When BlackBerry confirmed to us in a rather somber presser that they’ll still be deploying one last BB7 handset, this despite the launch of BB10 , we just couldn’t pretend how in love we are with it in this review. To make things easier for you, my dear reader, it seems like with every step the tech world takes forward BlackBerry finds it in their heart to rectify mistakes of 5 years ago. Thus taking three steps back.
BlackBerry took a bold move (not to be confused with their Bold line of handsets) by bringing a follow up to the 9700. In size, the 9720 has grown drastically compared to the 9700, but it is slimmer. It’s not THAT slim though – at only 12mm it’s substantially thicker than many modern touchscreen phones. But it is lightweight, weighing just 120g. Build quality is quite good.
The phone features an excellent, ergonomic keyboard plus an optical trackpad and a touchscreen. The screen is larger than traditional BlackBerries, measuring 2.8 inches, which is still tiny compared with most touchscreen phones, but the 9720 has the advantage of the physical keyboard, meaning that none of the screen needs to be taken up by a virtual keyboard. For messaging and many business apps, the lack of screen real estate won’t be an issue.
The 480 x 360 screen resolution isn’t so impressive, but for a mid-range phone it’s tolerable. It works out as 214 ppi pixel density, which means that text is fairly sharp, but it’s certainly no high-end display. Font sizes are adjustable for ease of reading.
Dwelling back at BB7, for a company that’s invested years in a new OS (BlackBerry 10) it’s more than odd to see it rolling out a new phone with an ancient version of the operating system. Is this an indication that BlackBerry users really don’t want to change? Quite possibly, and we could blame majority of the African markets for that.
Whatever the reason, booting up the 9720 it feels like we’ve returned to a world where BlackBerry was sexy and everything was just good with the world. The touchscreen interface works well and is in many ways less confusing than BlackBerry 10. And everything is here – email, office documents, corporate security and social media. The web browser may be slow, but everything just works. Yet at the same time, it feels like a step backwards, and there’s a definite lack of apps here.
As it is a mid-range device, so we’re not expecting massive specs here. The processor is really quite slow, at just 800MHz. That was OK back in 2009, but now it feels underpowered. There’s only 512MB of RAM too, so we won’t be running any kind of demanding apps on this device, nor multitasking. The onboard memory of 512 MB eMMC is really very limiting. You can add a microSD card (you’re going to need it), but only up to a maximum of 32GB.
BlackBerries aren’t really made for multimedia, so photography isn’t high on the device’s list of skills. The rear-facing camera has a 5 megapixel sensor and uses EDOF (Extended Depth of Field). It has a flash and digital zoom and is probably suitable for casual snaps. The battery is relatively small, at 1450mAh, but that’s plenty to power a device with a small screen and a frugal hardware. Up to 7 hours talk time is possible between charges. Then again, where have you heard of a BlackBerry lasting through an entire day with just one charge? During our rundown test of normal daily use the 9720 managed to make it past the 15h00 mark, right after lunch which of course means loads of picture snapping, replying to BBM messages and a handful of emails. All of this while we’re connected to the SA Vibe network and 3G.
Connectivity includes WiFi (2.4GHz, 802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1 and USB. It’s a 3G phone of course with quadband support for both UMTS (2100/1900/850/800 MHz) and GSM EDGE (1900/1800/900/850 MHz), with HSDPA providing fast internet connections with download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps.
To conclude; this BlackBerry is an affordable phone that offers the advantage of a touchscreen OS plus a full physical QWERTY keyboard. That makes it a an attractive option compared to entry-level QWERTY phones like the Nokia Asha 302 or the BlackBerry Curve 9320. And yet it doesn’t give a lot more than those cheaper devices. The slow processor, limited memory and low screen resolution all limit the usefulness of the 9720 and make it hard to justify the extra cost. If the 9720 is well in your budget and somewhat appeals to your needs, it will set you back R2499 this festive season.