RIM's BlackBerry Bold beats Apple to the 3G punch

Amid swirling rumours about the impending announcement of a 3G iPhone, Research in Motion today introduced its slickest, speediest, most powerful, and most connected BlackBerry to date: the BlackBerry Bold 9000.

Equipped with support for tri-band HSDPA and quad-band EDGE (which means that it will support the highest-speed GSM-family data networks wherever they are available worldwide), 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth, and both assisted and autonomous GPS, the Bold could prove a formidable challenger to Apple's next-gen iPhone on connectivity alone.

It even looks a bit iPhone-esque, with its glassy display area, generally flat profile, and rounded corners. Still, the Bold comes configured with a hardware QWERTY keyboard, and it retains the general dimensions of its predecessors, so it's much shorter and somewhat thicker than the iPhone.

The Bold's removable back is covered in black leatherette, and you'll be able to personalize the device by buying replacement backs in different colors (blue, brown, green, gray, and red).

The redesigned keyboard has guitar-inspired frets--thin metal strips--between each row. The keys themselves are sculpted to help users avoid fingertip slippage. The device also carries a 2-megapixel camera capable of up to 5X digital zoom.

Fast CPU, high-res display

The Bold's 624-MHz StrongARM processor with full MMX (multimedia extensions) is the most powerful CPU on a handheld to date (the BlackBerry Curve, in contrast, uses a 312-MHz chip without MMX). The Bold's extra power enables the device to handle full-motion video on its 480-by-320-pixel, 65,000-plus-color display (that resolution is double the Curve's at basically the same screen size): In a demo at PC World's offices last week, video clips on the Bold looked smooth and exceptionally sharp.

Of course, little commercial video content is available as yet for non-Apple media players. Further, the Bold's screen is diminutive compared to the current iPhone's roomy 3.5-inch display, and it isn't a touch screen. (RIM president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis simply smiled when we asked about reports that the company is working on a touch-screen BlackBerry).

But since the Bold's smaller display holds the same number of pixels as the current iPhone's, images look much higher-res on it than on its competitor.

The Bold's 1GB of on-board secure memory (on top of its 128MB of flash) will appeal to BlackBerry's core enterprise community, providing storage for items that companies would rather not make available for transport on a micro SD card. But users who want to carry their music and video libraries on their handsets will be able to do so via micro SD.

Carriers will determine pricing, and RIM had no details on which US carrier will introduce the Bold (though AT&T, with the largest HSDPA network in the United States, seems a likelier candidate than T-Mobile, which has just begun to roll out 3G service stateside). RIM said that it expects the Bold to be shipping worldwide this summer.

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Yardena Arar

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