Be honest: were you excited about the new line of BlackBerry devices? I’ll even break the ice: I wasn’t too excited. Sure, the BlackBerry Dakota, soon to be known simply as the Bold, figured to tantalize a few, since it finally added a touchscreen to the flagship BlackBerry design. But other than that it looked like more of the same, which is to say they all looked underwhelming. It’s unsurprising, then, that the devices haven’t sold well with the consumer market. It’s tough to shed the kind of reputation RIM holds with consumers. But then I got to review the 9930. It’s funny how impressions can change when you go from imagining something to actually using it. In my time with the 9930 I’ve found it hard to not come away impressed. It helps make up for the devices RIM released last year. Click on any image for a larger version. The best way to put the 9930 into perspective is comparing it to its predecessor, the Bold 9650. This works best with Verizon, since the Verizon 9650 very well might have represented a low-point for RIM. Yet they’ve totally redeemed themselves with the 9930. Physical Attributes The Bold 9650 might appear smaller, but that’s hardly the case. It might be a bit narrower, but that’s about it. The Bold 9930 is thinner and a tick lighter, both of which are easily worth the trade-off with the width. It’s essentially the same size as the Bold 9000. It’s much easier to carry in the pocket. The only advantage the 9650 holds is that it feels a bit more natural in my palm. But the 9930 makes up for that in many different ways. A few buttons have changed with the 9930 as well. Gone is the two-button system at the top of the device. On the 9930 there is only one button, the lock button, and it’s recessed a bit. This helps prevent unwanted presses that can lead to pocket dialing. The micro USB port has moved to the left side, along with the headphones jack. There is no convenience key on that side, though there is one on the right side. The volume rocker is also on that side. I suppose that makes the device a bit more balanced, but it’s really not that big a deal. Keyboard It’s physical, sure, but the keyboard absolutely deserves its own section here. While the BlackBerry’s reputation took a hit in recent years, the keyboard was never part of the attack. It has remained the best in the biz. On the 9650, despite all its flaws, the keyboard does not suffer. But the 9930 takes that to a new level. Maybe it’s because the device is wider, but I find this to be the best BlackBerry keyboard I’ve ever used. The keys do appear a bit bigger than those of the 9650, which always helps. But it’s not just the key size; it’s the action on the keys. They hit naturally, with minimal click. They just feel softer, too, which is a big plus. I haven’t done any words-per-minute tests, but I’m confident that I type considerably faster on the 9930 than I did in the 9650. And I typed pretty fast on the 9650. Screen We needn’t spend much time on the displays, since there really is no comparison. The 9650 had a nice enough screen, measuring 2.4 inches at 480 x 360 pixels resolution. Watching videos was fine if you didn’t mind the small screen, and all the apps came through vibrantly enough. The 9930, however, takes the screen to a completely new level. It’s a bit bigger, at 2.8 inches diagonally, and it has a much better resolution at 640 x 480 pixels. The video experience is obviously much better, then, and the screen in general is just more enjoyable to view. That doesn’t even touch on the most important difference between the two screens: the touch functions. Honestly, I’ve often touched icons on my BlackBerry’s screen knowing full well that it would accomplish nothing. It’s a deep-seated yearning to have a touchscreen on the device. It would make navigation that much easier. Well, now we have a touchscreen, and it does make navigation that much easier. In fact, you can probably get around the 9930 in half the time it takes to perform the same function on the 9650. While the screen on the 9930 is probably its best feature, it wouldn’t be possible without one other distinct difference between it and the 9650. Processor It’s amazing what’s possible when you nearly double your processor speed. The 9650 had a paltry 624 MHz processor, which, at the time of its release, was typically reserved for low-end Android devices and non-smartphones. That caused massive lag issues. When combined with the software issues inherent to the Bold 9650, it made for a terrible, terrible experience. Hell, there are times when I click on the messages icon, and the application takes literally a minute to launch. No, it’s not fun. Not one bit. The processor on the 9930 jumps to 1.2 GHz, and it makes all the difference. Not only do applications open almost instantly, but it’s easy to get from one place to another on the device. That’s essential with the touchscreen. The main function of the touchscreen on the 9930 is to more quickly get around the device. If the processor was slow, that end would be entirely defeated and all we’d have is a novelty of a touchscreen. But with the faster processor it serves an actual purpose. The processor will come into play even more when we get to the software section of the post. Which reminds me… Software As I mentioned in the BlackBerry Torch 9810 review, OS 7 isn’t that much different than OS 6. It has a few more features, and it certainly handles message notifications a bit better. But those are just upgrades. They don’t really represent a new version of the OS. Yet it’s impossible to think that OS 6 running on the Bold 9650 is the same as OS 7 running on the 9930. They might as well be completely different operating systems. They function the same in theory, of course. There’s the various home screen panels, and there’s the same icon-based interface. But in terms of operation the 9930 mops the floor with the 9650. There are just so many flaws with the 9650 software that prevent it from being a compelling mobile OS. Beyond that, OS 6/7 were clearly made with touchscreens in mind. It seems downright unnatural to have that interface on a non-touch device. (Hence me touching my screen even though it does nothing.) To make things clear, BlackBerry OS 7 is not some revolutionary software that immediately puts RIM on par with its smartphone competitors. It’s still made for the core BlackBerry user base, which is enterprise. But it does represent a major upgrade over OS 6, if for no other reason than the processor speed. BlackBerry 7 runs smoothly, and it has far fewer kinks than OS 6 did. In Sum: A Year Late While I absolutely have enjoyed the 9930, that doesn’t erase the past. This is the device that should have dropped a year ago, in the place of the 9650 and the other uninspiring handsets that RIM released. Those were nothing but incremental upgrades, and even then they weren’t much. For instance, I enjoyed my Tour 9630 more than I did the Bold 9650. Ideally, RIM would have released this line of products last year. That might have enticed consumers to stay with the BlackBerry line. That would have led to a launch of QNX-based BlackBerry models this year, which would have, in theory, fully brought RIM up to speed with its closest competitors. But that’s not how it played out, and that lost year looms large. RIM’s reputation definitely took a hit in the last year in the consumer market, and it will take more than these devices to help recuperate. At the same time, RIM has done a fantastic job of catering to their core audience. These devices are absolutely perfect for enterprise. They’re fast, they’re responsive, and they bridge just enough into the consumer market to keep business types happy. In fact, I’m not sure that we’ll see much of a shift from enterprise customers when the QNX phones do hit the market. Those can cater more to the consumer market, while RIM can continue working on its traditional line for enterprise. I’m not sure if that’s a viable business strategy, but it would seem to play to both ends of the market. For now, though, I’m pretty happy with the 9930. It’s exactly what I expected from RIM about a year ago, when we got the crappy 9650. RIM has righted that wrong, but they still have plenty of room to grow. If this is a sign of things to come, it’s hard not to be intrigued. Buy Verizon is currently selling the Bold for $250, which is quite a bit more than you’d expect to pay for a smartphone. Sprint has it a bit cheaper: you can pick up the Bold 9930 for $199.99 with a two-year agreement.