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Blackberry 9100: a brief review

Sit down comfortably, because any discussion of a new Blackberry device is not so simple and I would not like to offer you just a dry account of specs and features. Feelings and emotions will do much better. I like that RIM can still produce unique smartphones both in terms of features (which is rather illusory) and design. As I want to share my emotions with you the manufacturer must have had an intention to put this emotion in a new Pearl too. Remember that the tried and trusted Blackberry 8100 has been in continuous production for years. It was the first Blackberry for many and they are still happy to use this accessible smartphone. An unpretentious phone offers a stunning battery life. If you do not use the proprietary boosted battery or torture this model (which is too simple for that) you can get at least one week of true mobility. 8100 was (and still is) a beautiful model, which should definitely get into Top 100 of best gadgets of the century. A true living legend. I guess that 9100 will follow suit. I was convinced during a 1 week use. I will not touch upon software features, but will speak about what's on the outside. For the first time I got hands on a Blackberry without a QWERTY keypad, which is not nice, but I could not find another option in Moscow at the time. It will be even more interesting.


In the small box with BB 9100 you receive a decent wired headset, a charger and a USB cable. A 2 GB microSD card is already inside. This model features a traditional colors mix Ц dark grey and black. It's like a boys only club. There are variants for ladies - white, purple, pink, red, etc. My female respondents were also unanimous in their appreciation of the model.

I am not a woman, but I do agree with them. RIM designers did a pretty good job to differentiate this candybar from hundreds of others. It has something special and appealing. I like the combination of different materials. The front, buttons and the edge around the screen are made of glossy black plastic, while the plastic of the battery cover has a pleasant texture. Between you have a material similar to rugged and hard rubber. The loudspeaker has a metal grill. Buttons and function keys under the screen move precisely and are easy to use. On "5" digit we have two protruding elements, so blind dialing is just a breeze. At the bottom you see two paired keys and the leftmost is a delete button. The handset without QWERTY is not the best solution for quick messaging, entering addresses or text input. After iPhone and Blackberry 9700 it is a bit uncomfortable to use BB 9100 for such purposes. The speed goes down, which is natural. Old habits (to good keypads) die hard. On the other hand, some people can enter SMS on a regular keypad many times faster than I can on iPhone.

If you are a lazybones (like me) you should not buy this version of new Pearl. There is a model with paired buttons and full QWERTY. It deserves more attention.

The protruding buttons on sides are slightly tight, but there are no other complaints here. Pay attention that the top hosts three playback control buttons - Play/Pause and Rewind. These are not sensor buttons, which is good. When you press the central one it leads you to the multimedia menu represented by the music and video players, photo viewing app, ringtones, dictaphone, video recording and voice notes (a useful thing, although it is the same dictaphone, after all). Do not use rewind buttons to move faster inside the track. I think it is a bug. They only enable moving between tracks.

As any contemporary BB it has an optic joystick, which requires some adjustment. It is achieved easily and in the menu you can set the sensitivity level.

Each Blackberry has a minor trouble with the build (OK, almost each). This model is not an exception Ц the battery cover moves wildly from side to side. If you watch the video you will understand what I mean. You can solve the issue by putting a piece of paper inside (I still remember old tricks).

The dimensions of the smartphone are quite modest - 108х50х13.3 mm (4.25″x1.96″x0.52″), the weight is 93 g (3.28 oz). I like the feel of BB 9100 in hands. I cannot fail to mention the succession in design and despite the smaller size BB 9100 has many things in common with "bigger" models Ц a sloping body in the upper and lower parts, grey plastic elements at the back (on top and bottom as well), camera protection and flash. The speakerphone hole is in the lower part, the battery cover is easy to open, while a 3.5 and microUSB jacks are not covered with anything.

In use the front and back of the phone are easily covered with fingerprints, which angered me a lot. Though it is not as bad as in iPhone 4. Near the loudspeaker grill there is a light indicator Ц one more proprietary and а very useful thing. It is bright and can be disabled in the menu if it gets on your nerves.

