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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

PDA and Smartphone Review for 2012: BlackBerry Bold 9790 - the beauty and the budget!

Oh, look - it's another BlackBerry Bold! But what's the catch? And where is the difference really? Sure it looks a bit smaller than the 9900 but it's the same QWERTY / touchscreen combo. So far, so good.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
BlackBerry Bold 9790 official pictures

Now, let's play spot the difference. The Bold 9790 is powered by a different processor and HD video is one of the first things scrapped. To make amends, the phone has what's probably the best BlackBerry still camera to date. Both the screen size and resolution have taken a cut but we haven’t told you the best part yet. The Bold 9790 looks no worse than the Bold 9900 and costs less.

Now, the BlackBerry Bold 9790 is merely the next-in-rank. It doesn't have the premium features of the flagship but it makes sense as a potential replacement of the year-old Bold 9780. What it does is add touchscreen to a classic package, aiming to keep the BlackBerry experience up to date.

Key features:

  • BlackBerry OS v7
  • Enhanced email and data security with BlackBerry Internet Service
  • 2.45" 16M-color TFT touchscreen of 480 x 360px resolution
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Quad-band GSM support and quad-band 3G with HSDPA
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi b/g/n connectivity
  • NFC support
  • GPS receiver and BlackBerry maps preloaded, digital compass
  • 5 megapixel auto-focus camera, LED flash (surprisingly good camera, too)
  • VGA@30fps video recording
  • 1GHz processor
  • 768MB RAM
  • 8GB of inbuilt storage
  • Optical trackpad
  • microSD card slot (up to 16GB)
  • DivX and XviD video playback support
  • Office document editor
  • 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Smart dialing
  • Compact body and solid build quality

Main disadvantages:

  • BlackBerry Internet Service account is a must to enjoy all phone features
  • No HD video recording
  • No front-facing video-call camera
  • No Flash support
  • No FM radio
  • No haptic feedback
  • Super stiff lock button
  • Poor audio output quality
  • Poor loudspeaker performance
  • Wobbly back panel

The 9790 is part of the premium Bold line but comes across as more mindful of budget than your average high-end BlackBerry. It pretty much does the same job as the flagship but charges less and is not without charms of its own.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
BlackBerry Bold 9790 live pictures

The Indonesian debut of the BlackBerry Bold 9790 reveals something about RIM's market strategy. It makes sense for the 9790 to stay out of the Bold 9900's way and focus on emerging markets instead. Not that Indonesia is technically one - it's one of RIM's strongholds. On the other hand, the Bold 9790 did need a strong start and a launch at a traditionally loyal market was supposed to give it just that.

Anyway, we're about to see what a smaller and friendlier - though less powerful - version of the flagship can offer. And to whom. Follow us on the next page where the Bold 9790 feels just as good as the 9900, if not better.

The BlackBerry Bold 9790 comes with the standard set of accessories. The compact retail box fits a charger, a headset and a microUSB cable. No microSD card is provided. There's no leather case either - a nice accessory that the Bold 9780 could afford more than a year ago.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The retail box

BlackBerry Bold 9790 360-degree spin

The BlackBerry Bold 9790 is tangibly smaller than the Bold 9900 and that's more than welcome. Yes, users will have to make do with a smaller screen and keyboard, but it's not a thing to ruin the usability. OK, maybe you won’t get the same level of comfort as with the 9900, but the Bold 9790 is the compact class. It weighs 107g and stands at 110 x 60 x 11.4 mm. The important thing is the touchscreen / QWERTY combo works fine and the phone looks nice and feels solid.

Design and build quality

The BlackBerry Bold 9790 has the same layout of controls and keyboard design as its bigger 9900 sibling. The handset is comfortable to hold and the finish is very pleasant. The Bold 9790 does just fine without the metal accents and fiberglass of the flagship.

To begin with, there're no glossy bits anywhere on the phone's body except - inevitably - the screen glass which transitions into a huge Lock button at the top. The chrome frame does come across as a bit cheap but the rest is simple and practical. We especially liked the rubbery finish of the rear.

