There’s no getting around it, RIM hasn’t had the best year ever. It's been steadily losing market share to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 7, there's been lackluster response to BlackBerry 6 OS and the Blackberry Torch, and at best tepid reviews and sales of their first tablet, the PlayBook, have not left the company on rock solid footing. So, pardon, bold moves were a must for the company as developers and journalists gather in Orlando, FL for BlackBerry World.

 
Images of the Touch Bold leaked months earlier; yet even without the leaks it’s unlikely the reveal would have been met with much surprise. The line was launched in 2008 with the Bold 9000, which itself was no great departure in form factor with its portrait QWERTY dominating the front of the device and its 15 mm girth. In our review of the last iteration, the 9780, we mentioned the lack of innovation in form factor, and while the new phone looks mighty familiar, it is at least quite thinner, down to 10.5 mm from 14.2 mm. This isn’t 2010’s Bold, though. Indeed it’s fair to say this is the first time in a while that a BlackBerry phone will compete on specs.
 
Gone is the anemic Marvell sourced 624MHz SoC, future BlackBerry aficionados will be blessed by a 1.2 GHz single core Snapdragon variant, likely the MSM8x55. This kind of leap could bring a smoothness and performance to the beleaguered OS that has been sorely lacking. The polish is not just applied to the hardware, the software gets buffed into a whole new iteration.

BB 6 was revealed just last August and while several BB 5 devices were blessed with 2010’s finest BB OS, the same will not be true for 2011’s finest. Indeed, even the Torch and Bold 9780 will be left behind. Why the lack of legacy support? Mirroring the path of graphics in PCs, GPU's have become as important to a good user experience as the CPUs, and the dated SoCs in prior BlackBerry phones won't cut it this time. Bringing BlackBerry 7 to 2011 meant a graphics subsystem that’s tightly integrated with the Adreno 205 most likely under its hood, something that Marvell’s offering lacks.

And speaking of graphics, the Adreno should have no trouble handing just 640 x 480 pixels on its 2.8” capacitive touch screen. A pixel density of 287 dpi should provide crisp text but it remains to be seen how comfortable users will be with a small lower res screen after growing accustomed to the steady rise in screen size and resolution over the last few years. Liquid Graphics is the marketing name for BB 7’s graphics engine and it’s said to provide 60 fps and smooth scrolling and zooming while browsing or taking advantage of the device's multimedia capabilities.

And in a feint to its enterprise users, BB 7 will introduce BlackBerry Balance, which seems to bundle its most enterprise features behind a secure wall, separated from more consumer driven content like your Facebook and Twitter apps. Secure remote wiping of the phone can now be isolated to the enterprise components, leaving your Tweets safe and sound. The only application that I can imagine for this would be wiping sensitive data once an employee is terminated; not the most marketable feature, then.

An updated browser, enhanced voice search, a 5.0 MP camera that will record at 720p and the inclusion of NFC round out the new features. Not a hint of QNX, the PlayBook OS, is to be seen, but this isn’t surprising given that QNX blessed phones aren’t expected till 2012. And speaking of the PlayBook, BlackBerry didn’t leave it out of the first day of BlackBerry World. Video chat and Facebook apps will be gracing the App World this month, with the former promising one-click calling over WiFi.

All in all, a packed day at BlackBerry World. Tomorrow’s keynote by Mike Lazaridis will hopefully shed some light on the company's strategy looking forward, and perhaps give us a peek at the next wave of BlackBerry 7 OS phones.
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  • von Krupp - Monday, May 02, 2011 - link

    I await some reviews. Smoothness means nothing if the UI paradigms are still lacking in intuitiveness. Reply
  • asmoma - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    As long as moving your fingur up means scrolling down, then 60 fps is alfa omega. Reply
  • von Krupp - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    I disagree. I'm not the most familiar with smartphone navigation since I do not own one, but I picked up and toyed with phones with all five major OS flavours. iOS was, for obvious reasons, the fastest and easiest to use. Close second was Windows Phone 7. WebOS cam in a more distant third, but it was still leaps more intuitive than TouchWiz or Sense Android. At the very bottom is RIM's BB OS. Both 6 and its predecessor gave me trouble when navigating, and not because of lag. Reply
  • Lord 666 - Monday, May 02, 2011 - link

    Unless this is just the first of a new lineup, RIM needs a true multimedia phone. Assuming this will lead to a Storm 3, but they need LTE for tethering.... especially with playback pairing. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Monday, May 02, 2011 - link

    When I first heard that version 7 would not run on older phones, I figured "Oh good, they are finally moving QNX to the handhelds."

    But NoooOOOooo... Its the same old broken, dead end OS.

    The hardware may very well be fine, but the best hardware in the world is worthless without a good OS.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    Why bother with putting touch on such a tiny screen?

    Seriously RIM, make a phone like the Dell Venue Pro. Big 4" high-res touchscreen, slide out Torch-style keyboard, QNX OS instead of BB OS, with the same MSM8x55 SoC...

    People would eat them up!
    Reply
  • alent1234 - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    a 2.8" screen on a $200 phone in 2011?

    a housewife i know bought a blackberry as a first smartphone last year. the uncoolness of BB's is well under way
    Reply
  • earle36 - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    I think the new BlackBerry Bold Touch has a lot of potential. I'd like to see / use the device first to see if the email client (rendering emails) and browser are in fact significantly faster. I had a Bold 9700 and loved the device, but the browser was pretty bad and the emails took forever to fully render. I loved everything about the phone except the performance. I have a handful of Apps that I actually need on a mobile device, the most important is Browser, Email, and GPS. I left BlackBerry for a Samsung Focus (WP7) and love the phone, but miss having a physical keyboard - ALOT. So much that I'm considering getting this device. I love WP7 as an OS, but they don't have a portrait qwerty phone and I really enjoy using a real keyboard. I like the look of the new BlackBerry Bold, and if the OS is fast and smooth, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, May 03, 2011 - link

    You said: "I love WP7 as an OS, but they don't have a portrait qwerty phone"

    If that's really what you want, check out the Dell Venue Pro. It has a portrait QWERTY keyboard and WP7 and is available direct from Dell. Ebaying your old phone can help defer some of the cost.
    Reply
  • earle36 - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    You know, I checked out the DVP and really wanted to get the device. I went to the Microsoft store several times and used it when it first came out, and every time I went there it was sold out. Then I started seeing a bunch of issues crop up online that people were having with it: Bluetooth, engineering sample batteries shipping with devices, camera taking horrible shots in anything but full day light, headphone jack not fitting most headphones, not being able to connect to any secure wireless networks... just to mention a few. I realize that these issues were eventually rectified, but in the mean time, a lot of people were stuck with phones that had issues. Some people got replacement devices that was supposed to fix the issues and the replacement devices bricked . It took a long time for Dell to resolve the issues, and reading all the bad experiences that others had and seeing how Dell responded to these issues scared me away from the DVP:( I really wanted that phone, but went with the Focus. Reply

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