New BlackBerry Bold: The good and the bad

The new BlackBerry Bold has smartly added touchscreen capabilities while still retaining a physical qwerty keyboard and even a small touchpad

RIM's latest smartphone is something of a throwback to earlier days when smaller screens and full qwerty keyboards were all the rage.

But the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 models -- the only significant difference between the two models is that the 9900 is GSM-only while the 9930 supports both GSM and CDMA -- have made significant improvements over their predecessors. In this article we'll give you a quick rundown of both the positives and negatives we found while playing around with the new Bold models at this year's BlackBerry World.

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The Good: The new Bold models have smartly added touchscreen capabilities while still retaining physical qwerty keyboards and even a small touchpad to provide a more fine-tuned Web-browsing experience that will help you click on links that are too small for your fingers to easily access. At 10.5 mm thick, the new Bolds are much thinner than previous devices and are very light to carry.

RIM also made sure to get a top-notch processor for the new Bolds, utilizing a 1.2GHz processor that easily dwarfs the disappointing 624MHz processor used by last summer's BlackBerry Torch. Similarly, the new Bold's Video Graphics Array clocks in at 640x480 pixels, which would be below average for an iPhone-sized screen but works well on the Bold's 2.8-inch touchscreen. Combine the screen resolution with the Bold's 720p HD video recording capabilities and you've got a device that packs very strong graphics into a small display.

The Bad: That small display screen is a killer, however. This wouldn't have been a problem just a few years ago when the mobile Web was still in its development stages and most websites on smartphones were merely carbon copies of normal sites that you could zoom in on and optimize for screen size. Nowadays, however, more websites are designing mobile sites explicitly for larger smartphone screens and that don't allow for the same pinch-and-zoom capabilities of past mobile sites.

For example, CNN's mobile site works perfectly well on my Droid X because its text sizes were designed with large touchscreens in mind; in other words, it doesn't matter that I can't zoom in because the site has already been optimized for my eyes. On the new Bold, however, the text on mobile sites such as CNN is extremely small, thus making pinch-and-zoom a crucial feature that's sorely lacking. The fault doesn't lie with RIM, per se, since the new Bold does have pinch-and-zoom features for most websites. The problem is more that the mobile Web has evolved past the standard screen sizes of many BlackBerry devices.

The other big problem with the new Bold -- and with BlackBerry devices in general -- is the lack of support for the wide variety of applications supported by Apple's iPhone and devices based on Google's Android operating system. In this case, RIM finds itself between a rock and a hard place, since opening itself up to an unlimited number of third-party apps would expose its users to the same security risks that iPhone and Android users have been subjected to over the past year. Since RIM's bread-and-butter is delivering secure data over corporate networks, it's unlikely to ever have as loose a policy over its App World as Apple and Google have other their application stores.

Even so, it would be a good idea if RIM made a list of popular websites that don't have pinch-and-zoom capabilities and asked those websites to design apps specifically for the smaller BlackBerry screens. Otherwise they might have to deal with some angry users who hurt their eyes trying to read articles on the Sports Illustrated website.

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