First look: RIM's BlackBerry Bold 9700

The Bold 9700 is a more compact version of the 9000 model, with some interesting additions, like support for VoIP over Wi-Fi, that may have special appeal for business users. Here's an overview of the 9700 specifications, with some comparisons with the previous model.

The new BlackBerry Bold 9700 keeps the same overall look and feel of the original 9000 model. It comes with a clutch of additions – trackball navigation, VoIP over Wi-FI, UI tweaks, improved resolution -- targeted at business users and prosumers on GSM networks. It will be released for AT&T and T-Mobile in November, expected to be at least $200 with a service contract.

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The 9700 (at right) is slightly smaller and one-half ounce lighter than the original Bold (at left). The weight loss, nearly 10%, could make a big difference in the phone's heft. At a glance, the two models look almost identical, and their silicon heart is identical: the same 624-MHz processor.

The key question for demon typers is: will the smaller size of the 9700 mess up the messaging experience? It seems RIM reduced size in part by shrinking the casing and narrowing the empty spaces between parts of the phone. Take a look at these photos of the "old Bold" 9000 keyboard at left with the new 9700 at right (note: these are not to scale): the bottom layer of keys on the 9700 (shift, spacebar, and so on) are thinner. RIM seems to have tried to keep rest of the keys roughly the same.

Visually, the new Bold offers a higher-resolution screen (now comparable to the iPhone): 480x360 pixels, compared with the old Bold's 480x320. The screen measures 2.44 inches diagonally. The display has been improved in part to exploit the 3.2-megapixel camera (vs. 2 megapixels in the old Bold), and two modes of video recording, making use of 256MB of built-in Flash memory (twice that of the 9000).

The most obvious hardware innovation in the 9700 replaces the older round trackball below the screen with a square black touch-sensitive optical "trackpad." Some early users found it very responsive, in some cases mimicking the effect of having a touch-screen.

RIM has confirmed the 9700 runs the latest release of the BlackBerry OS, Version 5.0. The changes are hardly revolutionary, but some of the features will be of interest to business users, provided their corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server has been upgraded to its own 5.0 software. The key additions here involve more new or expanded management of Exchange e-mail folders, of remote file share, forwarding appointments to the handset, viewing calendar appointments locally, and expanded wireless synchronization for Contacts data and folders.

The T-Mobile version -- but not the AT&T Bold 9700 -- will support Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), letting users make VoIP calls over a 802.11g Wi-Fi connection, either via T-Mobile's hotspots (Unlimited HotSpot Calling service), or a business version of the service, called Wi-Fi Calling with MobileOffice. For 3G, the new Bold supports a range of UMTS/HSDPA frequencies and quad-band EDGE/GPRS/GSM. And it sports Bluetooth Version 2.0

Though the new 9700 has the same removable and rechargeable battery as the 9000, users will see improved performance: talk time is up to 5 hours for UMTS, 6 for GSM and standby time ranges from 15 to 19 days. For the old Bold, talk time was about 4.5 hours, and standby 13.5 days.

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