Review of the BlackBerry Bold 9650 from Sprint

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The BlackBerry Bold 9650 is basically the Tour 2, but rebranded and launched as a Bold series device. The story seems to be that when the “Tour2″ was leaked soon after the launch of the original Tour, users started to complain about an update being worked on so soon after the original device was launched. The sentiment at the time was a slight resentment at the fact that Tour owners just bought a device without WiFi, and here was a new Tour with WiFi and a trackpad (something all Tour owners would have loved). In response, RIM seems to have changed the branding of the device over to a Bold, and probably pushed a Tour update down the pipe. Regardless of the branding, this is a Tour in my opinion, but I’ll refer to it as a Bold for SEO purposes.

Unboxing

The unboxing of the Bold 9650 revealed the standard set of accessories: the device, charger, USB cablem, holster, manuals and CD. The packaging for a BlackBerry these days seems really excessive. In the near future, I think we can do away with manuals and CDs, as all of the information is readily available on the Internet. Also, I look forward to the day when cables are a thing of the past, and all syncing and updates is done wirelessly. It would also be good to see the latest charger that RIM has been working on (small dongle for wall charging with USB plug), but we probably won’t see that until the next generation of devices.

Form Factor and How it Feels

The form factor and how it feels in your hands is really the first thing you notice after you get the device out of the box. As mentioned above, the form factor is exactly the same as the first Tour. With respect to size and weight, there’s no discernible difference between the two. When comparing the 9630 and 9650 keyboards, the Bold 9650 feels slightly elevated. This may be caused by something under the hood, such as more padding, but it’s more likely caused by the fact that it’s a new device. The sensation reminds me of the difference between a new and used Xbox controller.

Trackpad

The first thing I noticed about the trackpad is that the settings are much more comfortable at a lower sensitivity. The default settings for the trackpad are at 70 horizontal and 70 vertical, and the user experience becomes a lot better when turned down to 50/50. After a few hours with the device, I also realized that the trackpad was slightly off-kilter. If you look closely at the trackpad, it dips from top left to bottom right. Reading the forums, there are several users who have also voiced concerns about this. A tilted trackpad isn’t a big deal or anything, and it doesn’t affect the performance of the device, but I think it’s pretty damaging to the brand’s reputation as a quality, high-end smartphone. When you pay several hundred dollars for a smartphone, you expect more attention to detail.

Battery Door

Something I always like to review on a BlackBerry is the battery door/cover. With the number of battery pulls that I do on a regular basis, the battery door has become one of the most important form factor decisions for me personally. The worst battery door in recent history has to be the Bold 9700. I’ve met several 9700 users who have battery doors that are falling off, and my personal 9700 is almost totally useless now due to the fact that it keeps coming off. I have the same problem with the Storm2. My Storm2 battery door is totally useless and falls off unless my hand is holding it in place.

All rants aside, the Bold 9650 battery door is pretty solid. I won’t know if it stands the test of time for another few months, but so far it feels good and snaps on effectively. There is still a bit of shake and it’s a little loose near the bottom of the device, but nothing to really complain about.

Check out this review of some BlackBerry battery doors I’ve tested.

Setup

After playing with a new device out of the box, the next best thing is the setup. Setting up a BlackBerry involves getting the SIM card in, replacing the media card if one is available, turning on all the connections, upgrading the OS if it’s available and setting up your email.

SIM Insert

Getting the SIM card in is easy but removing the SIM card is a pain. The 9650 and Tour 9630, both require that you slightly lift the SIM card at the top and push from behind. If you have stubby or greasy fingers, this is near impossible. It’s at least easier than an iPhone, which requires you to scramble around looking for a pin to fit in a small hole in the top of the phone. Either way, I think RIM could do a lot for customer satisfaction by improving on this small feature.

As we have previously mentioned on BBCool, the Sprint Bold 9650 comes factory unlocked, so throwing a Rogers SIM card in and turning on the connection was very easy.