In terms of layout, it's the traditional messenger design. The front is almost equally split between the 2.45" touchscreen and the keys. The difference to the Bold 9900 is that this time around all four controls around the trackpad are stand-alone instead of sharing a single piece of plastic. This is probably not as elegant but individual keys are a lot more tactile and solid to press.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
BlackBerry Bold 9790

The 2.45" touchscreen has HVGA resolution, down from VGA in the premium Bold 9900. Effectively, it's a pixel density of a little less than 250ppi. The images are reasonably crisp, and the screen looks vibrant and punchy. The sunlight legibility is as good as on the Bold 9900 and we don’t mind the viewing angles either.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The BlackBerry Bold 9790 display is quite decent

Here is how the BlackBerry Bold 9790 stacks up against similar devices in our traditional screen brightness test.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
LG Optimus Black P970 0.27 332 1228 0.65 749 1161
Apple iPhone 4 0.14 189 1341 0.39 483 1242
HTC Sensation 0.21 173 809 0.61 438 720
Samsung I9000 Galaxy S 0 263 0 395
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc 0.03 34 1078 0.33 394 1207
Samsung I9100 Galaxy S II 0 231 0 362
BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 0.29 403 1376 0.47 618 1304
BlackBerry Bold 9790 0.38 395 1036 0.55 579 1043
BlackBerry Curve 9360 0.40 380 946 0.55 584 1054
Nokia E6 0.52 757 1456 0.57 1004 1631

Above the display we find the earpiece, along with a status LED. Right next to it hide proximity and ambient light sensors.

The QWERTY keyboard of the 9790 has the traditional Bold style of sculpted keys, with metal ridges separating rows, exactly like in the Bold 9900. You can enjoy great tactility even though the keyboard is crammed in a little less space.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The QWERTY keyboard is way more comfortable than its size suggests

Many of the keys (not just the numbers) can be assigned speed dial. There is a dedicated currency symbol key and the usual command shortcuts: * locks the keypad and screen while # toggles Silent mode on/off. Numbers share keys with some of the letters and you need to press the alt key to use them at times. The good thing is that whenever the context allows it, the switch is automatic.

The mouthpiece is just below the keyboard.

The usual set of BlackBerry controls are between the keyboard and the screen, either side of the trademark touchpad. The Call, Menu and Back keys are separate buttons with rounded edges and excellent press.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The four controls and the trackpad

The left side of the handset features the 3.5mm audio jack. It's exactly the same layout as in the Bold 9900, though an audio jack usually makes more sense at the top or bottom.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The audio jack is on the left

The right side of the BlackBerry Bold 9790 brings no surprises - there we find the volume controls and the single convenience key set by default to start the camera and serve as a shutter key. An important difference for those coming from the Bold 9780, is that the shutter key is not a two-step button.

With the auto-focus camera being a key feature of the Bold 9790 - something for it to wave in the face of the flagship - it's a shame RIM didn’t bother put a proper shutter key. They must've thought the traditional continuous auto-focus is enough.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The volume control keys, placed either side the pause/mute button, and the only convenience key are on the right

There is a very small pause/mute button between the volume Up and Down keys. The volume rocker and the camera key are slim pips of black rubber - a bit tricky to press but very easy to locate by touch.

The top of the Bold 9790 as we already mentioned is an extension of the glass covering the screen. There you'll find the single Lock key. This is the familiar invisible key design but it didn't quite work as planned this time around. The Lock key is really hard to press to a point where it becomes a real nuisance.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The Lock key at the top

The bottom features the microUSB port.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The microUSB port at the bottom

A 5 megapixel auto-focus camera lens and a LED flash are the most notable features at the back. They are placed on a black plate made of matte plastic. The loudspeaker grille is squeezed between the said plate and the chrome frame.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
There’s the usual stuff going on at the back: camera lens, loudspeaker grill and LED flash

The battery cover is all plastic, with a soft, rubbery feel to it, which is practically immune to fingerprints. It is easily opened with a slide. The price for this comfort is imperfect fit, resulting in a minor but irritating wobble.

