The BlackBerry Bold 9790 improves upon the uber-popular Bold 9700/9780, adding a touchscreen to the mix along with a more polished hardware design and BlackBerry 7 operating system.
Excluding the exclusive Porsche Design P'9981 from BlackBerry, we've now reviewed every other BlackBerry 7 Smartphone here on CrackBerry, including the BlackBerry Bold 9930, Bold 9900, Torch 9860, Torch 9850, Torch 9810, Curve 9380 and Curve 9360.
That's a lot of BlackBerry 7 Smartphones, and the newly available BlackBerry Bold 9790 slots into the Bold family from two different view points: you can either look at the Bold 9790 as a smaller, lower end Bold 9900 -- especially when compared to its big brother the bling'n 9900 -- or you can see at it as a straight up successor to the super popular BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Bold 9780. We loved the Bold 9700 and Bold 9780, so we view the 9790 as the next in line with the 9700 family and you really get the sense that's how RIM designed this phone. They took the 9780 and decided how to improve upon it, rather than taking the Bold 9900 and deciding how to change it up to be smaller and cheaper.
The rollout of the Bold 9790 has been interesting to see unfold. The Bold 9790 was unveiled in Indonesia to a crowd of passionate BlackBerry fans, which was followed by the launch of an official BlackBerry Store which saw HUGE lineups as Bold 9790's were promised at half price.. At the time of this review it has yet to be announced by any US-based carriers, though in Canada pretty much everybody has picked up the phone (Rogers, Telus, Bell, SaskTel, Koodoo, Virgin, etc.). The BlackBerry Bold 9790 forum has seen quite a lot of action and a lot of individuals in the US hoping the 9790 will hit their carrier sooner rather than later, so we'll have to wait and see how that unfolds.
The Bold 9790 immediately addresses the two biggest gripes with the Bold 9900 - it has great battery life and the camera has autofocus. Thank heavens! Compared to the Bold 9700 and 9780, the 9790 packs more power into a smaller package. The Bold 9790's style may not be as luxurious as the Bold 9900, but the 9790 really comes across as a getter done work horse, which we love.
No HD video recording on a Bold in 2011? You'd think it's bullocks, but it's true. It makes us sad that RIM couldn't deliver a BlackBerry 7 Bold that offered both autofocus and HD video recording this year. And while we like the fact the 9790 has a touchscreen, due to the small-ish size of the display we didn't find ourselves touching the 9790 as much as we do the Bold 9900.
If you're looking for a BlackBerry 7 Smartphone with a front facing full physical qwerty keyboard, you have three options: the entry level BlackBerry Curve 9350/9360/9370, the flagship Bold 9930/9900, and the Bold 9790, which is positioned as a lower end Bold or simply a Bold alternative to the 9900 for those who prefer a smaller phone. Assuming you can afford it, we pretty much always recommend going Bold over Curve.
In the end, we're giving the Bold 9790 the same 9/10 rating that we gave the Bold 9900. While the Bold 9900 has slightly better specs, a better keyboard and is definitely more of a head turner (you might call her a trophy Berry of sorts), after using the Bold 9790 for a couple weeks we couldn't help but grow to love the dependable and hassle-free performance of the Bold 9790.
As for the debate of which BlackBerry 7 Bold to buy, you'll have to decide for yourself. Personally, I'm a sucker for good looks and don't mind gals that are a little on the high-maintenance side (let's hope Miss CrackBerry doesn't read this), so with this review over you just know I'll be running out to the store to pick up a white Bold 9900 to trade up to.
With the BlackBerry Bold 9900 hitting the market first and being positioned as the new flagship device of the BlackBerry 7 Smartphone lineup, a lot of people -- myself included -- intially questioned the need for yet another Bold.
When getting briefed on the newest Bold by the head of the Bold 9790 product team, the target markets and justification for this device became more clear:
Knowing that, I understand why Research In Motion chose to build the Bold 9790. And if you fit into any one of these target markets, the Bold 9790 may just be a no brainer device for you to run out and buy. Knowing the Bold 9790 delivers a similar BlackBerry 7 experience to other BlackBerry devices, my attention while using the phone really became focused at how it compares to other full qwerty BlackBerrys. With a toned down processor and smaller keyboard and display than the 9900, does the performance and experience feel Bold enough? And for those who love their existing Bold 9700/9780s and haven't upgraded to a 9900 yet, does the 9790 make a big enough improvement to force an upgrade now vs. waiting it out for a BlackBery 10 phone next year?
