BlackBerry Bold 9900 review: Business reimagined

GSMArena team, 20 September 2011.
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Rich retail package

The BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 has everything in the box to get you going. To get the basics out of the way, a charger, headset and a microUSB cable are all provided. But there's more: a leather pouch, cleaning cloth as well as Europe continental and UK plug adapters.

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The well-geared box

BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 360-degree spin

The BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 is wider than its predecessor, the Bold 9780, as it has to accommodate a bigger display and battery. At 115 x 66 x 10.5 mm, it looks sharp and slim. The weight of 130g is more than reasonable - a mere 8g more than the Bold 9780.

Design and construction

The added touchscreen is a major novelty on the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900. But the looks may fool you. It's a typical RIM messenger, conservative elegance and quality in a traditionally understated, professional design.

The front looks almost equally split between the 2.8" touchscreen and the keys (navigation controls and the QWERTY keyboard). The back was a surprise, something we weren't prepared for in a BlackBerry. The smooth edges are cut in comfortable holding shape and the soft rubbery finish gives good grip. It's the actual battery cover that splits our team's opinions.

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BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900

The fiberglass plate did look a bit out of touch with a supposedly conservative, professional styling. Having the handset around for a good few days helped - it's obviously an acquired taste. But there are still members of our team who find it a lot more questionable than leather. It's an unusual combination. Some will appreciate the bold styling, while others might find it inconsistent with the business messenger image.

We don’t have as many doubts about the brushed metal frame running along the sides of the handset. It can be traced all the way back to the Bold 9000, but looks a lot better on a slim phone like the Bold Touch 9900.

All in all, the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 has the looks to match that newly acquired skill, though obviously some will prefer the old Bold styling.

Excellent keyboard and display

To cast all doubt aside, the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 gives us another great display. It's a 2.8" TFT capacitive touchscreen of VGA resolution. Crisp image at 286ppi and good sensitivity, the lack of haptic feedback is the only thing to complain about.

The sunlight legibility is excellent, to solidify the good impression recent BlackBerry smartphones have made. Viewing angles are about average - there's some contrast loss and color shifting when you look at it from extreme angles, but everything remains legible.

We also did our traditional brightness test. Here is how the BlackBerry Bold Touch scores alongside other devices. You can learn more about the test here.

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
Nokia E6 0.52 757 1456 0.57 1004 1631


Now, to the next most important thing here - the QWERTY keyboard of the Bold Touch 9900 is very comfortable. The keys, it seems to us, are just the right bit softer than on previous Bold editions. This gives you speed without compromising the press feedback.

The keys are small but ergonomic and carefully sculpted for great tactility and usability - only users with very large hands may have trouble adapting. The only thing to warn against is one of the metal ridges dividing the rows of keys. The second one from the top does not fit firmly in place and bends when pushed. Nothing to stand in the way of comfortable typing but it raises concerns about the overall durability of the keyboard.

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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 rest of the controls

There are four controls around a centrally placed trackpad: the typical BlackBerry combo of Call keys, with Menu and Back buttons. Although you now have a touchscreen at your disposal, the trackpad will be quite busy, giving you the needed accuracy in the browser or when handling text.

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The responsive trackpad helps the navigation

Large size and solid press, the call and navigation buttons are no trouble to use.

At the top, we find the traditional status LED, proximity sensor and the earpiece.

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There’s an earpiece and a LED status light on top

The left side of the handset is in charge of connectivity, with a 3.5mm audio jack and the standard microUSB port.

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The audio jack and microUSB ports on the left

The right side of the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 features the volume controls and the single convenience key, set by default to serve the camera. It won’t be long though, we think, before you give it a different job. Portrait is the default orientation for taking pictures with the BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900, and a shutter key placed low on the side makes no sense. It’s a fixed focus camera too, no half press button needed, so the trackpad and even the keyboard's enter key do just fine.

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

A dedicated pause/mute button is placed between the volume Up and Down keys. The Bold Touch 9900 doesn’t have the trademark invisible keys on top. The top-placed Lock button is well visible this time around.

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The Lock key is the single functional element on top

The bottom features no controls or ports. The mouthpiece is right inside the keyboard at the front.

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The bottom is perfectly bare

A 5 megapixel camera lens and a LED flash are the main attraction at the back. Below the battery cover is the loudspeaker grill.

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

The 1230 mAh Li-Po battery is quoted at up to 307 hours of stand-by or 6 hours and 30 minutes of talk time. In real life, the battery lasted about two days of heavy usage. We were constantly connected to Wi-Fi and the 3G network, shooting the usual amount of stills and videos. There was quite a bit of video and music playback and web browsing too, with about 30 minutes of talks.

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Taking a peek under the hood: the microSD card slot and removing the battery

The BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900 is the usual solid and credible business handset. Wider and rounder, it doesn’t look as sharp as the previous 97xx generation. There’s a touchscreen in it though and every fraction of an inch counts. The display is bigger at 2.8” and crisper at VGA resolution. All in a slimmer package, so no complaints.

We’re not quite convinced by the fiberglass battery cover but there’s no right and wrong in matters of taste. From an ergonomic point of view, there’s little to criticize. Let’s just say the Convenience key will live up to its name if you don’t use it as a shutter key. The great keyboard is no surprise, the touchscreen looks good and feels right, and nothing beats a trackpad at accuracy-requiring tasks.

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The Bold 9900 feels great in the palm of your hand

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