q5 both in look and feel and thus it certainly brought me back to the time I briefly used a Curve 9320.
Its flat front face is a lot like the Q5 and can be described as a cross between a Curve 9320 and Q5. It's actually the same width as the Q5 and same dimensions of the Bold 9000. Above the keyboard you have your call button, BlackBerry key, back key, end call key and of course the trackpad. A staple for BlackBerry OS devices. Like most of the recent Curve models (and the 9790) these are all individually raised buttons. I've actually missed these buttons at times being on BlackBerry 10 so while it was nice to have them back, it was certainly a big adjustment for me.
The display is a 2.8 inch IPS touchscreen display and has 480x360 (214ppi) resolution. That's the same screen size as the Bold 9900 but with a lower resolution. So while it's not a terrible screen, it's still one of the smallest in the market today.
On the right side of the device you have your volume keys with a mute key sitting in the between them and also a camera convenience key (though this can be set to whatever you want). I did like having a convenience key back as again, it's something that is missed on BlackBerry 10. On the left side you have to charger port and BBM shortcut key. Again, this can be changed too. Along the top of the device you have a headphone jack and lock key. On bottom you'll find the speaker and of course on the back you have your 5MP camera with and LED flash.
As mentioned, the 9720 has an 806MHz Tavor MG1 processor and 512MB RAM. I feel it these are lacking at times as I often get the spinning clock and prompts that the device has to be restarted due to it not having enough memory. If you're doing simple tasks and not using too many apps I think you can get by, but for most users this will be one of the biggest downsides of the device.
The 9720 itself is made from plastic, much like the Curve models. Around the side your have a rubber textured banding to offer some grip when holding the device. The back cover is also plastic with a rubber textured outer layer to add more grip to the device. The back cover has a ribbed texture that reminds me of the back cover of the Torch 9800/9810.
Under the cover is a microSD slot above the battery and a mini SIM slot under the battery. There is no NFC to be found here.
Although the 9720 isn't labeled as a Curve model, it can certainly be mistaken for one if you're not one who keeps up with the latest BlackBerry news - but there's no mistaking it's a BlackBerry. It doesn't have a high end feel like the Bold 9900, however due to the rubber going around the side as well as the rubber back cover, it doesn't sound or feel as plastic and "cheap" as other devices such as the Curve 9320. For those still using the BlackBerry OS smartphone, you'll feel right at home with the 9720.
The dimensions of the 9720 are actually the same of that on the BlackBerry Bold 9000 - 114x66x12. However, it feels smaller and it is also lighter. It weighs in at 4.23oz (120g) and while that isn't too heavy, it has a solid feel to it. Again, I think having the rubber banding makes it feel solid. I definitely don't have a fear of dropping it due to the rubber banding and back cover.
The 9720 comes with an IPS touchscreen display at 2.8 inches. Where previous BlackBerry OS touchscreen devices have sported a TFT touchscreen display, the 9720 has an IPS (in-plane switching) display. This type of screen offers a wider viewing angle and quicker response times. Definitely an added plus, although I'm not entirely sure a wider viewing angle is welcome.
I didn't run into any issues with using the touchscreen but with the trackpad I found myself using that more than the touchscreen for selecting things. If I did use the touchscreen, it just made me want to swipe and gesture but existing BlackBerry OS users will have no trouble here.
Overall the screen is bold and bright and pretty much what you'd expect on a device like this.
Having used a Q10 for the past few months, then jumping into using the 9720, the keyboard experience was something I had to get used to. The Q10 keyboard is slick and smooth and the 9720 experience is not quite that. The 9720 is the first BlackBerry OS smartphone (not including the Porsche Design P'9981) to have a straight keyboard, as found on the Q10 and Q5. So, for anyone coming from another BlackBerry OS there may be a slight learning curve in getting used to the keyboard.
The keys are slightly more raised than that on the Q5 but this is pretty much the same with how the Curve model keyboards are. It is also louder and clicky, in-line with that of the Curve models, again.
With the keys being space out, it does make it slightly easier to type on, especially with my smaller hands but I think even larger hands will feel comfortable. I can type fast on the 9720 keyboard, it just gets a bit noisy and not as smooth as on the likes the Q10 and Bold models. But I make minimal mistakes, so I'd say apart from the clicky, clack noise it makes, you get a good typing experience on the 9720. It helps that the 9720 is wider than most BlackBerry OS smartphones. So, the keys can be space out much more. Only the Bold 9900 is wider but only by a smidge.
Using this keyboard at this point almost seems like a step back however, especially with devices like the Bold 9900 and Q10 having such great keyboards.
The 9720 comes with a 5MP camera, sadly there is no auto-focus to be found here but it does have an LED flash. It isn't the best but you can get some decent low light shots with it. It definitely won't be your main camera but for quick snaps to share on social networks it will suffice. Auto-focus would have been nice but seeing as it looks like it's part of the Curve line, it fits the bill. Beefing this up a bit would have been a plus but the combination of a 5MP camera with no autofocus really kills the ability to get any good quality photos from the 9720.
One thing that has been added to the camera app is the ability to share the picture you just took, making things a lot easier. Most of the time you snap a photo and you want to share it. The option is there now, it takes you to a list of all the places you can share the photo to. Definitely a welcome addition.
I didn't have another legacy device to compare pictures with so I've gone and compared it with a couple of pictures taken with the Q5. You can see from the pictures above that outdoors the 9720 does pretty well. A lot brighter than on the Q5. Indoors however, in low light, the colors are a bit off. The same can be said for most of the Curve models too, so not much has change in that department.
The battery is a 1450mAh JS1 and I found it did last me a day. It took a while to break in as do most batteries in general but once it was in full stride, I could go from morning to night in one charge - though on very heavy usage days, I would have to plug it in earlier but it would get me through most of the day.