Check out the video above for a closer look at the BlackBerry Bold 9790 and how it compares to other BlackBerry 7 Smartphones.
At first glance, non-BlackBerry aficionados will likely have a tough time distinguishing the Bold 9790 from other Bold and Tour devices released over the past couple of years (exception, Bold 9900). With a trackpad in the centre and keyboard that features "smiling guitar frets," the overall look is very similar to that of the Bold 9780 and Bold 9700.
Better trained eyes will start to pick out the subtle design differences that make the Bold 9790 the newest of the bunch. The glowing ring around the optical navigation trackpad is new, as are the individual buttons to the left and right of the trackpad, though visually, these buttons arguably look more dated than the more integrated ones on previous Bolds. Keeping the device clean and modern though is the display housing, which is built into the body of the device - a big improvement over previous Bolds where you could distinctly feel and see the physical edges of the display.
Picking up the phone reveals perhaps the biggest changes from the Bold 9700/9780 though. The 9790 is quite a bit thinner in comparison, and you feel that in the hand. I never considered the Bold 9700 to be an overly thick phone, but the 9790 makes it look and feel chunky in comparison. And while not a visual change from a distance, the Bold 9790 gets a touchscreen - which does make for a big visual change once you start using the phone.The back of the Bold 9790 is very minimalistic. You won't find any faux leather or carbon fibre on this Bold. The gun metal grey battery door has a grippy soft touch rubber feel, with the BlackBerry logo embedded into it. The phone bulges out slightly at the top where the camera assembly is housed, giving a visual clue to just how hard RIM worked to make this phone as thin as possible. The battery door is one of the easiest of any to remove from any BlackBerry I've owned. A little downward sliding pressure is all you need.
The left side of the Bold 9790 is extremely clean. Like other new BlackBerry phones, there is no convenience key on the left side. And with the relocation of the microUSB port from the side of the device to the bottom, that only leaves the 3.5mm headset jack on the upper left. The right side of the phone is a little busier, with the same super thin volume up/down/mute and convenience key buttons as we have seen on other BlackBerry 7 Smartphones like the Torch 9860. At first I really hated these buttons, but they've really grown on me the past couple of months. Visually, well, there basically invisible. Looking straight down on the phone from above you can barely tell they are there. Functionally, they work pretty well. My fingers can always feel them out without having to look at what I'm doing, and so far I haven't had any durability issues with these buttons even though that was a concern I had from the start. I personally still prefer the more visible and blinged out buttons on the Bold 9900, but I guess if you're not going to make them a design feature the best thing to do is minimize the heck out of them, which RIM has successfully done here.
The top of the Bold 9790 only features one hidden button, which is the centrally mounted lock button, which turns the display on and off and locks the device. As mentioned above, the bottom of the phone features the microUSB charging port. There's no charging contacts here for a charging dock, but don't fret - there is a BlackBerry Charging Stand available - it just uses the microUSB instead, which should make for a rock solid base for this phone. Looking behind the battery door reveals more of the clever NFC antenna integration as we have seen on other BlackBerry 7 Smartphone models. The battery is the same JM-1 1230mAH as is found in the Bold 9900, and the microSD slot is mounted at the top right corner above the battery. It has a slight angle to it, so unlike the Bold 9900, you can pop the card out while the battery is inserted without it ending up in a mess of a jam (like this).
Overall, the BlackBerry Bold 9790 looks and feels a lot more like an updated and slimmed down down Bold 9780 than it does anything like the Bold 9900. In comparison, the Bold 9900 has a much bigger footprint which brings with it a bigger keyboard and display, but that means overall it's a much bigger phone in the hand and to carry around in the pocket. Compared to the Bold 9780, a lot of the "lines" are cleaned up, especially around the display, the device is quite a bit thinner, which makes a noticeable different to both the look and feel. With such a plain battery door it's perhaps the most understated Bold of the bunch, and we're ok with that. It gives this Bold a getter done workhorse type of feeling, which we love.
Perhaps the biggest differentiation between the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Bold 9790 isn't the size or shape or appearance, but rather what's under the hood. While the BlackBerry Bold 9900, Torch 9860 and Torch 9810 are all rocking 1.2GHz processors on a Qualcomm chipset, the Bold 9790 is more akin to the BlackBerry 7 Curve line up, featuring a Marvel Tavor chipset. But while the Curves are clocked at 800MHz, the Bold 9790 is at an even 1GHz.
