Review

Review: BlackBerry Bold 9790

bold-9790-review

Brief video review:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veNm5He-E1Q

On a BlackBerry? Click here for mobile YouTube video

Full Review:

This past fall, we’ve seen the release of the flagship BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930, the sleek BlackBerry Torch 9850/9860, the beefed-up Torch 9810, and the slim Curve 9360.  There seems to be a BlackBerry form-factor for everyone out there, but RIM wasn’t done with BlacBberry 7 yet.  The rumoured BlackBerry codenamed “Bellagio” was released just in time for 2012.  RIM calls it the new BlackBerry Bold 9790, building on the last generation’s Bold 9780 design, so it’s more like a “Baby Bold” but with a touchscreen all the “kool kidz” have been waiting for!  So how does this new BlackBerry break away from the older 9780, and where does it fit in with the existing BlackBerry 7 line-up?  N4BB reviews the new BlackBerry Bold 9790 to find out!

Design: 

Meet the Bold 9790.  It was as if there was a design competition within RIM to see who could make the most practical Blackberry of all time.  I swear the winner probably designed this smartphone.  The shape follows the “waterfall” design RIM’s been using on its Blackberry 7 phones, and they’ve generally pulled it off.  If the bottom halves of the Torch 9850/9860 and the Bold 9790 were involved in an unfortunate accident with a mitre saw, you would barely be able to tell them apart if it wasn’t for the word “Bold” on the back of the 9790.  You get a “chrome” band lining the entire side of the phone, giving it a nice premium look even though its plastic.  It feels great in the hand, and seems fairly light at a mere 107 grams.  Although it’s not the thinnest Blackberry ever, have no fear, it’ll fit in your favourite pair of skinny jeans, guaranteed!

The four typical Blackberry navigation buttons on the Bold 9790 are borrowed from the Torch 9850/9860.  Despite a bit of controversy over the aesthetics of the buttons, and before you send off your hate mail to Waterloo for this apparent travesty, let’s give it a chance.  In a departure from the designs of old, the buttons are separated and smaller. The buttons aren’t exactly the same as on the Torch 9850/9860 as they are slightly tapered at their bottoms, giving the buttons a more natural look.  The best part, however, is the feel of the buttons!  Oh wow!  The mechanism is completely silent, it’s soft yet crisp, and the buttons are almost flush to the surface.  Your fingers can just glide over the keys.   Remember that “A” button on a brand new Super NES controller?  It’s better than that.  Even though you won’t see the buttons of this phone showcased next to the Mona Lisa, it’s done right in my books as far as attention to button build quality.

Of all the ways to remove the battery cover on a smartphone, I think RIM has tried most of them.  Each model usually has its own unique mechanism, but I will say, much like the Torch 9810, they nailed it with this phone.  You don’t need to pry it open with long finger nail, or press a small button and then lift or slide up buttons or anything.  You simply slide the battery door down and it comes right off.   The back cover of the Bold 9790 appears incredibly similar to that of the Torch 9850/9860. But we’ll let it slide (pun intended).  Gone is the faux-leather backing we’ve all come to know in the smaller Bold form factor.  You might think that the back cover is identical to the heavenly soft-feel metal of the 9850/9860, but you’d be wrong.   It isn’t quite as soft, which is slightly disappointing to my fingertips.  In my opinion, the Torch 9850/9860 and the Blackberry Playbook had an incredible feeling of unmatchable quality that made you feel guilty for touching it too much, and I hope it will be carried forward to future devices.   The design of the Bold 9790’s back cover is also fairly plain with just the standard metal Blackberry logo, and the phone itself isn’t symmetric from top to bottom, unlike the Torch 9850/9860, giving it a slightly awkward look from the back.

The camera lens and flash are positioned on the slightly thicker top part of the phone.  The model name “Bold” subtly appears in between, similar to models like the Torch 9800.

The keyboard is reminiscent of the previous Bold 9700 and 9780 devices although with some minor improvements.  After all, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!  The keyboard is very slightly wider while keeping the width of the 9790 the same, pushing the outer keys closer to the edge as they wrap around the sides.  The keyboard is also does not curve as much vertically as before, in other words, there’s less of a smiley face effect with the frets between the keys.

Like all QWERTY Blackerry 7 smartphones, the screen, trackpad, keyboard, navigation buttons are all back-lit with a subtle shut-off sequence as the phone goes into standby.  This subtlety gives the 9790 the appearance of understated sophistication, even though there’s none at all.  At first, the keyboard dims, followed by the navigation buttons, and lastly the trackpad.  The screen’s backlight timing is all up to you in the display options.