Media Card

The media card slot has been ever so slightly altered from the Tour 9630. It’s nothing too significant, but removing a media card on the 9630 was a two-handed job. You had to lift a small latch and then pull the media card out. Much like a bad battery door or SIM slot, this sort of inconvenience hurts the user experience ever so slightly. The media card slot on the Bold 9650 is slightly improved, and removing the media card isn’t as frustrating. Removing the media card is a one-fingered job, just as it should be.

WiFi

WiFi on the Bold 9650 is smooth and there isn’t much to say about it other than it doesn’t support 802.11n. This WiFi standard is supposed to be blazing fast compared to other standards, and it would have been a welcomed addition to the device. Also, considering this device was announced at WES 2010, along with the Pearl 3G (which does support 802.11n), it would have been great to see this feature.

OS aka Handheld Software

The Sprint BlackBerry Bold 9650 came out of the box with OS 5.0.0.621. Personally, I just make sure I have the latest official OS, and I’m not big on hybrids or leaked versions. They’re sometimes fun to play around with, but once your BlackBerry is bricked and you have to spend 30 minutes fixing it, the fun quickly disappears. Recently, Sprint released OS 5.0.0.699 for the 9650, which makes me wonder if there is something wrong with .621 that Sprint found at the last moment in QA and isn’t obvious. Either way, I recently updated the OS and you should too.

Grab OS 5.0.0.621 from Sprint.
Make sure to read the BlackBerryCool guide to updating your OS.

Speaking of OS 5, what about OS 6? Well rumor has it that OS 6 won’t even be available for the Bold 9700 due to its lack of memory to support the new OS. So if the 9700 won’t be getting OS 6, it makes you wonder what devices will. Well, the 9650 has 512MB of on-board memory (twice the 9700′s), making it a viable candidate, so lets keep our fingers crossed.

Head over to RIM’s site to compare Bold 9700 and 9650 specs for yourself.
For a look at the “Advanced Features”, take a look at Sprint’s press release.
Also, be sure to check out this guide to improving memory space on your BlackBerry.

Email Setup

Email setup is a breeze with OS 5 and BIS 3. I personally use 5 email accounts with my 9650, and it’s simply a matter of going to Setup > Email Settings and activating the email accounts associated with my device. I have yet to get a solid contact cleaner app which would benefit me tremendously, as I’ve done so many syncs and created a long list of duplicates that make the contact system almost useless (thank goodness for Xobni).

Hands-On Use

Call Quality

The call quality on the Bold 9650 is good but I’ve been having problems getting a decent signal. The 9650 is from Sprint and running on the Rogers network, so I’m not about to blame this on the device itself. It’s a strange network arrangement that I’m using and I’d rather not comment on the quality of anyone’s network. I find that a BlackBerry will run pretty smoothly regardless of the network you use, and call quality in terms of sound is definitely adequate. The speaker on the 9650 is also great for conference calls, and the vibration setting works just great. Overall, it’s a solid calling device when it needs to be.

Battery Strength

I would definitely classify my usage of the device as moderately-high to high and the battery is decent. After using the Bold 9700′s battery, the expectations were very high and the Bold 9650 fell a little short. On a full charge, the device lasts about 2 days. To be fair, this 2 days was under some pretty intense usage without taking advantage of any of the best practices that will extend you battery life.

Read this article on extending your BlackBerry battery life.
Also, be sure to check out the BlackBerry Bold 9700 battery stress test.

Apps

BlackBerry App World comes preloaded on the BlackBerry Bold 9650. This is an incredible move and I applaud both RIM and Sprint for this amazing feature. The problem is that fragmentation in the platform means that there aren’t as many apps as you’d like. Take games for example. On the 9650, there are 256 games available on App World. With a Bold 9000, the number of games available for the device is 889 (at the time of writing this). Other categories include:

IM & Social Networking: (69) for the 9650 and (108) for the 9000.
Music & Audio: (50) for the 9650 and (268) for the 9000.
Themes: Bold 9650 (371) and Bold 9000 (1262).