The 1230 mAh Li-Po battery is quoted at up to 408 hours of stand-by or 5 hours and 20 minutes of talk time. In our battery test the Bold 9790 achieved a score of the average rate of 35 hours in our battery test. This means that if you use your device for an hour each of phone calls, web browsing, and video playback every day, you will have to recharge it every 35 hours.

Blackberry Bold 9790BlackBerry Bold 9790 battery scorecard

The microSD slot is under the battery cover, but is still hot-swappable. There is a small flap made of blue rubber, which you need to lift to access the card slot. It keeps the memory card in place after that.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The hot-swappable microSD card slot and the battery

The BlackBerry Bold 9790 is the usual solid job, although you're not supposed to get a fancy design and unique finish. It feels solid in the hand, with great grip and good ergonomics. It's the compact class of the premium Bold line and it seems to hit the right balance. The smaller, friendlier size of the Bold 9790 makes a lot of sense as an alternative to the flagship.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
The Bold 9790 looks and feels great in hand

The BlackBerry OS is a familiar place to go

The new OS 7 is hardly breaking news, with four BlackBerry reviews behind us already. The BlackBerry Bold 9790 is basically the same package as the Bold Touch 9900. Well, the imaging seems to stand out—with an autofocus still camera for a change—but without HD video. The rest of the software features are a pretty close match, down to the NFC support.

We are going to reexamine OS 7 again in detail, for a complete and comprehensive coverage of the phone and its features. There are sections containing reused text but that's inevitable given most of the interface is the same. And you can rest assured that all the BlackBerry Bold 9790 specifics are accounted for.

BlackBerry OS 7 tries to look like the QNX-based (PlayBook's) Tablet OS. The UI icons have been updated to mimic those on the PlayBook, but the rest is pretty much the same - functionality changes are brought to a minimum.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
BlackBerry OS 7 UI

The status area of the homescreen consists of virtual buttons. Clicking the row allows you to quickly toggle the cellular, Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth radios, as well as quick access to the alarm clock and settings menu.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
You can manage your wireless connections by selecting the status area and clicking on it

Clicking on the loudspeaker icon at the bottom lets you change the currently active profile, while clicking the magnifying glass on the other side of the homescreen lets you start a universal search. BlackBerry OS 7 introduces voice search, too. There is a small virtual mic button next to the Search bar. Just tap on it, say something and click on done. We tried numerous commands and names and the Bold 9790 recognized them all. By the way, when you are on the homescreen you can initiate a search by just starting to type on your keyboard.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
Profiles • The universal search works great

If there are any missed events, such as SMS, email or missed calls, they can be quickly accessed by pressing the bar between the search and profile icons on the default screen.

BlackBerry Bold 9790 

Below that is the app tray, which consists of several tabs. You can easily hide that completely or pop up one, two or three rows of it with simple swipe gestures.

The first of the app launcher tabs holds all icons. A sideways sweeping gesture changes the currently active tab. The alternatives to the All tab (which holds all your apps in one place) include, Favorite (manually added) and Frequent (auto generated).

BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 BlackBerry Bold 9790 
Frequent, Media and All tabs

There are also Media (which holds media-related apps) and Download (for the apps you have downloaded yourself) sections for even more ways of sorting your apps.

To navigate, there is a trackpad as well as a touchscreen. The trackpad features the usual sharp and precise control. One place where it makes a lot of sense is in listed submenus that pop up as you press the Menu key. Not that they are not thumbable - it's just that wrong presses are completely ruled out with the trackpad.

Pretty much everything you see is clickable in BlackBerry OS 7 and works the way it's supposed to. There are still small elements such as the homescreen Search and Profiles icons, which are easier to access via the trackpad rather than the touchscreen.

The important thing to note is that, unlike the flat iOS layout, the Bold 9790 has a menu button to access options that are not visible on the screen. You get used to that pretty quickly though, so in the end the Bold 9790 manages to keep both new and returning users happy. Trackpad and touchscreen complement each other in a natural way.



This post sponsored by:
Dr Mobiles Limited
1 Huron Street, Takapuna, North Shore 0622
Tel: (09) 551-5344 and Mob: (021) 264-0000
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