A Hands-On First Look at the BlackBerry Javelin 8900!
w00t! It's time for yet another hands-on first look of a pre-release, pre-officially announced BlackBerry smartphone. We brought you the web's first review of the BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Pearl Flip, and now we're rounding out the Triple Crown of Smartphone Exclusives with an in-depth first look at the BlackBerry 8900, currently codenamed "Javelin."
Verizon's recent spree of media announcements / leaks / shenanigans surrounding the BlackBerry Storm has the smartphone world thinking "touchscreen" when it comes to the mention of a new BlackBerry smartphone, but there is another non-touchscreen BlackBerry just around the corner which has a huge contingent of BlackBerry users equally excited. No, it doesn't quite have the "wow" factor of a touchscreen BlackBerry, nor the all-in-one power of the flagship BlackBerry Bold, but as an evolution of the Curve and younger sibling to the Bold, the Javelin is one tight, sexy package that is going to find its way into the pockets and holsters of millions of people.
As with our BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Pearl Flip reviews, keep in mind the device we're working with here is pre-release. While the hardware of our Javelin seems to be pretty good, it's definitely an earlier pre-production build (dated to June/08). The unit in this review actually features the French AZERTY keyboard layout (vs. QWERTY) along with a white trackball and 128MB of onboard memory. Newer evaluation builds of the Javelin, and presumably the 8900 when it becomes commercially available, will feature a grey/black trackball and 256MB of device memory. So as you read this, keep in mind some things will likely change-up a little bit by the time you can walk into your local carrier store and buy this device.
It only takes three words to sum up the BlackBerry 8900... Curve on Steroids. But three words are not enough for any real CrackBerry Addict to get their fix, so continue reading after the jump for my initial hardware impressions and a whack load of images. I'll follow up in a few days with a hands-on video and some more feedback on device use. Oh, and in case you were thinking it, I DID NOT buy this Javelin off eBay for $17,100. I'm crazy, but I'm not *that* crazy :-)
It was back in early May when the "Javelin" codename for RIM's next generation, full-QWERTY, 3G-less BlackBerry surfaced online and mid-June when the first in the wild images and brief video emerged. The device was originally tagged as the 9300 but in recent weeks switched to the 8900 model number, just as the 9100 KickStart became known as the 8220 Pearl, leaving the BlackBerry Bold 9000 at the top of the non-touchscreen BlackBerry chain. While the device looked sweet in the early images, it wasn't until we leaked these images that there was really quasi-official proof of what the new BlackBerry 8900 was going to pack come its eventual release...
BlackBerry 8900 "Javelin" Key Features:
Suffice to say the blogosphere has been pretty clued in to the 8900's goodness. The big questions remaining are when are we going to see it and what's it officially going to be called at release? Regarding release date, some people say within 30 to 60 days while other rumors suggest the Javelin may be getting pushed back a bit longer (let's hope not!). As for the name? Well... at this point I'm not sure. The KickStart unexpectedly kept the name of an existing device model, becoming the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220. Could the same thing happen here with the 8900? Will RIM leverage the strength of the existing Curve name and brand this device the Curve 8900? Or will they get creative and come up with something snazzy and new?! I guess only time will tell...
But there's a big difference to knowing the specs of a device and holding it in hand. Time to get hands-on with the Javelin!
Initial Reactions and Observations
Having used the BlackBerry Bold since its release on Rogers, my first thought when seeing the Javelin unboxed was "dammmmnnnn, this thing is small." And having used a BlackBerry Curve as my daily smartphone up until purchasing the Bold, my first thought upon picking the Javelin up was "dammmmnnnn, this feels ohhh soo familiar and good."
I immediately fell in love with the 8900's overall form factor. The shape and styling of the BlackBerry 8900 is definitely an evolution and tribute to the existing Curve form factor, but in my opinion feels and looks even better than the 83xx series with much improved specs. It's faster, has a better display, more memory and has WiFi and GPS in one (none of this 8310/8320 compromise stuff). If only it had 3G, the decision between the Bold and the Javelin would be relatively easy. Specs and looks aside, the 8900 is simply the device I'd rather carry with me and hold and use all day based on size and feel. It fits me. That doesn't mean it's a better device than the Bold, far from it, but simply that both are pretty awesome and personal preference and requirements (do you need 3G?) are going to dictate which device you immediately gravitate towards. More on that later...
BlackBerry Javelin 8900 Hardware Observations
There are a ton of photos here (each with descriptive captions), so I'll try and keep my initial hardware observations limited and you can click a picture to get your thousand words. Once I spend a bit more time using the device I'll follow up with more in-depth observations.