What matters of course isn't the spec, but the overall performance level, and so far in the speed department I have been more than pleased with the Bold 9790's performance. In everyday navigation and opening and closing of apps, etc., the 9790 is snappy. But to be honest, the BlackBerry OS experience was pretty snappy on the Bold 9700/9780 with 624MHz, so it should be fast here too.
Overall though, I don't think anybody will find themselves disappointed with the performance of the Bold 9790. even if you're "downgrading" from a Bold 9900.
The Bold 9790's display features the same 480x360 resolution as the Bold 9780 and Bold 9700, but with one obviously HUGE difference - it's a touchscreen! Looking back at my BlackBerry Bold 9780 review, this is one of the things I desperately wanted to see come to this form factor of Bold, and with the 9790 RIM finally delivered it.
To be honest though, now that I have the touchscreen on the 9700 series I actually haven't found myself using it as much as I thought I would. Sometimes I tap the display to open apps, and I'm occasionally tapping within apps or swiping through photos. But for the most part I still find myself using the trackpad to get things done on the 9790. I think part of this is that I'm just so used to not having a touchscreen on this size/shape of a phone, that I just haven't retrained my brain yet. But I think part of it may also have to do with the physical size of the device and screen. The phone is so small and easy to use with one hand with the trackpad as navigation that it just seems less efficient to move my finger onto the display and start swiping so instinctively I don't. And with the overall size of the display fairly small at 2.45" (measured diagonally), there simply isn't a ton of room on the display to get your fingers comfortably working together for things like pinch to zoom. Don't get me wrong - there's still a decent amount of screen real estate (and I know the market has seen touchscreens that are smaller) and I do put the touchscreen to work a fair amount, but I'm just finding that compared to the Bold 9900 even, I find myself naturally using the touchscreen on the 9790 less. I guess what it comes down to is that on the traditional BlackBerry I could live without a touchscreen and be happy, so having it now is really a bonus, not a necessity for me, but I think it's something the consumer market demands so I'm very glad it's there.
As for the touchscreen itself, I've found it to be nicely responsive and the BlackBerry 7 Liquid Graphics look great on the high resolution color display. Definitely a nice display!
If you're looking for the absolute best keyboard to ever be put on a mobile device, you'll want to go for the BlackBerry Bold 9900 over the 9790. Anybody who tells you the Bold 9900's keyboard is not the best is either crazy, has never tried it, is lying or isn't that smart and shouldn't be giving advice.
That said, the Bold 9790's keyboard is still pretty darn good. I transitioned to the 9790's keyboard from the 9900, so there was a period of cursing over the keyboard being a bit too small and key stroke being a little too firm in comparison, but after a week I quit the cursing and have been very smooth on the 9790's keys ever since. The keyboard is mainly similar to the 9780's, with only some tiny differences that I can tell (the keys feels a bit softer to press on the 9790 compared to the 9780 and the bottom row buttons are a bit different).
Overall it's a great keyboard. In the year 2011 when there are a sea of big touchscreen phones on the market, you're going for a physical keyboard because you value communication above all else on your mobile device. And this keyboard plays nicely into that - you'll be able to pound out BBMs, emails, texts, tweets, status updates and whatever else you want to in no time flat, and in that gratifying fashion that only a physical keyboard can provide.
The BlackBerry Bold 9790 comes with 768MB of RAM, and features a microSD card slot so you can stick in memory cards adding up to another 32GB of storage for media, such as music, movies, files and photos. Apps are still installed onto the 768MB portion of the memory, but most "heavier" apps these days offload content onto the memory card so you can squeeze quite a few apps onto the device.
The single biggest complaint about the flagship BlackBerry Bold 9900 is its battery life. The previous generation BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Bold 9780 had amazing battery life. With the Bold 9900, RIM reduced the battery size 18% from 1500mAh to 1230mAh, and proceeded to add in a bigger display (which sucks back more juice), a higher performance chipset (which sucks back more juice), and added a steel band around the phone (which we think means the 9900's radio has to work a little harder in lower coverage areas to maintain signal, which eats up more battery when you're out and about). When in WiFi coverage the 9900's battery seems pretty solid. Get outside of WiFi and the battery definitely drops faster than any BlackBerry Bold user would like to see.
So how does the Bold 9790 stack up knowing that it has the same battery? The answer here is pretty darn well! Just to be extra harsh on battery in comparison to how I use my 9900 daily, I've been keeping WiFi off while at home and office, and under normal/moderately heavy use I'm still finding I have plenty of juice left at the end of the day. On a few nights I never plugged it into to recharge, and I still made it into early afternoon of the next day before looking to plug in. Between the smaller display, lower-performance Marvell chipset and more standard design, I don't think battery life is a concern with the Bold 9790. So if you're a 9900 owner and are feeling like you simply need more battery life in everyday use, you may want to consider swapping things up for the 9790.
