I won’t deny it, I’ve been sitting by my email for weeks waiting for word that a Blackberry Bold 9700 Review device would be coming my way, knowing full well it was the next step for me – being a Blackberry Bold user 24/7.

I’d already sampled the delights of the 9700 over lunch when Research in Motion (RIM) launched the device a few weeks back – but it was a quick look, and I did have one early concern – the Touch Pad – was it going to work?

The Bold 9700 is the second Smartphone from Blackberry to feature this new navigation method.

Blackberry Bold 9700

Blackberry Bold 9700

Those reading this who are not new to the Blackberry Experience will know this as the third iteration of the blackberry ‘Track” navigation. The first was the TrackWheel – which sat on the right side of the device, defined for thumb control. Push in for action.

Then came the PEARL – later known as the “TrackBall” now common to the vast majority of Blackberry’s in the wild.

The “TrackPad” is a true refinement of that. The action of use is the same, as if the ball was still there, however with no moving parts one of the most common complaints about a Blackberry (‘My TrackBall is stuck or sticking and not moving up and down”) will become history.

When I picked up the display device at Lunch, I was sure I felt friction, as if my thumb could not glide over the pad. I think it was a result of moisture on my finger, from the rain – or perhaps a nervous sweat. Only time will tell if I notice this again.

Out of the box a fresh new 9700 doesn’t suffer this issue. As a Bold 9000 user, I immediately noticed the smaller form factor, almost identical to the Curve 8900, which I favored except for a desire to return to those 3G speeds for sending photos to the web or via email.

To be precise, the 9700 is infact the exact same size as the 8900 (109mm x 60mm), however it is slightly thicker (by 0.6mm) – it’s also around 13 grams heavier.

I think that’s the wrong comparison to make though. More likely people will be moving from the 9000 to the 9700. In that comparison the new 9700 is streets ahead – 5mm shorter, 6mm narrower and 1mm thinner. And a full 14grams lighter. Amazing how small that ‘sounds’, but you really do notice it.

Some people have complained the 9700 is too small – Frankly, I think that’s ridiculous. The keyboard is as good, if not better than the BOLD, and it’s nothing like coming from the original Curve to the Bold or vice versa.

I like that the Numbers on the keypad are larger than the 9000, and also not in RED, looks good, and not too distracting.

The next key feature for me is the Camera – I really noticed and enjoyed the quality of the 3.2 Megapixel camera on the Curve 8900. That same camera now comes to a 3G Device, the 9700. With Autofocus it really does enhance your photos. It’s not the best on market, but it does go many miles ahead of the Bold 9000.

Blackberry Bold 9700

Blackberry Bold 9700

Using the standard Operating System version 5 which ships with the 9700, you will also have a new option when emailing your photos – Select and Image size – Small (640×480), Medium (800×600), Large (1024×768) and Original (2048×1536). Very useful for quick sending of photos to friends and family.

OS 5 has many other enhancements, which I will cover in a later post, however you will notice some refinements and enhancements. Example, when viewing photos, you can now slide through your gallery and get a sliding motion on screen rather than a flick and re-load. It’s the little things like that which makes OS 5 that much better.

It does still lack some of the punch of a more Browser based Smartphone. The Blackberry Browser is good – but still far from great. This must be the Focus for RIM today – get that right, and there will be a stark improvement in the overall usability of the Blackberry.

Another fantastic feature of the 8900 which has stepped into the new Bold is the dedicated Lock button. On the top left of the device there is a single click button to lock and unlock button. This joins the Mute button up top as a very useful approach to usability from the design team.

The right side convenience and volume keys have been replaced with more rubbery keys, which seem to mould into the side of the device. The Right Side Camera button works well as a two-stage (Focus then Shutter) button, while the Volume buttons could really be a bit larger and defined as they are on the Bold 9000.

Chrome look trim right around the device is a great look, but the persistence with the leatherette style back does baffle me somewhat.

Under the battery door which is a simple slide off mechanism is a rather large battery, and above it the SD Card slot – the SD card goes in on a slight angle, so while it’s not accessible on the outside of the device like the Bold 9000, it is frankly just as easy to get to (the SD ‘door’ on the 9000 is quite hard to open itself, while on the 9700, you just slide the entire back off the device.

Something that annoyed me when it first hit the Blackberry range with the Pearl Flip was the new size Micro USB charging slot (Nokia used to frustrate me to exhaustion with the constant change of charging pins). However, with an almost global agreement on that being the standard for charging ‘inlets’ this no longer frustrates as it rears its head on the new 9700.

I’ll have a lot more to say once I’ve put the device through more regular daily tests with a full switch to my personal Optus account running both BIS (individual/personal) accounts and BES (Corporate/Enterprise) accounts on the device as well as the many other apps that make my day go by.

In the meantime, I was very impressed by two features of the NextG service from Telstra which I’ve been using to trial this device.

Firstly, Foxtel Mobile. I’ve used this on a few phones before, however on the Blackberry (and I’d assume the iPhone) the experience is pretty darn good. Easy to get to links, clear instruction and a good sizes screen for basic viewing. Not going to replace your TV any time soon, however it does look better than a crappy little 1.5 inch screen on a standard ‘mobile’.

The other is the WhereIs Navigator. Clearly using Telstra’s SENSIS owned White pages/Mapping system, this is actually a darn good turn by turn system. Well worth the trial. However, I still worry about the cost of Data to download all the maps you need on a 30minute to 1 hour journey and the extra income that will secure for Telcos in this country. UPDATE:  Telstra have advised that Data downloaded using the WhereIs Navigator is FREE to Telstra NextG customers – EXCELLENT result, and the way it should be, however there is instead a monthly usage charge for the ‘software’ – which, if you think about it, is just like paying a fee to get the very latest maps.  The alternative is to buy a GPS and pay through the nose for new maps!

NextG’s network is excellent, and I watched a good hour of Sky News right on my Blackberry while working tonight.

Telstra’s MyPlace application emulates the Blackberry Icon screen and provides a few good direct links to things like the white pages and yellow pages.

Overall, an excellent Investment, and one I’d highly recommend you try out at your local Telstra shop.

I will struggle to go back to a Bold, and think that will be the case for most all users, and at the very same time Curve 8900 users will have 3G speed envy.

The biggest conversion for Telstra, and RIM will be I think long suffering Curve users who are ready to upgrade, and Bold Corporate Users who are at plans end and ready to stick a new device on their wishlist.

Excellent device, I wait now only for this exact device with a touch screen (Same size as current screen, and joining the standard Physical Keyboard for operation) – that being the ultimate blackberry for me.