With its large screen, fast internet connection – using both Wi-Fi and HSDPA - camera, sophisticated media player, GPS and more, the Blackberry Bold would seem to fit the profile of an iPhone challenger, but such talk is largely irrelevant – the two are aimed at different markets, and while the iPhone might be an excellent entertainment station, the Bold is the one that means business.
It makes business look good though – all seriously stylish black and chrome with a leather-look textured back that should stop it slipping off those City boardroom tables (which seem a touch shaky these days). Around the sides are essential items including volume rocker, camera shutter button, USB port, MicroSD memory card slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, and voice dialling button.
At 66mm it takes a walk on the wide side, though of course this is necessary to accommodate the QWERTY keyboard. Fortunately it makes up for this by being just 15mm thin and weighing 136g, so it doesn't feel like a brick in your pocket.
The screen is a more detailed than average half-VGA (480x320 pixels) 65,000 colours display, which is bright, clear and easy to read - which let's face it, is what the message-centric Blackberry series is all about.
Like the best business phones, the Bold is designed to help you work quickly and efficiently, with a minimum of fuss. The casual simplicity of the QWERTY keyboard conceals the thousands of man-hours of R&D that must have gone into this clever design.
The keys are well spaced and slightly angled so they're easy to find with your thumbs. All the main symbols and punctuation marks are up there at the front, available with a touch of the 'alt' button, and there's a separate button for capital letters at each side.
Above the keyboard are buttons for call start and end, menu and return surrounding Blackberry's rather lovely trackball, which is a very intuitive and efficient way of both scrolling through menus and navigating web pages.
The messaging, as you'd expect, is made easy and painless, with quick access to email accounts, and you can have your email pushed to the device as soon as it hits your inbox. You can also create your own Word, Excel and PowerPoint attachments with Documents To Go for BlackBerry.
Moving online with the fast 3.6Mbps HSDPA 3G connection, or with broadband via Wi-Fi, isn't as flash as the experience delivered by the iPhone for instance, but it works fine. The trackball is great for nipping around web pages and you can zoom in on text with the tap of a thumb.
Menu options include web feeds, bookmarks and previous pages so it has everything you need to make quick, efficient use of the web while you're on the move.
There's a 2-megapixel camera on board which does a decent enough job, but you can't help feeling it's a bit underpowered compared to some other smartphones which cost less than this. One point in its favour though is that it's very quick to access – it's up and running in less than two seconds after pressing the shutter button on the side, which makes it great for quick snaps.
Picture quality is fair if not exceptional for this grade of camera, and there are a few limited editing options as well as geotagging (positioning data embedded in image files so you can see where they've been takenon a map), and the option to upload your pics directly to your Facebook profile.
Video resolution, as usual, isn't up to the same standard as stills, but it fared reasonably well, with little obvious screen lag.
Speaking of geotagging, the Bold also has GPS on board, supported by BlackBerry Maps remote server-based mapping and information service. It's worth a look but we found it a bit on the slow side and ended up downloading Google Maps instead. This worked fine once the device had identified our location but it wasn't as quick to do this as other devices we've tried.
For music, the Bold's speaker offers a better than average sound that's actually quite full and rounded – there's not a great deal of bass of course, but it doesn't sound painfully tinny, which is a plus. The supplied headphones aren't bad either, though they have limited dynamic range which leaves the music sounding a bit 'shut-in'.
Thankfully, it's easy to upgrade via the 3.5mm jack plug (or wirelessly via stereo Bluetooth link). The player itself is pretty good too, though there are no dedicated music controls and no FM radio.
Blackberry means business
Battery-wise the Bold was a bit of a disappointment, and we routinely had to recharge on the second day of average use. But despite this, and though the GPS and camera could have been a little better, the Bold is still ace when it comes to messaging, and offers a very decent browsing experience too.
A few others, such as Nokia's N71, HTC's Touch Pro, may come close in this regard, but neither of those can quite overtake it as the business tool to be seen with.
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3.5/5
Network availability: T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange, O2
You can vote for the RIM BlackBerry Bold in the T3 Gadget Awards now.