When it comes to the camera on the BlackBerry Bold 9790, there is good news and there is bad news.
Let's start with the good news, which really shouldn't even be news, but thanks to the Bold 9900's lack of autofocus it is.... the BlackBerry Bold 9790 has autofocus! Yay!! Thank goodness. In my Bold 9900 review I wasn't too harsh on the lack of autofocus (apparently RIM left it out to make the 9900 super thin), but in practical use I've found the lack of autofocus to be really annoying. I take a lot of close-up photos of things like receipts, restaurant menus and wine lists, etc. and for all of these you really do need autofocus. So on that front the 9790 has it, and it works!
You can click on the photos below for some real world shots taken with the 9790's camera (resized down a bit and saved at slightly lower quality to save on file size, though visibly they should look the same). Outside on a cloudy day getting the Christmas tree the photo turned out pretty well. Indoors in low light with the camera flash on (it was too dark without) the Christmas tree all decorated turned out fairly vivid, but not super crisp. A close up of a new watch in decent lighting turned out really well. This same shot on the Bold 9900 without autofocus wasn't nearly as clear (one of these days we have to launch WatchReviews.com for wrist watches... after all, watches are mobile, right?!). And the final photo is in dark lighting at Miss CrackBerry's staff party, taken from a distance zoomed in. Pretty blurry. Overall it's decent, but similar to most mobile camera's these days - if you have good lighting and you're relatively close and hold still, you'll get a great shot. Poor lighting and shaky, not so much.
And the bad news? There is no HD Video Recording! Seriously. This makes me really a mad. A flagship "Bold" BlackBerry in 2011 **should** have HD video recording. When the standard rendering on services like youtube go HD, for mobile hardware to have it is simply not acceptable to me. I guess this is a tradeoff with the chipset they switched to or something, but whatever the reason it makes makes me mad that it lacks it. End rant.
While NFC is still very much in its infancy as far as mainstream mobile applications go, like many of the other BlackBerry 7 Smartphones on the market the Bold 9790 includes NFC. Built into the battery door is the NFC antenna, which connects back to the phone via two pin connectors.
NFC use is stlll pretty limited, but Research In Motion will soon be releasing the BlackBerry Tag app which will allow BlackBerry users to put the functionality to use much sooner than later. You can check out a video demo of BlackBerry Tag in action above.
Everything else about the BlackBerry Bold 9790 I found to be pretty much status quo with other newly released BlackBerry 7 Smartphones. Voice quality was good, and speakerphone quality was good enough. Bluetooth worked with my car and a bluetooth speaker no problem (if you haven't picked up a Jawbone JAMBOX yet, I recommend it). WiFi connectivity is there and working well (no hotspot yet but maybe that'll come with a 7.1 upgrade). Other sensors include GPS, an orientation sensor (accelerometer) and digital compass (magnetometer) that allow for augmented reality applications like Wikitude, which comes preloaded on the phone. Good to go!
I'm an accesory junky, so I can't let a BlackBerry phone review go by without tossing in accessories into the review somewhere. We'll definitely be stocking lots of BlackBerry Bold 9790 cases and accessories in our ShopCrackBerry.com store and CrackBerry Canada stores. Yet again there is a new shape and form factor here, so other than microUSB cables, memory cards and the JM-1 battery that's used on some other BlackBerry 7 phones, you'll pretty much have to pick up things like Bold 9790 cases and cradles specifically for it. Pictured above is the Bold 9790 Charging Stand - unlike the $2,000 Porsche Design P'9981 by BlackBerry that comes with on in the box, you'll have to buy this one separately.
With the BlackBerry Bold 9900, I was completely smitten during my review, and still am. It's gorgeous, and I just love touching its keyboard and big touchscreen. I'm less infatuated with the Bold 9790, but end of the day, that's not a bad thing. When the honeymoon is over, what matters is everyday life, and the Bold 9790 proves to be a winner here through and through. Good battery life, it's extremely pocketable and portable and comfortable to use one-handed, and the things that matter are there (exception - HD video). Compared to the Bold 9780 it's a nice step up, and compared to the Bold 9900 I view it really more as a step sideways than a step down. It gains some things, it loses some things.
