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KELLNER: BlackBerry’s Bold pricey but platform, keys striking

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

Three seconds into the trailer for "Quantum of Solace," the new James Bond flick, I was having a problem with the BlackBerry Bold, Research in Motion's $549 answer to the iPhone, complete with a real keypad. The trailer wasn't playing because the device was "buffering" the data. There were a couple more such hiccups during the film clip, but most of it went smoothly. The sound was very good for a tiny device, and I'm not dissuaded from seeing the movie.

I'm not dissuaded from the Bold, either, even if its list price is steep and even if, after discounts, its price is on a par with that of an 8-gigabyte iPhone. Both devices run on the AT&T wireless network, and both are sold by AT&T in its retail stores. That means, of course, that if you want the Bold, you'll need to be an AT&T wireless subscriber, at least for now.

My enthusiasm arises from two sources: First, there are people - many people - who will prefer the BlackBerry platform. The iPhone is being widely hailed as "The. Best. Mobile. Phone. Ever," and it is a great device. However, just as some choose Avis over Hertz, being No. 2 has its followers.

The second is that the device is a good one. I like the keyboard, I like the display (admittedly smaller than the you-know-what's screen) and I like the performance.

Let's start with the keyboard. It's "thumb friendly," but even with a solitary digit, you can get things done. There's something nice about the tactile response of the keys that a virtual keyboard doesn't offer. It's just different, and it may be your choice. The keys are well-placed, especially the space bar, and I learned my way around quickly: "shift" for upper-case letters, of course, and "alt" for numbers and symbols.

The screen is sharp and clear, and when not hampered by buffered data, it's a joy to watch. Again, it's smaller than Brand X, but you can see videos reasonably well, and you can read text very well on it. Score another check-off for the Bold, which, after all, is descended from a line of good devices.

The performance is business-grade, as well. You might consider the Bold a "pro-sumer" device, inasmuch as it offers music, multimedia and a camera built-in. But its business functions are very good, again the result of a number of excellent predecessors.

Two examples of the good performance leap to mind. First, the Bold does a great job of finding and connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots. There's one where I had problems with the iPhone - it's in a private business location, not a Starbucks - and the Bold logged in perfectly. The second is in setting up a "personal" e-mail account on the device. BlackBerry uses "personal" to label those e-mail services that aren't the RIM/BlackBerry e-mail, so in my test, I used a business account.

Again, the device shone through instantly, just as, to be fair, the iPhone did on the same Microsoft Exchange-based account. This kind of thing is important for "enterprise" users. Not only does it show that the device will work, but you can roll it out across a work force with some confidence.

Contact Mark Kellner at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.