A peek at the BlackBerry Bold

More than one pundit has already called the BlackBerry Bold (known during development as the BlackBerry 9000) an "iPhone killer." But that's not the mission of the new super-BlackBerry announced today by Research In Motion (product details -requires Flash.) Even as Apple's iPhone has taken the U.S., if not the rest of the world, by storm over the past 10 months, RIM, which pitches its products primarily to business markets, has enjoyed a fabulously successful year.

RIM has no illusions about stopping or even slowing down the iPhone, and doesn't need to. The Waterloo, Ont., company just plans to continue prospering by snagging a healthy share of the rapidly growing smartphone market, matching the second-generation 3G iPhone expected in June with Bold.

Though it has an unmistakable resemblance to its BlackBerry siblings, the Bold is an entirely new design, bigger than the Pearl but a bit smaller than the Curve. It will be available, RIM says, in "summer." And while RIM has not announced a wireless carrier, the fact that it is a quad-band 3G phone means that the U.S. launch partner will certainly be AT&T. It's likely to be priced between $300 and $400, steep but likely to be accepted by its primarily corporate audience.

The most striking feature of the Bold is its display. It runs at the same 320x480 resolution as the iPhone, but since the display is smaller, the screen seems even sharper. The user interface design takes advantage of this, replacing RIM's traditional cartoonish icons with spare white images against a jet black background. Between the screen, an improved media player, and built-in stereo speakers (or a jack that accepts any standard 3.5 mm stereo headphone plug), it's the first BlackBerry that I'd really want to use to watch video. There's also a 2 megapixel camera. As has always been the case with BlackBerrys used with corporate servers, any of these features can be disabled by policy.

I didn't get to use the Bold for long during a demo session, but the full QWERTY keyboard felt very good"”better than the Curve's and at least as good at the 8800 series'. Like most recent BlackBerrys, the Bold features Wi-Fi, though unlike the new T-Mobile Pearl, this can be used only for data, not voice calls. It also has a built in GPS receiver, though it has to make do without a location assist from the network.

For the first year of its existence, the iPhone has been frozen out of most corporate markets by its lack of support for the two leading enterprise mail systems, Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes. Apple has licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync technology and IBM is expected to release a Notes client for the with the first batch opf third-party iPhone applications due in June. We don't know yet what the full features of these mail programs will be, but it's a safe bet they won't match the level of corporate manageability and security provided by BlackBerry. And that is exactly what RIM is counting on to keep BlackBerry on top of the enterprise game.

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