Display: Frak'n awesome. In terms of physical dimensions, the Javelin's display is narrower than the Bold's by a ¼ inch and is the same height. Yet at 480 by 360 pixels, the 8900's display is actually higher resolution than the Bold's already-amazing 480 by 320 display. Looking at the homescreen, icons appear smaller and crisper on the Javelin. I can't wait to load it up with videos and put it to the test.
Keyboard / Navigation: The Javelin's keyboard is compact, but I've been finding it easy to type on (even with the French AZERTY layout, which I have already gotten used to and have concluded may actually be more efficient to use over QWERTY for typing in English!). Just like the BlackBerry 83xx series, the BlackBerry 8900's keys are spaced out. This key spacing means there are no cool guitar-style frets, like on the Bold and Pearl Flip. If you look at the 8900's keyboard closely, more than the Curve it most closely resembles the keyboard on the BlackBerry 8700 series, just condensed slightly.
The central navigation buttons for the Javelin are the same as for the Bold, only shrunk down, and as mentioned above it sounds like the commercially available 8900 is going to feature a change up in trackball color, to grey / black. In my BlackBerry 9000 initial review I noted that the trackball looked a little small / lost on the Bold's body, but on the Javelin it looks perfect once again. I never measured for Phi, but I'm assuming there must be some of that Divine Proportion stuff at work here.
Around the Perimeter: The perimeter buttons/ports/controls on the phone are one of the biggest areas where the Javelin has evolved from the Curve and is very different from the Bold. The left side of the Javelin is almost empty. It features only the left side convenience key and what I *think* is a tiny speaker port at the top. The right side of the Javelin has become extremely BUSY. Not only is there the standard volume up / down and right side convenience key, but the 3.5mm headset jack and syncing/charging port which used to be on the left are now on the right. Like the Pearl 8220, the Javelin features a microUSB port vs. miniUSB. I have to admit, I've been finding it extremely weird to plug the microUSB cable into the lower right corner of the 8900. I instinctually keep reaching for the upper left.
The bottom of the 8900 is also very empty. Like the Curve, it features just a tiny hole for microphone pickup. However, the top of the phone is an area where RIM has kicked things up a notch. Instead of just having a mute key, that if held down for two seconds puts the phone into standby, RIM has taken a more intuitive approach and given the Javelin its own dedicated Lock button. The lock / mute buttons are very cool. They're actually hidden beneath the plastic casing of the device, so that you're actually pushing in on the device body to active them (will demonstrate in video). This definitely helps in giving the Javelin a sleek look.
Back Side: Two things really stand out when you flip the BlackBerry 8900 around for a look. One, there's a much-welcomed 3.2MP camera on the Javelin that's housed behind a glass cover (THANK YOU), and two, a smartly engineered battery cover latch. The battery door itself looks nice and feels good, though if you've grown to love the leather back on your Bold then the 8900's door may leave you wanting (if you haven't seen it, check out the video for Hit Me On My BlackBurry and you'll know where I'm coming from). The sliding mechanism on the Javelin's latch is actually built into the battery door. Instead of pushing in a button (Curve) or pulling the latch down towards the bottom of the phone (Pearl 8220), you actually push the sliding mechanism up towards the top of the phone, which immediately provides a handy grip for lifting the cover off. This is by far the easiest experience I have had with removing and replacing the battery cover on a BlackBerry. I haven't done a drop test yet (don't plan on it either!), but kudos to RIM for finally figuring this one out. And if you ever do run into issues with the latch, a battery door that actually contains the latch mechanism will be much cheaper and easier to replace than a full casing.
Under the Battery Cover: Remove the battery cover on the Javelin and things are nicely laid out. You can tell RIM put a lot of though into this part of the device. The battery is 1400mAh, and unlike other RIM batteries that are always perfect rectangles, the D-X1 battery in the 8900 has a small jog in it near the leads. RIM even left a small space in the casing to the left of the battery, making it easy for you to get your fingernail in there to lift and remove the battery. We'll see how the battery lasts over the next few days of use.
The SIM card slot has a convenient location and is easy to get your card in and out of. The battery blocks the SIM port a little bit, so you will have to remove the battery in order to remove your SIM card.
The media card slot is convenient and soooo easy to use, although its location confused me at first. I was looking for the typical hinged door mechanism and when I didn't see that I was second guessing myself altogether as I definitely never saw an externally accessible microSD card slot. The media card slot location is to the right of the SIM card slot, and all you need to is drop your card in and slide it to the right. Removing the card is easy as well (slide it to the left). I've griped in the past that every smartphone should have an externally accessible media card slot, but if you think about how often you actually access your media card, and factor in the Javelin's easy-to-remove battery cover, I think the solution RIM has come up with here is optimal. It keeps the outside lines of the phone cleaner, and is actually an easier mechanism to work than the spring release systems I have experienced on the Bold and Pearls.
