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RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 Review

User Interface:

The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 ships with OS 5.0 (our retail unit is running 5.0.0.621), which we’ve seen on many BlackBerry devices at this point.  Sprint’s current BlackBerry lineup is all running OS 5.0 and there are no new wrinkles with the Bold 9650.  For a more in-depth look at the software check out our Bold 9700 review, but the quick version is that there are a few tweaks over 4.6 and 4.7. The average user will only notice that the drop-down menus look different.  The BlackBerry Bold 9650 runs quite smoothly, but then again we’d expect that as it shares its processor with the Tour and Curve 8530, both of which run quickly.

The phonebook, organizer and other PIM functionality remain virtually unchanged.  For anyone who has used a BlackBerry before you’ll be right at home.  For first time users you can store just about anything you want about a contact, and the full-featured calendar allows you to customize reminders, recurrence options and much more.  Other basic PIM functionality, like tasks, memo and a calculator are also available, while voice dialing is handled by Nuance, as always.



Messaging:

One of the better features of OS 5.0 is threaded text messaging.  Standards like SMS and MMS are, of course onboard, as is support for multiple email accounts and BlackBerry PIN messaging 5.0.  Other preloaded IM clients are AIM, GTalk, ICQ, Windows Live and Yahoo! Messenger allowing you to keep in touch with virtually anyone.

As always email setup on the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 is about as perfect as it gets, we simply put in our email and password and that was it. Even with our uncommon work email we didn’t have to enter any server information. The push email arrived nearly instantaneously in our testing. With the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) the user can have up to 10 email addresses on one device.

Connectivity and Data:

Like the Tour before it, the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 is a world phone, offering a dual-band CDMA radio for domestic use and quad-band GSM for when you travel.  It offers 3G data both on Sprint’s EV-DO Rev. A network and UMTS on the 2100MHz band internationally.  Wi-Fi b/g has been added, something we feel international travelers will appreciate most since it allows them to avoid high data roaming charges overseas.  For those sticking to the States, Wi-Fi is a nice feature to tout, but honestly with ubiquitous 3G coverage from the nation’s CDMA providers it’s not something we’ve ever felt our phones have needed.  A-GPS and Bluetooth 2.1 round out the connectivity options of the BlackBerry Bold 9650.

The browser is the same piddling browser found on all non-touch BlackBerry devices these days.  We know that RIM is developing a WebKit based browser for the upcoming OS 6 but it can’t come soon enough.  Thankfully Opera Mini is available to help fill the gap for now.

If you’re not connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) then BlackBerry Desktop Manager handles your backups, and can manage your calendar, tasks, contacts and email.  The Media Sync software plays nicely with your iTunes or Windows Media library.  In today’s smartphone market cloud backup is becoming a common feature (Google, Palm and Microsoft all build it into their operating systems,) but unfortunately RIM lags behind here unless you’re attached to a BES.  Thankfully Google Sync offers a great free option for regular users to back up their data without the wires.

Multimedia and Camera:

The media player is good and simple to use, but not overly loaded with features. We have always enjoyed the simplicity of the layout, much like the iPod.  It supports folders, and will sort your music by Artist, Album and Genres. It also supports album art and playlists, which the user can create on the go, and the other options are Repeat and Shuffle. According to the specs sheet of the Bold 9650, audio formats supported are MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA and WMA Pro Plus, while the video formats are MPEG4, H.263, MPEG4 Part 2 Simple Profile, H.264 and WMV.  As you would expect videos look wonderful on the high resolution screen.  The included stereo headphones are pretty poor, but the 3.5mm jack means you can use any headphones you want.  With our higher quality headphones music sounded very good.


As with any EV-DO device, the Sprint Music Store is preloaded on the Bold 9650, but the Bold has tipped Sprint’s hand as they appear to be bringing out an update to the service.  The new icon adds a + to the logo, and when we try to download the virtually preinstalled program we get a message saying “the new Sprint Music Store launches soon.”  We’ve long said the service is plenty functional but in need of a visual overhaul so maybe this is it?


The 3.2-megapixel autofocus camera performed well, which is an improvement over the Tour.  Details were much crisper, color reproduction was fine and there was minimal graining even in low-light conditions.  We don’t think there are many who will be buying the Bold 9650 for its camera, but at least it offers a solid performance this time around.  Features are pretty basic with little adjustments available, but it does offer image stabilization and geotagging of images.  Videos can be recorded in MMS (176x144) or Normal (480x352) modes, neither of which are fantastic but they get the job done.  There has not been any announcement yet, but like the Tour we would expect to see a no camera version of the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650.





Software:

Virtually preloaded software is pretty much the same as what you’ll find on Sprint’s Tour and Curve 8530.  It has the standard BlackBerry applications and games, including Word, Slideshow and Sheet to Go (Word, PowerPoint and Excel viewers) and BlackBerry Maps.  Sprint software includes Sprint Navigation, Sprint TV and the aforementioned new Music Store, as well as their NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile and new Sprint Football Live applications.  A new pre-installed program is ScanLife, a barcode scanner that will return product information, reviews and prices.  BlackBerry App World is of course preloaded as well as a portal to thousands more apps for your BlackBerry smartphone.



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