Late last summer BlackBerry finally wriggled free of its business straight-jacket and came of age as credible smartphone proposition with its Bold 9000 messenger.

It rocked-up with a grade A design, the best QWERTY we’ve ever thumbed, a throbbing 3G engine and a much improved multimedia performance. Only a paltry 2MP snapper and station wagon-like build let the side down.

Luckily, its successor, the 9700, goes part way to readdressing these shortfalls. BlackBerry creator RIM has managed to squeeze the Bold’s power into a very compact, Curve-sized chassis.

QWERTY thumbs up

Unsurprisingly, the inevitable consequence of its latest pocket-friendly frame is a more bijou keyboard. We were ready to bemoan the absence of the original’s sizeable and highly tactile buttons, but we found its new layout remarkably accommodating.

The ridged, guitar-fret inspired design made it easy to discriminate between keys for accurate speed-typing. Our only gripe is having to press the ‘alt’ key for punctuation – the Nokia E72 has dedicated keys for these popular characters – but this action soon becomes second nature.

Camera concerns

There’s still a big issue with the camera – 3.2MP is still woefully sub-standard in today’s competitive smartphone skirmish – but at least it’s an improvement on the laughable 2MP and it delivers average-quality pictures for quick uploading to Facebook and Twitter direct from the camera interface.

The 9700 retains a lot of what we loved about the original, namely the high production values, the tactile leatherette rear panelling and the sharp vivid half-VGA quality display. Granted, the screen is a tad smaller, but otherwise the 9700 is a phone to admire and habitually paw.

Flexible friend

Everything about the new Bold screams user-friendly. It may have ditched the traditional trackball for an optical touch-sensitive trackpad first introduced on the 8520 Curve, but it’s just as lucid to use and feels easier on the thumb.

Two side buttons are also customisable to fire up practically any feature and some individual embedded apps.

Setting up your email account online requires just a username and password and, while you still can’t do this direct from the handset like the Nokia E72 and many other smartphones, it’s no hardship and still granny simple. You can, of course, add up to 10 email accounts.

Small-screen star

The 2.44in screen appears a bit pokey for sumptuous, full-fat internet surfing but the canny proprietary web browser delivers a painless small-screen experience. This is largely thanks to the onscreen context-specific cursor that starts off as a zoom and automatically changes to a hand pointer when you hover over a weblink.

Having the integrated 3.5mm headphone jack at the side of phone instead of the top is a tad annoying, especially when you slip the phone in your pocket, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Download dandy

The music player sounds a bit trebly at times but it’s fine for commuter listening and with a 7digital app onboard you can download DRM-free MP3 tracks over 3G or Wi-Fi.

Tunes grabbed over the network are encoded at only 64kbps for speedy delivery but the app’s brilliant Wi-Fi Autosync feature automatically upgrades them to 320kbps when you hit a wireless connection.

The 7digital app is just one of a few thousand that can be downloaded form BlackBerry’s App World store. It’s still lagging behind trailblazers like Apple and Android for variety and quantity but there are certainly enough compelling apps onboard to explore.

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 may not have the sleek looks of its arch rival, the Nokia E72, but its ultra user-friendliness is just as attractive. It’s still not up-to-scratch on the multimedia front, but is easily the best BlackBerry we’ve handled.


Stuff says... 

Blackberry Bold 9700 review

A compact, user-friendly messaging smartphone at the top of its game. Just don’t expect multimedia miracles