Processor: I won't weigh in too much on the Javelin's processor just yet, as the version of OS4.6.1 on this unit is a fairly early build (here's to hoping some newer versions find their way into the wild soon!), but I think it's fair to say the 8900 is not as fast as the Bold, but is a helluva lot faster than the Curve / 8800 / Pearls. It's definitely zippy flying through the menus and native programs, and with a device memory increase up to 256MB it should hopefully keep that speed even as you load the device up with apps. Come full release time, I don't think anyone will be disappointed in this processor.
GPS & WiFi: The Javelin has both, but I haven't really tested either out yet. Stay tuned for me here.
Camera: I haven't played too much with the camera yet (and haven't touched the video camera at all), but the initial snaps I have taken with the 3.2MP camera seem pretty good. Although, I did encounter one glitch that I have yet to rectify... when the option for Picture Size is set to Large, 8900's 3.2MP camera should take photos at 2048 by 1536 pixels. Yet the photos I have taken are clocking in at only 1856 by 1392 pixels (which is not even an option on the phone). I'm guessing it's a tweak that has already been address in a newer version of the OS (or user error I'm not aware of?!).
For those interested in a quality comparison between the Bold and Javelin's camera, I snapped a shot of a couple of cars parked on a street. Taken one after another, here's a Photo taken with the Javelin and the same Photo taken with the Bold. You be the judge.
Sound: Historically this wasn't something I immediately looked at in a hardware review, but the BlackBerry Bold's awesome (for a smartphone) sound has put it on my radar for good. This is one area where the Javelin really seems to be lacking in comparison to the Bold. The Bold features a ton of sound ports around the perimeter of the phone that maximize airflow out of the device and create an almost stereo-like effect. The 8900 has one at the top, one below the camera glass, and I *think* another small one near the top left of the phone (unless that's something else... I'm an Addict, not an Expert!!). Cranking up the tunes, the Javelin goes twangy quite quick in comparison to the Bold.
OS 4.6.1: My BlackBerry 8900 unit is currently running OS220.127.116.11, and I'm sure there are some newer versions out there for it already. I'll get more into the OS in a follow up review, but essentially 4.6.1 builds upon the OS found in the Bold. The biggest new feature I'm itching to try out is Safe Mode, which apparently can be entered by holding the back key while booting. Stay tuned for a lot more here....
All in all, the Javelin's hardware makes for a tight little package stacked with a lot of performance. The lack of 3G definitely hurts, but I'm sure RIM is already working to get that one figured out for a future model based on this (or a similar) form factor.
BlackBerry Javelin 8900 vs. BlackBerry Bold / Curve
Comparing the BlackBerry Javelin to the BlackBerry Bold is a little like comparing the BMW 3 Series to the BMW 5 Series. Either way you're a winner. Sure there will be some arguments back and forth as to which is the better car, and each will outperform the other in certain areas, be it power, luxury, agility, gas mileage, or the ability to easily parallel park it, but push come to shove the car that appeals to you will be the one that meets your requirements, satisfies your priorities and provides you with your ultimate driving experience.
If you a value a smartphone that is small and can live with the absence of 3G, you're going to love the BlackBerry 8900. It's smaller than the Bold in every dimension, feels comfortable in the hand and is small enough to easily tuck into a pocket, yet it packs more device memory, a higher resolution display and a better camera than the Bold. Not to shabby for a younger sibling.
So long as you don't mind the size, it's hard to beat the flagship of RIM's full-QWERTY lineup, the BlackBerry Bold. It has 3G, GPS and WiFi all in one, has a bigger display (physically), a roomy keyboard that's easy to type on, excellent speakers (consider them to be Harmon Kardon or BOSE compared to Javelin's factory speakers), a wicked-fast processor, and the leatherette battery cover and chromed guitar frets give it an extra touch of class. Heck, it even comes with a plushy 1GB of storage space built in for media (though I've never really understood that one... don't we all buy big microSDHC cards the second we get our devices?!). The Bold is the king of the road. And while I personally prefer a smaller phone, there are plenty of people out there who prefer a little more
leg finger room. Hopefully we'll see the extra memory and bigger camera hit the 9000 lineup one day soon.
While choosing between the Javelin and the Bold will be a difficult decision for many in the months ahead, the comparison and decision between the Curve 83xx series and 8900 is much easier... as I said at the start of this write-up, the Javelin is the Curve on Steroids, without the moral dilemmas or potential health issues to worry about. The BlackBerry Curve is an awesome phone, but the Javelin outperforms it in every single area.... speed, display, memory, operating system, camera, functionality, form, feel, looks... period.
Up Next - Using the BlackBerry Javelin
So much for a short review! There's still lots of BlackBerry Javelin goodness to come in the days ahead as we spend some time with the 8900 and get to know it a bit better. Stay tuned for a hands-on video and more. In the meantime, be sure to submit your reactions and questions in the comments!