This is a common problem that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. As soon as the BlackBerry Bold Slider launches, it will probably have a serious deficit of applications available. The most dedicated BlackBerry users, the early adopters, are the ones picking up these devices as soon as they’re available and they’re the ones who want apps the most. It’s a shame that fragmentation in the platform means they don’t have access to all the apps that older users have access to.

I highly recommend downloading the BlackBerryCool App Store from store.blackberrycool.com/appstore, as App World still doesn’t have the Deal-of-the-Day and other special promotions.
Also be sure to check out store.blackberrycool.com from your desktop, and remember that unlike App World, you can gift an app to a friend.

In terms of numbers, the BBCool Store provides a significant number advantage, especially when it comes to themes.

BlackBerryCool Store Themes: 1211
Bold 9000 App World Themes: 371

Any real BlackBerry power user should take advantage of the best app deal, so you may as well download both App World and the BBCool Store, and check which one is offering the lowest price.

Accessories

Generally, accessories that work for the Tour should work for the Bold 9650, with the exception of cases that are very specific about the charging port location. The charging port has frustratingly moved slightly on the Bold 9650 from the Tour 9630. The move is a fraction of an inch and it makes you wonder why they would do such a thing. Is it so they can sell more accessories? Maybe. Or perhaps the accessory team at RIM has no influence over whoever makes the device shell. Either way, the port is moved so make sure you double check that the accessory you are about to purchase is compatible.

Conclusion

Comparing this device to the other Bold series BlackBerrys doesn’t seem right. It’s not a Bold, it’s a Tour and it doesn’t matter what marketing says. Relative to the first Tour, this is a decent upgrade. Tour owners will appreciate the familiar feel of the device and enjoy the additional memory, trackpad and WiFi.

The biggest question about this device is whether or not it will be stuck in OS 5, and remain a small hardware upgrade to the Tour, or if it will get OS 6 once it’s available to carriers. With the big memory improvements, there is a solid chance this device will get the OS 6 upgrade, which would make it a great investment that is future-proofed.

So take a risk and buy this device. If it gets OS 6, you’re sitting pretty with a solid QWERTY BlackBerry running the latest and greatest OS. If it doesn’t get OS 6, you can still be happy knowing you’re running one of the best BlackBerrys on the market, with a nice big form factor that feels good in your hands. It’s a win-win situation.

  • http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/vendor/1111 Eric at Ebscer

    I am really surprised at the lack of app support. For most cases you would assume that anything that works on the 9630 would work on this as well.

  • http://www.blackberrycool.com/ Kyle McInnes

    There must be a better way to get developers to have the app ready once the device is live. As you say, porting should have been especially easy with the 9650. Maybe giving companies an incentive to push the porting process ahead.

  • Tony Woolstencroft

    I don't know what you do with your phone but my Bold 9700 battery door is as solid as a rock. Also considering the new webkit based browser was demo'd on a 9700 I think we can expect to see OS6 appearing on it. Haven't seen any rumours to the contrary.

  • rebirth

    I do not get why so many people do “battery pulls” so often, i never need to remove my battery door unless i am overseas and need to put a sim in my tour… here is why

    ALT + CAP KEY + DELETE

    this act restarts the bb as if you pulled the battery out… it is also the same thing / command that famous “quick pull” application uses (learn this trick save your money). I do not know if this works on the storm… I don't have one to try, and I don't mess with my friends bb's.

    I mean the door is not flimsy… but everything (yes everything) that is overused becomes worn, develops problems and or eventually breaks.

  • BBuser101

    How do you remove Bold 9650 battery cover?

  • at78rpm

    I've had mine for a week, and the only thing that crashes is the Blackberry Apps app when I click on a review. Odd thing, that. But the speed of this thing is amazing, especially when reading off a wifi network.

  • Lorc Sawimill

    Man…..i usually dont comment on pages, nut I must admit that was a wicked review. You hit all the concerns I was thinking next in my head while reading and I upgraded too the BOLD!

    Keep up the good work!!!

  • danielle

    wow thats a great trick! thanks so much!