You’ll notice that the micro USB port is now located at the bottom of the phone, almost begging for a charging/syncing dock (we’ll see if we can get our hands on one later!).  The microphone is located squarely at the bottom centre of the phone’s front, right where it should be.

The right side of the phone is filled with four nearly invisible buttons:  volume up, mute, volume down, and the camera shutter.  If it wasn’t for their usefulness, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them.  Being barely over a millimeter thick and narrow, you could even mistake them for shoddy build quality, but they are solid, well made, and work well.  The only downside is the mute button, which is tiny.  Now, it’s not difficult to press, it’s just that you feel like you don’t know what you’re pressing.  The camera button is the same story, slim and subtle.  Stylish, yes, but we’ve seen better implementations.

The top of the Bold 9790 is an actually invisible lock button.  It’s a little too “clicky” for my taste.  Just imagine a slightly quieter and higher-pitched version of someone clicking their pen.  Bingo.

The left side of the phone is completely devoid of buttons, namely the now-extinct second convenience key, which is…inconvenient.  The decision to remove this button was probably done for style’s sake, but I really wish they reconsidered the decision.  All you’ll notice is the 3.5mm headphone jack that we kinda wished was up at the top of the phone like on the curve, but that’s not a big deal at all.

Straight to the specs:

  • 1 GHz Processor
  • HSPA antenna
  • 768 RAM
  • 8 GB On-board storage
  • 5 MP Camera sensor with autofocus/flash
  • Micro SD expandable to 32 GB
  • 2.45” touchscreen at 246 dpi (480×360)
  • NFC, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS
  • Wifi a/b/g/n with UMA support

Internals and Hardware:

The Bold 9790 is powered using a Marvel Tavor MG1 1 Ghz single-core processor, as opposed to the 1.2 GHz Qualcomm CPUs powering the Bold 9900/9930 and Torch models. Although it isn’t as quick, it has got some guts, and it does move smoothly running Blackberry 7.  Research in Motion’s “Liquid graphics” is out in full force, hardware-accelerating the graphics giving you slick scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, panning and zooming to your heart’s content.

The Blackberry 7 OS has a sizeable 768mb chunk of RAM to work with, just like the other Bold and Torch Blackberry 7 phones.  Once the OS has claimed its share of that you’re left running with about 220mb of RAM to install your apps and keep things running smoothly.   The thing is, the OS on the 9790 takes up less space than the Bold or Torch OS so you’ll have more app space than everyone else, winning!

What’s also nice is 8 GB of device storage that you can fill with documents, pictures, music, videos and pretty much anything you want.  That’s actually double what the Torch 9850/9860 has!  There is also room for up to a 32 GB microSD card as well, which is pretty standard stuff.

As far as sensors go, The Bold 9790 comes with all the standard sensors we’ve come to know in a modern Blackberry.  We have an accurate GPS with advanced GPS(aGPS) functionality that uses your cell connection to help find your exact location quicker, Wifi at 2.4 Ghz, NFC, Bluetooth 2.1 and a digital compass.  You won’t see an accelerometer as it is a QWERTY phone that you’ll be using upright all the time anyway.

Display:

This is the big change here if you’re coming from a Bold 9780 or 9700.  The screen is now 0.01 inches larger!  Seriously, it is!  But thankfully, that’s not the big change I’m talking about.  You now have a touchscreen!   The screen is plastic and blends in perfectly with the device.  For those of you who scoff and pooh-pooh at any screen made of plastic, don’t knock it until you’ve seen it.  It reduces weight, adds durability and allows for slick curved designs.  Having used phones with plastic and glass touchscreens, there is little difference between the two in terms of “scratchability” (if it’s not a word, it is now).

With a size of 2.45 inches diagonally, pixel count of 480 x 360, and a pixel density of 246 ppi, it’s not bad at all.  It isn’t as good as the Bold 9900/9930’s screen, and hence is the epitome of mediocrity (and mediocre isn’t bad!).  The colours are vibrant, the back-light is bright, and the touchscreen is responsive and works very well.  And I won’t complain about the size of the touchscreen, because RIM made the Bold 9900/9930 if you wanted something bigger.  You’re almost not expecting a touch screen on a phone of this size, but once you use it more, you’ll be hooked.  If you’re coming from a Curve and don’t feel the need for the touchscreen, just trust me.  Once you go Bold, you don’t go back.