The screen is not huge and boasts 2.3″ with the resolution of 360 х 400. In the settings you can change the fonts size and other features. To my mind the screen is nice. Smaller physical size changed the menu organization. The joystick allows choosing a sound profile and going to connection settings in the standby mode. Everything else is typical RIM stuff and you should not have questions if you are familiar with their devices. I would like to remark that I tested the phone with a standard Beeline SIM card without BIS Ц reliable WiFi and a Gmail app were quite handy. It is not the best solution as every Blackberry should stay in its own habitat with BIS and other related services. SIM card ejector is cool Ц you can even see this yellow element on photos.

I always came across positive feelings of people towards the Blackberry logo on the battery cover. The other day my friend and I were approached by a seriously looking guy in a restaurant. He was curious when he saw a small Blackberry. As far as I understand he did not like the idea of an ordinary keypad, but he was happy with the size and general looks. Blackberry owners are an interesting and diverse bunch of people. You can even find civil servants discussing Torch with radiant eyes.

Blackberry standard

3 MP camera is not the perfect solution for good photos or video. Do not doubt that BB 9100 will not offer anything decent with its camera. It has another fish to fry. Everything else is typical Blackberry. Speech communication is just fabulous. All nuances of a particular interlocutor are clearly reproduced. I had a feeling that a person was near me. Speakerphone mode works OK, at least better than in iPhone 3Gs.

Samples of photos:

Excellent sound quality in headphones is another feature of the model, so I can easily recommend BB 9100 for music playback. I am irritated by the jack at the side Ц why not to locate it on the top or bottom?

The manufacturer claims up to 5 hours of talktime, 30 hours of music playback and 18 days in the standby mode (for GSM, while in UMTS you get only 13 hours). In the settings you can select the network mode - 3G and 2G together or separately. It is quite convenient and I think that not every firmware offers this option. In real life the phone really works long hours. The Blackberry in question handles Russian well.

Every BB has its own work scenario, so if 9700 is an organizer with mail and tasks and I did not use it for calls due to low battery life, then BB 9100 is precisely more of a phone rather than a notebook with many features. Especially with this keypad!

The reception is up to the mark - there are no problems here. I am now located in a place near Moscow with poor Beeline coverage. For example, iPhone does not receive the signal properly. BB 9100 has no such problems and the reception is fine.

Proprietary apps for Twitter and Facebook would not work and I do not understand the reason. BB 9700 connected to BIS has the same problems. May be it depends upon the country where the model is usedЕ If you know the answer Ц let us know on our forum.

Prices and fortunes

Sooner or later local carriers will offer this smartphone as well. I liked the new Pearl, but I have to mention two points. If you want to buy this model go for the one with QWERTY. If you need this Blackberry for self-expression you'd better choose Torch. Compact BB 9100 is good, but it is only a candybar, albeit with multitasking, WiFi, good sound, etc. It is an ordinary representative in the Blackberry family.

In Moscow this model fetches around $815, which is a novelty tax. Blackberry 9100 is still a nice dessert for BB obsessed folk, who cannot live without them. If you belong to the group wait no more. You will not be disappointed. You can get BB 9100 from the UK. It is easier and simpler for many.

For the rest I can say that in a year's time due to its price BB 9100 will be a good option to try a RIM product. If you compare this phone with BB 8100 all changes and additional features are obvious. Operation time is good, sound quality, display and OS are better, while the keypad (QWERTY) remains the same. Old Pearl was bigger. On the other hand, the upgraded model is more compact, which is a plus for many users. Standard slots, WiFi, Bluetooth and 3G coupled with the nice design and all proprietary features Ц light indicator, strong vibro, excellent speech transmission and reception. Pay attention to this phone for calls if you are tired of "robots", which can rival laptops.

Among its rivals one can mention Nokia E series models, but as I remember they cannot offer a similarly compact model with QWERTY. Besides, BB 9100 with BIS can use up to 10 mailboxes with Push, download and open attachments for $10 a month without any limits (if connected to BIS from ћ“S).

I think at the start of next week a similar article will be ready for Blackberry Torch Ц we will see what's interesting there. If you have any questions related to BB 9100 feel free to ask them on our forum and I will be happy to provide an answer.

The author is grateful to Blackberrys.ru website for the test sample of Blackberry 9100 and help during the preparation of the article.

Sergei Kuzmin (skuzmin@mobile-review.com)
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Published — 19 September 2010

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