RIM's Bold 9700 is the ultimate BlackBerry, even if it's not the ultimate smart phone. If you're already a CrackBerry addict, the 9700 will feed your need to keep connected, but, if you're not, the whole package may feel too much like business and not enough like the business.
The 9700 is available for free on a £30-pound-per-month, 2-year contract, or around £380 SIM-free.
There's no question that the 9700 is the capo di tutti BlackBerries. It's as small and sleek as a BlackBerry Curve 8900, but offers more features.
The Qwerty keyboard is better than ever. The bigger keys make up for a lack of space between them with a sculpted finish that makes each one stand out. Disappointingly, the 9700's keys aren't as clicky as the 8900's, but we had no trouble typing on them at full speed.
What sets the BlackBerry apart from similar Qwerty phones, like the Nokia E71, is the BlackBerry server service. The consumer version is called the BlackBerry Internet Service, and is run by the network provider (businesses run BlackBerry Enterprise Server). This is the funnel through which all your email passes, and it allows email to be pushed to the BlackBerry in real-time, so you don't have to wait for the phone to check if something new has arrived. It also makes the BlackBerry more secure, since everything is encrypted as it goes back and forth.
The BlackBerry email service is as reliable as ever, but you must have a subscription to a BlackBerry-specific contract to make it work. We found the process of setting up email on the 9700 to be problem-free, although not as user-friendly as on the iPhone or HTC Hero. We like having the option of setting up accounts on a Web page instead.
You can choose between looking at your emails in separate inboxes or in a combined super-inbox. If you have the Facebook app installed, you can see your Facebook messages in there too.
The address book is similarly well-integrated with Facebook, and you can grab your contacts from your Gmail account too. But, even on the top-of-the-line 9700, you have to go out and find the Facebook and Google Sync apps and install them yourself. We wish these features came pre-installed.
Fortunately, BlackBerry apps are much easier to find these days, thanks to the BlackBerry App World. The shelves aren't as well-stocked as those of Apple's App Store, and paid-for apps tend to be much more expensive, but it's easy to navigate and there's a good selection of free apps to choose from.
While the features that have traditionally made the BlackBerry the king of emails are all present and correct on the 9700, the platform is starting to show its age. It's the BlackBerry's tenth birthday this year, and, although the format has improved hugely in that time and developed a massive following, other smart phones have come along and put the BlackBerry somewhat in the shade.