The BlackBerry Bold 9700 in a word? Compact. It's efficient, almost cramped, like a Japanese car from the 80s.
Succinctly, it's the new BlackBerry to buy if you're on T-Mobile or AT&T. Doubly so on T-Mo, since it's their first 3G BlackBerry.
It's not very much like the original Bold at all, which was the Escalade of BlackBerrys: big, obnoxious, but seriously comfortable to drive because it gave you tons of room to spread your legs (err, thumbs). If you're used to that, at first the 9700—which is even smaller and lighter than the Tour on Sprint and Verizon—feels like you've been shoved inside of a clown car because the keyboard and screen, while retaining the same shape and resolution, respectively, have been shrink-rayed. (Note: In the gallery, the T-Mobile one is the Bold 9700, the AT&T phone is the original Bold.)
But, then you realise you're not typing any slower, or less precisely. The 9700's keyboard isn't as flat out comfortable as the original Bold—purely a matter of physics—but it's a minor marvel of ergonomics that RIM has recession-sized the keyboard this effectively. They're simply brilliant at building keyboards. The screen has the same resolution as the Bold's, but in a smaller size, meaning it has a higher pixel density. Despite that extra clarity, I felt a bit constrained by it, especially browsing the web.
It's the second BlackBerry to ditch all-too-easily-slain-by-lint trackball for an optical trackpad, and the first that's not built for Walmart. You'll miss the trackball for about 15 seconds. Like I said before, the trackpad's 90 percent as good as the ball. You might miss the physical feedback, and it sometimes doesn't totally accurately interpret a diagonal swipe that you know wouldn't be a problem with the ball but it's good enough, and by far the most accurate and responsive trackpad I've used on a phone.
It's running BlackBerry OS 5.0 which isn't tons different than the OS that shipped on the original Bold or Curve 8900, but it's definitely springier and it has a few brushstrokes of added polish here and there. One place you notice is the browser—while not as fast as the iPhone 3GS or Android, it has some extra zip to it, and it even sped past the Storm 2 loading pages, despite racing on T-Mobile's 3G network vs. Verizon's.
Basically, barring any major bugs that pop up over the next couple of days, this is the BlackBerry you probably wanna bug your corporate overlords to handcuff to your pants if you're on AT&T or T-Mobile, since it'll slide into them easier than any BlackBerry yet. I just hope you enjoy the feel of faux leather. [BlackBerry]