It is also a removable battery so you could swap it out if you had a spare too. Since this is targeted at emerging markets, battery life may suffice. You might burn through the battery life if you used BBM Groups a lot though but it would still go for more than half a working day. On the whole, I didn't run into battery issues.
The 9720 on has 512MB of RAM and is really one of its biggest downfalls. With minimal use it is fine but it's a BlackBerry and while it may be targeted at emerging markets, even opening up a few websites made the browser close all the tabs due to not enough memory which is a bit of a bummer. I got so used to opening up multiple websites on BlackBerry 10.
If I had too many apps open it was also start to give me the dreaded spinning clock so I had to be sure that I only had the most important apps open. Though in saying that, BBM Messages and the browser is generally what I'll have open (and they're open by default) so for the most part that was fine. It was just when I needed to do that bit more.
After a bit of use it's pretty obvious that the 9720 isn't a "power user" device as the specs just aren't really enough to keep things running smoothly if you're doing too much at once.
Since, the 9720 runs BlackBerry OS, having keyboard shortcuts to contacts is very convenient. Certainly something I miss in the Q10. Just being able to press and hold direct from the home screen again makes calling a breeze.
The phone 'app' has change a little. It will show your call log first and you can scroll through to your contacts and dial pad too. Your call log can be sorted by most recent, most used and name. Call quality itself is pretty sound and every is clear. Generally, BlackBerry phones are good when it comes to the phone function, the 9720 is no different.
With the 9720 you get the usual data connections - Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. No LTE/4G here but you do get HSPA. There's no NFC either, though I sometimes wish there was. I regularly use NFC to share photos and it would have been a nice option to have here. There is however a built-in FM radio, so if you like to listen to the radio this is great way to do so without having to use up your data allowance.
There is also the ability to mobile hotspot since it is running OS 7.1. You also have BlackBerry Bridge to connect to the PlayBook and for the most part, the combination of BlackBerry 7 and PlayBook is a pretty solid one.
As already mentioned, the 9720 is running BlackBerry OS 7.1 which most BlackBerry users will be familiar with, but there are a few new features thrown in as well. So, if you're coming from a BlackBerry OS device, you'll still be familiar with everything within the OS as the new features don't change anything in the UI.
So, what's new. A new lock screen. New because you get a camera shortcut icon too. When you lock the device you can a brief animation of a 'window' come down over the screen before it fully locks. Gestures can't be used to unlock the device, it's good old fashioned lock button here, although I did find that if I pressed the back key to wake the device (this brings up the lock screen camera icon) I could swipe up to get rid of the lock screen camera icon.
If you have a password set up on your BlackBerry device, from that unlock menu there is also a shortcut to 'Take a picture'. So, either way you're getting a shortcut to take a picture from the lock screen whether you have a password set or not.
Another added feature on the OS 7.1 version for the 9720 is Multicast. An app that allows you update your BBM, Facebook and Twitter accounts at the same time. Something I wish was also native on BlackBerry 10. There is no setup required - if you have the accounts added already then they will be available to see via Multicast.
Everything else is OS 7.1 as found in existing BlackBerry 7.1 devices today.
Even though the BlackBerry app store is now called BlackBerry World, there is no music or movies to be found here. Straight up apps/games as it has always been for BlackBerry OS. There is still a huge selection to be found and of course, those much wanted banking apps are available and so are a few other apps that I have missed being native to BlackBerry.
I did manage to find all equivalent apps to those I regularly use on BlackBerry 10 so for to most part there wasn't an issue with getting things done.
Don't forget though, with BlackBerry OS you can install apps OTA, so if you were provided a link to the .JAD file you can install OTA. No sideloading here.
Overall, the 9720 is a pretty solid BlackBerry OS device. It served me well for the most part and the only draw backs are its lack of memory and not so high-spec processor. I actually enjoyed using it for the time I did but not enough that it would make me go back to BlackBerry OS. I've moved on and BlackBerry 10 is where it is at for me but it was nice to make use of Word Substitution as it should be. I still feel this lacks on BlackBerry 10. It was also nice to have convenience keys again. Two of them at that.
The 9720 isn't the Bold 9900 and if you currently use the 9900, I'd probably say, stick with it. Only because it is a lot more high end but if you want something new, the 9720 isn't too bad and is the same size. Though you do sacrifice RAM and processing power and doesn't have that 'high end' feel. But considering the target market of the 9720, I would say the specs are fine. Remember, the 9720 is being marketed at emerging markets so the spec sheet would be fine for those markets. In places like the Philippines and India, BlackBerry 10 devices are still a little over people's price range and BlackBerry OS devices still sell more there so 9720 will place nicely in those markets.
While the U.K. isn't an emerging market, BlackBerry smartphones have always been quite popular here, especially the Curve models so it seems only right for the 9720 to make its way to the country.
For power users, I'm not sure it's a good option at all. For the times I needed to power through, I did get the spinning clock and there were times apps had to shutdown due to lack of memory. Having been used to opening 10 or more tabs in the browser it was a tad bit annoying at times when the browser would just crash.
The spec sheet of the 9720 is best suited for the target market. At its core it is pretty much a Curve model that was given a bigger shell to live in. It isn't being targeted for the masses and that's what needs to be realized. There is a place for it and for that place, it will do well. Not recommend for current 9900 users or other power users, unless of course you want something new that isn't high end. You don't get a high end feel to the device but it still a solid device. Having two convenience keys is also quite beneficial and if you do use BBM a lot, the BBM hot key is very convenient. It probably could benefit from a lower price mark but we can only see it go down from here. It's not BlackBerry 10 and it isn't supposed to be. Definitely not for those who have already moved on to BlackBerry 10.