Operating System:

The Bold 9790 runs the new Blackberry 7 operating system we’ve seen on the 9900/9930, 9850/9860, 9810, and 9350/9360/9370.  Blackberry 7 is more like a super-charged, fluid version of Blackberry 6.  The main improvements are the “Liquid Graphics” hardware acceleration in the user interface, voice-activated universal search, significant improvements to the WebKit browser, and some other additional features and improvements.   The boot up time is around a minute and depends on how much app storage space you have at the time of reboot.

All of you who complained about the forced use of panels in OS 6 can now claim victory. You can now manage the types of panels you want to use in the options menu to make things more OS 5-like.  But with the slick “Liquid Graphics”, I find myself loving the panels as swiping between panels is free eye candy when I need to get my fix.  But hey, who needs all five panels?

We now have a device switch wizard to make switching different between Blackberry 7 devices quite easy and painless.  You can save all your data to a media card and just place it in your new phone.  As far as the browser is concerned, HTML5 video is now supported in the browser for all Blackberry 7 phones, giving an awesome html5test.comscore of 266 and 10 Bonus points!   However, the sunspider 0.9.1 test gives a score of 5790 ms, while the same test on a Torch 9860 gives a score of 2736 ms.  The Bold 9790 takes over twice as long as to complete the test despite being only having the slightly slower processor.  Given that both phones should have the same browser, this means that either the Marvell processor is not optimized to perform the test, or that the Marvell processor is just not very good.

I’ve noticed that there are some compatibility issues with some apps, such as The Weather Network app.  The short term and long term forecast options simply do not show any data.  Since the app works perfectly for all other Blackberry smartphones, it’s possible that other bugs that would only show up when running apps on the 9790.  Let’s hope this is an isolated issue.

With NFC capabilities in the Bold 9790, we see applications such as one called “Smart tags” that remembers NFC tags you’ve “tagged”.  The magnetometer (or digital compass) packed into the 9790 comes with a compass application, and enables augmented-reality applications such as Wikitude (if you’re into the whole creeping thing).

The Bold 9790 ships with the Blackberry OS version 7.0.0.528 and as of the time of writing, Blackberry OS 7.1 unfortunately has not been released or leaked for the Bold 9790.  With 7.1, cool features such as “Blackberry Tag”, Wi-Fi calling, and Mobile Hotspot are now possible!

Camera and Video:

Alas, The autofocus gods have blessed us!  We have a Bold with an autofocus camera!  Before we get too excited, let’s take a look at what that means.  The sensor itself is the Blackberry 7 standard, with a 5 megapixel sensor.  But unlike the Bold 9900/9930, you can actually focus!  The lens continuously focuses in an attempt to keep all your pictures sharp and in-focus, and it works quick enough.  This is a big deal for those who use their Blackberry cameras as their primary camera.    The camera on the Bold 9790 manages to focus as close as that’s about 7.5-10 cm or (3-4 inches) for those of you that are curious.

You don’t have to switch to “Close-up” mode to get those crisp close-up shots.  In actuality, all it does is reduce the range of the focus so focusing farther than a few metres is restricted.  This might help focus on the subject more quickly, but you don’t need to set the scene to “Close-up” to focus closer.

We have all the standard Blackberry 7 scene modes:  Auto, Sports, Face detection, Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Close-up, Snow, Beach, Night, and Text.  Oh, and this is a Blackberry, so forget the front facing camera.

I’ve taken a few sample pictures with the Bold 9790 so you can see for yourselves.

The flash is blindingly bright as usual, and doubles as a flashlight at night.  The digital zoom simply crops in the image (as on virtually all smartphones) but works well.  You can use the volume up and down keys to zoom in or out up to 4X.  The geo-tagging works very well, and nicely appends your location to the file name.  The image stabilization sound fancy, doesn’t it?  Well…in my opinion, it doesn’t seem to do much, but I could be wrong.  I would just leave it on just because it sounds cool and probably wouldn’t hurt.

Now, every review talks about low light sensitivity in a smartphone’s camera.  This is generally pointless unless it’s a high-end phone. The sensor is most likely identical to the other sensors on every Blackberry 7 phones.  You’re never going to get good pictures in low light on a standard smartphone without a flash.  Period.   It’s decent.  Since this camera can focus, the aperture doesn’t need to be reduced to almost nothing to get the “extended” depth of field like the Bold 9900/9930 or Curve 9360/9370.  As a result, you’ll get slightly better pictures like the Torch 9810 and Torch 9850/9860.  The potential for more dramatic pictures is there of course, due to the focusing ability of the lens.  As you can see, the level of detail in the new Canadian $100 bill is very good, but you’ll need to have good lighting.