But overall it's another great BlackBerry Bold design in what has been a super popular line for Research In Motion.
BlackBerry 7 is an evolution of BlackBerry 6 (see our extremely in-depth BlackBerry 6 Review),which made a number of bug fixes to the OS and also introduced faster web browsing, the ability to customize the home screen more by managing the panels and brought forth liquid graphics for a smoother user experience.
With RIM stock taking a beating and the BlackBerry brand not doing so hot in North America these days, it's mainly the traditional BlackBerry OS that is getting the blame. BlackBerry hardware is well designed and high quality, but consumers, Wall Street and the media are looking for the next generation BlackBerry 10 OS to make the leap into modern mobile computing. I get it. The new BlackBerry 10 OS (evolved from the PlayBook's QNX-based operating system) needs to hit the market. Like the PlayBook, the UI will feel more modern, the overall operating system will be a little more intuitive and easier to use, and the app experience will be that much better.
And while RIM does need to improve on all these areas, I think it's a shame to overlook what the BlackBerry 7 OS in its current incarnation does so well. It's still by far the best communication platform on the market. As mentioned earlier in this review, in the year 2011 if you're looking at buying a phone with a keyboard that takes up half the real estate that could be used for a full touchscreen, you're basically prioritizing your mobile needs and saying I value the app of communication above all else. You're making a trade off. For some people, the trade off of a smaller screen isn't worth it. But for tens of millions of others, including myself, it is. The traditional BlackBerry OS is designed for people on the go. This is a phone and a OS that you'll put to use 200 times a day, for 10 seconds at a time, as you pull it out of your pocket, fire off a text, and put it back in your pocket and get on with your life. Yes, you can do things like play games and browse the web, but no matter what due to the smaller screen the experience is not going to be as good (even if a phone with this form factor was on BlackBerry 10) compared to a phone with a larger display.
Personally, I'm all about the no compromise mobile solution. For me, that means having a BlackBerry with a physical keyboard as my primary communication tool, rather then having another mobile device like a tablet (PlayBook, iPad, or whatever as my killing time device).
So while it's easy to throw stones at the areas where the BlackBerry OS is weaker compared to the competition -- like the app catalog and app experience -- you can't deny the power of the basic BlackBerry communication experience. Heck, it's off topic, but I want to drive the point home. The other week I was chatting to a small group of Wall Street analysts. All of them carried two mobile devices. They had their BlackBerry, which was issued by their company, and then they also had either an iPhone, iPad and a few had Android phones. All of them said that even if their company took away their work BlackBerry, they would still go out and buy one for their primary phone, as despite the annoying things that can happen on BlackBerry devices (like the occasional need for a battery pull which is thankfully very infrequent these days), there's no way they could function as effectively communication-wise with just a full touchscreen device.
So if you're a shaker or a mover, a power communicator or a heavy texter, the BlackBerry 7 OS on the Bold 9790 will more than suffice, and if you follow CrackBerry.com daily you'll discover some pretty cool apps too that help you get more out of your phone than just what ships in the box.
Art buffs will recognize the backdrop above to be that of Salvadore Dali's painting The Persistence of Memory. Personally, when I look at the melting clocks the notion that has always come to my mind is one of Time's a Wasting. With Research In Motion now saying that BlackBerry 10 Smartphones will not hit until late 2012, the company really has no time to waste and is going to be relying on BlackBerry 7 Smartphones sales in abroad and in North America to keep the revenue engine going and money flowing.
The good news with this bad news from RIM is that it makes the decision to upgrade or buy a BlackBerry 7 Smartphone a lot easier. Many CrackBerry readers have been holding off, thinking BBX gone BlackBerry 10 phones are just around the corner, coming in early 2012. Now knowing that these devices are still a ways off from hitting the market, I think it makes the decision to buy a new BlackBerry that much easier - if you appreciate BlackBerry, the time to buy is now!
As for which BlackBerry 7 Smartphone to choose, you'll have to read all our reviews and weigh in on which ones suits your priorities most. But of all the BlackBerry 7 Smartphones reviewed, I can easily say the Bold 9790 is probably the best no muss, no fuss BlackBerry delivering that traditional full keyboard experience that so many BlackBerry users love. If you spend a lot of time in WiFi coverage all day, I'd probably go for the Bold 9900 for the keyboard, bigger screen and hotter look, but if you're out and about a lot and want a nice portable phone that gets through the day with power to spare and still has that Bold badge on it, the 9790 could be the BlackBerry 7 Smartphone for you.