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RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 Cell Phone Review

by The Review CrewJune 28, 2010

Just like the Sprint version, the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 for Verizon brings an update to the carrier’s BlackBerry Tour. It’s not a major overhaul but brings some nice enhancements, including Wi-Fi, double the onboard memory, and an optical touchpad, to make it a worthwhile upgrade. In this review, we will focus on the Verizon-specific features and performance. For more information about the phone’s design and core functions, please read our full review of the RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 for Sprint. The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 is available from Verizon now for $149.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.

Features
The RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 is a world phone with dual-mode functionality, meaning that it supports both the CDMA and GSM networks. Here in the States, the smartphone will work on Verizon’s network as usual, but when you travel overseas, it will automatically detect and connect to a GSM network, so you can continue to make calls and receive data. Like the Tour, the Bold supports the 2100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band, so you can get 3G support overseas. In addition, the Bold is Verizon’s first smartphone to support the carrier’s GlobalAccess Connect service, which allows you to use the Bold as a tethered modem while abroad. Plans start at $65 per month with a 5GB data cap in the U.S. and Canada (5 cents per MB overage fee) and 100MB allowance in select countries ($5.12 per MB overage fee).

Though the Bold ships with a SIM card, Verizon will allow customers to unlock the SIM as long they have been a customer for 60 days and are in good financial standing with the carrier. Unlocking the SIM will allow you use an international SIM card, but note that you can’t pop in a T-Mobile or AT&T SIM for domestic use. In all, you’ll get voice coverage in more than 220 countries and data coverage (e-mail and Internet) in more than 200 countries, 110 being 3G. For an international coverage map and international roaming rates, check out Verizon’s Web site.

As we mentioned earlier, two of the Bold’s notable additions are Wi-Fi and double the onboard memory (512MB vs. 256MB). Though Verizon has a pretty extensive 3G network, Wi-Fi gives you an alternative way for getting online and can provide faster speeds for better browsing and media streaming, which is why we always insist on having Wi-Fi on a smartphone. You also get Bluetooth and GPS, and Verizon does allow you to use the Bold as a mobile hotspot as long as you sign up for one of its Mobile Broadband Connect plans.

Meanwhile, the additional memory will give you more room for apps and smoother performance. There are a number of basic apps already preloaded on the Bold, such as DataViz’s Documents to Go, Bing Mobile, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, but you can always get more from the BlackBerry App World. Of course, Verizon has plenty of services to pimp as well, including V Cast Music and Video, VZ Navigator (both domestic and global), and Visual Voicemail.

Verizon offers two versions of the Bold 9650: one with a 3.2-megapixel camera and one without, if you prefer not to have a camera or are prohibited from having a camera phone at your workplace. The camera version has standard editing options as well as a flash and video recording. Picture quality was mediocre at best. Despite having a flash, indoor shots were still a bit dull and had a hazy effect to them, but outdoor shots fared better. Video quality was acceptable and can get the job done if you’ve got nothing else handy.

Last but not least, Verizon packages the BlackBerry Bold 9650 with a travel charger, an international adapter clip, a SIM card, a 2GB microSD card, a USB cable, a belt holster, a wired stereo headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ring tones, and help page.

Performance
We tested the dual-mode (CDMA 800/1900; GSM 850/900/1800/1900) RIM BlackBerry Bold 9650 in New York using Verizon service and call quality was excellent. Calls were crisp and clear on our side of the conversation with very rich-sounding audio and no voice distortion. We didn’t detect any background noise, which made it that much easier to deal with an airline’s voice-automated response system. Friends also reported good results. A majority didn’t have any complaints at all, but one did say that the end of our sentences got cut off a bit.

Speakerphone quality was good. There was a slight hollowness but overall, we were happy with the performance and volume was loud enough to hold conversations in louder environments. We had no problems pairing the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset or the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.

Verizon’s 3G network provided reliable coverage throughout Manhattan with decent speeds. CNET’s full site loaded in 50 seconds, while CNN’s and ESPN’s mobile sites loaded in 11 seconds and 13 seconds, respectively. Unfortunately, with BlackBerry OS 6 and the new WebKit browser not due till Q3, you’ll have to get by with BlackBerry’s current browser, which is difficult to navigate and limited in functionality when compared with the competition.

We also streamed clips via V Cast Video and as expected, it was choppy and murky during action sequences, but the quality wasn’t so bad that clips were unwatchable. We must say it came in quite handy since it allowed us to watch some World Cup games when we were away from a TV. Our own MP4 clips played back beautifully with synchronized picture and sound, and audio quality was quite rich. The handset’s 3.5mm jack also allowed us listen to music comfortably with our own headphones.

The Bold 9650 was able to keep up with our day-to-day demands with very little lag. The BlackBerry Bold 9650 ships with a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 5 hours and up to 13 days of standby time. We are currently conducting our battery drain tests but will update this section as soon as we have final results. According to FCC radiation tests, the Bold 9650 has a digital SAR rating of 1.43 watts per kilogram and a Hearing Aid Compatibility rating of M3.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.
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