BlackBerry Bold 9650 Review: An Updated Tour, Not Much More

CIO.com's Al Sacco reviews RIM's new BlackBerry Bold 9650, an upgrade to the popular BlackBerry Tour. The verdict: RIM's latest smartphone gets the job done in style, but it may not satisfy true smartphone geeks. Here's why.

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Sure, that's a lot to like. But the Bold 9650 is not all smiles and thumbs-up. Here's why.....

Bold 9650 Not-So-Good Stuff: Same Old, Durability, Branding-Confusion

My biggest complaint about the BlackBerry Bold 9650 is that it's boring. Boring because it's just an upgraded version of a device that was released a year ago. Boring because it doesn't have any features that really set it apart from the current crop of BlackBerrys. And boring because BlackBerry fans know RIM's on the cusp of releasing BlackBerry 6 and a cool new BlackBerry slider device, currently known as the "Bold 9800."

In a market with so many new and innovative devices being announced every month, boring just won't cut it. Sorry RIM, but you're going to have to do better than an upgraded version of a device that's already associated with hardware issues.

Though the Bold 9650 is notable because it has more app memory than any other BlackBerry, that fact probably doesnt really mean much to your average smartphone buyer. It will surely please BlackBerry power-users, who could benefit from that extra memory, but I honestly don't see many of these folks rushing out to pick up the new Bold with so many more exciting options, from RIM and its competitors, in the pipeline.

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For example, RIM's new BlackBerry Pearl 9100 touts some cool features to set it apart from the rest of the pack: support for 802.11n Wi-Fi, which should translate into faster and more reliable wireless. The Bold 9650 doesn't support 802.11n, only 802.11b/g.

As soon as I unboxed my Sprint BlackBerry Bold 9650 (watch the video here), I noticed that the keyboard felt different than the Tour 9630 keypad. It's exactly the same size; same "Bold" style, with frets; same, or very similar plastic-material. But the Bold 9650's keyboard is more uplifted than the Tour's, as if there's something beneath it keeping it from sitting smoothly in place.

The trackpad and surrounding buttons, including the Send/End keys and both the Menu and Escape keys, on my Bold are also slightly uplifted. In fact, the trackpad itself is tilted when looked at from above, and it's also upraised more on one side than the other. Due to this fact, I scuffed/scratched my trackpad the day I got it, and I can only imagine it will face more damage because of this awkward placement.

Needless to say, that's not good. RIM's scrapping the Tour name for a reason: It's associated with a device that's been nothing but trouble for many BlackBerry users. The Bold name is both a more recognizable and reputable brand within the BlackBerry world. But all it will take to throw mud all over that brand image is one Bold device with a consistently bad keyboard or a bum trackpad, etc.

It's difficult to predict how serious the upraised keyboard/trackpad will prove to be--right now, it's functioning perfectly on my Bold 9650, it's just awkward. But something about the feel of the Bold 9650 keyboard and trackpad area seems worrisome to me. In other words, make sure you opt for the extended hardware-warranty should you choose to purchase a BlackBerry 9650.

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