BlackBerry Bold 9900 hands-on

We get our grubby mitts on RIM's latest BlackBerry smartphone - the Bold 9900 - and bring you our first impressions

So, Blackberry's have gone from trackball to trackpad, to touchscreen, to both. The latest BB does the latter. This morning, the Canadian company unveiled the 9900 and 9930, both of which are virtually identical, aside from the fact the 9930 is an international device, equipped for CDMA users.

Like the Torch, the Bold 9900 has been designed to provide the full QWERTY experience, while appealing to a generation that craves a finger-friendly touchscreen. As expected, typing on that famous QWERTY is still effortlessly comfortable and is typical of BlackBerry - so, brilliant. According to RIM, it's "the best keyboard they've ever built into a BlackBerry".

Design-wise, it's basically the original Bold, with a few design tweaks, a capacitive touchscreen and improved features. The design is also  complimented nicely with its brushed stainless steel band, a la iPhone 4, that sits on the perimeter of the phone, serving to give it a slick and premium feel.

At just 10.5mm thick, it's the thinnest BlackBerry yet, showing off a considerable amount of weight loss compared to the Torch and Bold 9700. But it's still pretty chunky standing next to Samsung's Galaxy S II (8.49mm), Sony Ericsson's Xperia Arc (8.7mm) and the iPhone 4 (9.7mm).

Now onto it's 2.8-inch VGA screen. RIM has thrown in what it's calling Liquid Graphics technology, which means eye candy in the form of vividly rich and colourful graphics and icons, coupled with a smooth, speedy and responsive user experience.

So, whether you're scrolling though emails or contacts, browsing the web, using pinch to zoom, we found it proved smooth, fluid, and whippet quick, while flitting through different features and applications appeared seamless. This is thanks to a tag-team operation consisting of the dedicated GPU and 1.2GHz processor, that work together to provide a lag-free user experience.

Unfortunately, the newly announced BB OS 7 won't be making its way to current BlackBerry handsets; but treat yourself to the 9900, and it'll treat you right back to an improved performance, that offers an easier and faster user experience, complete with improved browsing and the ability to manage personal and corporate content separately. You'll notice new iconography that's marginally different to OS 6, with more customisable panes - so if you want to get rid of the Frequent pane, you can.

The universal search tool we saw debuted on the Torch, which was already brilliant, has been improved too, adding voice activated functionality. Not only is it now a much more powerful search tool, it means you can afford to be a bit lazy when you don't fancy bashing the screen or keyboard. Despite the incessant cacophony of excitable journalist, this feature worked well, pulling up options within a couple of seconds.

Jumping on the NFC bandwagon, the 9900 will also come with the ability to read smart tags and pair NFC capable accessories like Bluetooth headsets, without the need to enter an access code. We tested this feature with a poster tag, which registered almost instantly.

The music store throws up some interesting features. For example, it categorises music nicely - top albums, new songs, new albums - but it also provides a new song of the day, everyday, which is yours to download for free.

On the back, there's a 5MP camera, capable of 720p video recording and playback. Photos look vivid on its screen and video looked just as good. We fired up Toy Story and were not disappointed.

Lastly, there's augmented reality capabilities, taking advantage of the built-in GPS, digital compass and camera. An example of this is the ability to superimpose, or blend BBM chats into real live situations. Interesting.

The 9900 is certainly an improvement, combining performance with style, into a slick slice of hardware. As ever, this is all based on a short encounter with RIM's latest handset, but if first impressions are anything to go by, we cannot wait to get one in the office for a full play.