If you think that the Torch series takes better pictures, it’s only because of the larger screens and better screen resolution make it seem that way.

Video:

As far as video is concerned, you can record in VGA resolution (640 x 480).  It doesn’t have the ability to record in 720p like the high-end Blackberry 7 phones, which is unfortunate, but then again, this phone isn’t designed for James Cameron.  And even if it was, I’m guessing Avatar wasn’t recorded with Bold 9790.  During recording, the Bold 9790 automatically focuses while recording and it’s great that it does this pretty fast. The microphone works and is decent.  But seriously, let’s be honest, no one is expecting a studio quality microphone.

Battery life:

With the Bold 9790, you’ve got the same 1230mAh JM-1 battery that you’ll find in the Torch 9850/9860, Bold 9900/9930 and Curve 9380.  Given the same battery, slower processor, the smaller touchscreen and slower 7.2 Mbit/s HSPA radio, the Bold 9790 should also outlast its bigger Bold 9900/9930 brother, and I believe it does.  It has enough juice to last you throughout the day, and then some.  For the power user, you should be able to get through the day more comfortably.  With email, a few calls, BBM, and moderate use, I find myself left with about 30% of battery life remaining by the end of the day.

Value:

I feel very few reviews place enough emphasis on value.  It’s like if there is no quad-core snapdragon running at 2 GHz with a 17” touchscreen, its garbage.  Most people simply just want smartphone that has the features they need at a price they feel comfortable with.  At about $450-480 off-contract (or $0-80 with a contract), the Bold 9790 sits squarely between the Curve 9360(about 350$) and Bold 9900/9930($550-630) in price.  Under contract, this phone becomes very affordable and much better value than the Curve.  You get a digital compass, an autofocus camera, more device memory, a faster processor, a touchscreen, a bigger battery, better built quality, (arguably) better keyboard and more app storage …all for almost the same price with a contract as the Curve!  In my opinion, this is a no-brainer if you’re okay with signing your life away to carriers for a few years.  If you’re buying a Blackberry outright, it’s less obvious which you should choose since the Curve is at least 100$ cheaper, and that’s no pocket change.  However, if you do have the extra money to spend to buy a Blackberry outright, I’d recommend this phone over the Curve.

If you’re trying to decide between this and the Bold, this is thankfully an easier decision.  The size of the phone is exactly what you should base your decision on.  Most women who have gotten used to the size of the Bold 9780 will prefer the smaller form factor of the Bold 9790.  It has almost all of the features of the high-end Bold (but with autofocus!) but in a smaller package.  Most guys, who generally have larger hands, should stick with the Bold 9900/9930. The presence of autofocus in the Bold 9790 alone is not reason enough for most guys to switch.  The larger touchscreen and larger keyboard on the Bold 9900/9930 matters much more than an autofocus camera ever will.  I see this phone being quite popular with women, who would appreciate a premium QWERTY Blackberry in a smaller form factor that feels better in the hand.

Wrapping things up:

The Blackberry Bold 9790 hits the sweet spot in terms of features and price on contract.  Guys with big hands shouldn’t even think about it, this phone is not for you.  The Bold 9790 was mostly designed for those who prefer the smaller form factor and find the Bold 9900/9930 either too large or expensive.  The camera is probably marginally better in quality than the big Bold and will take pictures just like the Bold 9780 did or slightly better.  The touchscreen is a welcome addition that anyone will appreciate once they’ve tried it, even if you think it’s too fancy and only for the younger kids.  Overall, it’s a solid Blackberry where you can get almost all the premium features of a Blackberry approaching the on-contract price of the curve for many carriers.  Many have questioned its relevance, given all the other Blackberry 7 smartphones out there, but I can’t help but feel that the popularity of the smaller Bold form factor should not be underestimated.   Many people will feel like the Bold 9790 was designed for them in mind, and won’t have to make any compromise to get perfect Blackberry, and that’s worth something.

Pros:       

  • Best battery life of all Blackberry 7 phones
  • Good value on contract
  • Decent camera
  • Lots of device storage and app memory
  • Very practical buttons

Cons:    

  • Lackluster button design
  • Noticeably slower browser than the high-end Blackberry 7 phones
  • Few accessories out yet for it
  • Less support for apps designed in this form factor







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