Despite well-publicised difficulties in recent times, RIM has continued to produce a multitude of BlackBerry handsets to ensure every corner of the smartphone arena is covered. However, it is on their QWERTY-equipped devices that the brand continues to primarily focus. The Bold range represents the pinnacle of the BlackBerry design ethos, with the recently released 9900 heading up the family and featuring luxurious materials accompanying the usual BlackBerry functionality.
The 9790 is the latest addition to the Bold range and sets out to offer the same practicalities and premium design of the Bold 9900 in a more budget-friendly, compact package. The handset features makes all the right noises in terms of specification, with a 1GHz processor, 5 megapixel camera and full touchscreen capability all included. But is the Bold 9790 good enough to tempt the public away from their Android and iOS devices?
- BlackBerry OS 7.0
- 1GHz Marvel Tavor MG1 processor
- 768MB RAM
- 2.45-inch touchscreen
- QWERTY keyboard
- Optical trackpad
- 8 GB internal storage
- Expandable 32GB microSD slot
- 5MP autofocus camera with LED flash
- VGA video recording
- Li-Ion 1230 mAh battery
- Full Bluetooth, USB, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity
- Combined email, instant messaging and SMS viewing
- Social network integration via Social Feeds
- BlackBerry Messenger
Hardware and Design
With no drastic move away from the traditional BlackBerry design aesthetic, from a distance the nuances of the 9790 could be easily missed. However, upon closer inspection the handset shows itself as somewhat of a premium design. The form factor is certainly familiar but the device is particularly compact for a BlackBerry at just 110mm tall and weighing in at a rather svelte 107g.
The light weight is tempered by a premium feel in the hand thanks to a chrome surround and tactile feel to the battery cover. Fitment of the rear panel is slightly disappointing with visible edge gaps visible on our test unit, but overall the phone feels comfortable and exudes the businesslike aura that has come to be expected of RIM devices.
The display on the Bold 9790 is a slightly underwhelming 2.45-inch touchscreen with a resolution of just 480 x 360 pixels. That said, screen brightness is more than acceptable and colour saturation is satisfactory. Performance in sunlight is impressive and for a screen with a relatively low resolution viewing angles were above average.
The inclusion of a touchscreen alongside a QWERTY keyboard was a contentious decision in the Bold 9900 and the argument looks set to continue here. Although working perfectly well, it does feel as though its inclusion is an afterthought and using it feels more awkward than simply using the trackpad. However, the option to use either (or both in conjunction with one another) ensures that BlackBerry traditionalists won’t feel alienated.
The 9790 carries a 1GHz processor, down slightly on the 9900’s 1.2GHz unit, with 768MB of RAM. The handset performs admirably when navigating menus and browsing the web with no noticeable lag at any point. Onboard storage is an impressive 8GB, expandable up to 32GB via a MicroSD card, meaning plenty of room for multimedia content and important workflow charts.
The ubiquitous BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard is as functional as ever, with the extremely small buttons remaining usable and totally intuitive. The usual BlackBerry control keys and trademark trackpad are placed directly below the screen allowing easy hard-key navigation around the device.
One noticeable feature is the inclusion of a lock button integrated into the shell on top of the phone. Although the function worked without any issues during our time with the phone, it does feel slightly cheap and the phone was inadvertently unlocked on a number of occasions when being removed from pockets.
Software and Multimedia
The latest BlackBerry OS 7 operating system is at the heart of the 9790 user experience, carrying the usual BB messaging and email refinements. Menu screens are functional rather than flashy, with the familiar icons appearing throughout. The UI appears to mimic the QNX-based Tablet OS which is used in the PlayBook, however due to the small screen the menus are a little cramped. That said, the 9790 is incredibly easy to navigate around and highly usable, doubtless due to its business-user heritage.
BlackBerry has yet to succumb to the ominous trend of pre-loaded bloatware and thankfully the 9790 continues this convention. Apps out of the box are heavily weighted towards social media with Facebook and Twitter integration offered straight from start up. The BlackBerry Social Feed is particularly impressive, offering a one stop shop that brings together instant messaging, social network updates and RSS feeds to one single feed, making it easy to stay in touch and keep on top of the latest happenings in your social whirl. Email functionality is as intuitive and user-friendly as has become expected of BlackBerry, with a swift set-up process meaning emails can be sent and received in no time.
The onboard 5 megapixel camera (the highest resolution available in any RIM device) is a real strong point of the Bold 9790, producing crisp images with excellent resolved detail throughout. Colour saturation is far beyond the usual BlackBerry standard and only minimal noise was detected in our tests. The camera UI does take some getting used to however, with the permanent on-screen menu making composition difficult at times. That said, functionality is impressive throughout and the numerous scene modes offer excellent usability in any given photographic situation.
Although expectations were low regarding the VGA video mode, we were frankly astounded by the high quality recorded output from the 9790. Despite the low resolution, the colours were accurate and contrast was of a high standard, with the continuous autofocus remaining on-point throughout filming.
Connectivity is as expected of a modern smartphone with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and USB all included. Upload and download stats are of a satisfactory standard, with HSDPA at 7.2 Mbps and HSUPA at 5.76 Mbps. Nothing world changing here, but at the same time nothing to concern us either. NFC is a welcome addition on the 9790, giving full near field sharing capabilities and the option of mobile wallet applications as and when they become widely available.
Performance and Verdict
Despite initial scepticism of yet another BlackBerry QWERTY device in what seems to be an already saturated range, we were thoroughly won over by the 9790. The phone is compact, feels has a premium feel and offers instant usability without ever extolling its virtues in an overly pushy manner. The design is instantly recognisable as a BlackBerry, however the slimline dimensions of the device offer a fresh take on what was arguably becoming a tired concept.
The handset is not without its flaws, particularly the dated feel of OS 7 and limited app options within BlackBerry App World. However, these are relatively small gripes and were not enough to dull our experience with the 9790.
Overall, this is a handset that far exceeds expectations, with the shortfall in innovation more than compensated for by the effective task management options. The BlackBerry Bold 9790 is a smartphone that provides the consumer with a user-friendly, accessible device perfect for everyday use.