BlackBerry's newest full-keyboard model, the Bold 9700, has a few interesting tweaks on the earlier design and all the traditional BlackBerry goodness. Why is Road Worrier stressing over the redesigned joystick and some weird network connectivity issues?
As regular readers of Lifehacker will know, I'm a longstanding BlackBerry user and enthusiast (with the notable exception of the stomach-churning original Storm. Since April, I've been using the Curve 8900, which only suffers one major disadvantage: a 2G-only connection.
For the past few weeks, though, I've been trialling its successor-of-sorts, the Bold 9700. While this is of course officially the sequel to the original Bold, it's also a lot like a revamped 8900. The two models are a similar size (and share the same slightly less than standard size micro-B USB connection), but the 9700 boasts proper dual-band connectivity, a sleeker keyboard, a gruntier camera, and a few interface tweaks in various applications.
The biggest visible difference is the joystick, where the previous rolling model has been replaced with what Research In Motion describes it as an "innovative touch-sensitive trackpad that allows intuitive and responsive navigation". In other words, instead of a distinct nubbin in the middle of the device, there's a square you slide your finger over.
After a few days of working with it, I adapted my approach, but to be honest, I still feel like the older design was more efficient and accurate for quickly selecting text or options. On the other hand, it probably leads to fewer support calls from problems with the roller ball mechanism.
While the BlackBerry software platform has undergone solid evolution since earlier versions — the browser in particular is much better than the BlackBerry's general reputation might suggest — it rarely hits you in the face with massive interface changes, and the 9700 is no exception. All the expected apps are present, and they all still work well.
Ultimately, there's only one feature of the 9700 that would stop me recommending it whole-heartedly: a weird network bug. When you switch on a network connection (be it 3G or wireless), it can take a long time — upwards of five minutes or more in many instances — before any Internet-related services other than email work. For someone like me who regularly jumps on planes, this is a distinct nuisance.
When I first experienced this, I thought it was a hardware bug and arranged a replacement device, but the second one has the same issue, so I suspect it's an inherent problem with the IP stack on the 9700. With luck, that might get sorted by a future firmware upgrade, and relatively few people probably switch their connection on and off as much as I do, but it's still stuck in my mind.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is still worrying about what his BlackBerry roaming charges might add up to next year. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.