RIM’s iPhone competitor launched: Blackberry Bold

The rumours began in February. The official announcement came in mid-May. Now the first 3G HSDPA BlackBerry dubbed the Bold 9000 has arrived. Well not quite – you’ll still have to wait a while before this pocket rocket launches onto your choice of carrier.

Optus is first off the mark with the Bold available from August 20 on their standard $79 plan (which includes unlimited BlackBerry data and $300 worth of calls and text) for an additional $10 per month on a 24 month contract – in other words $89/month.

Telstra says it will have the Bold for “$0 upfront to business customers from late September”. However don’t get too excited — Telstra also pre-announced that it would offer the iPhone on plans as low as $30 a month but forgot to mention “just as long as you never want to actually use the device.” Given a large number of existing Blackberry customers would be with Telstra hopefully it will offer pricing that isn’t in the same fairy-land league as its iPhone pricing.

This is the first BlackBerry to run on Telstra’s 850MGz Next G network and the telco will certainly leverage the nation-wide coverage of its Next G network in promoting the Bold just as it’s done with the iPhone compared to the limited wingspan of the other carrier’s 3G networks. Telstra claims that typical download speeds over Next G will be “550kbps to 1.5Mbps bursting up to 3 Mbps in CBD metropolitan and selected regional and other locations”.

The Bold can also be used as a ‘tethered modem’ — you can plug it into your laptop and use it as a modem. Back when Telstra had its EV-DO network it used to offer a Blackberry plan that provided unlimited Blackberry usage as well as a number of hours of EV-DO broadband for your laptop using the tethered-modem capability. The plans offered unlimited Blackberry usage with five hours of EV-DO laptop broadband for $99 twenty hours for $129 or forty hours for $149 per month all inclusive including the handset repayments. Given Telstra’s sky-high rates for its Next G network it seems unlikely it will offer such favourable pricing with the Bold but we’re ever-hopeful Telstra will do the right thing by consumers.

Vodafone and Three will also offer the Bold on their respective 3G networks but could not advise on either pricing or a release date.

There’s also some confusion over the availability of the Bold for outright purchase. Several RIM spokespeople at today’s launch maintained that the only way to buy a Bold was through a carrier despite the fact that two etailers – BlackBerryStore.com.au and SimplyMobiles – already list the Bold for outright sale even quoting an official RRP of $949. BlackBerryStore.com.au quotes an ‘estimated price’ of $795 with SimplyMobiles listing a slightly more expensive $828.

As part of the Bold’s rollout RIM is also issuing new desktop software for Windows. The Bold already ships with BlackBerry Desktop Manager 4.6 which is likely to appear online at RIM’s site in the near future (the current version is 4.5).

RIM has already released the Bold-bundled BlackBerry Media Sync which synchronises music podcasts and playlists from your iTunes Library into your BlackBerry’s microSD memory card. It doesn’t bring across music purchased from the iTunes Store which is copy-protected using Apple’s FairPlay DRM system – a shortcoming for which you should blame Apple rather than RIM.

What you can blame RIM for is its continued habit of giving the cold shoulder to Mac users as BlackBerry Media Sync runs only on Windows. Perhaps it’s better to have no solution than the abjectly appalling PocketMac software produced by a third party and provided by RIM as its Mac solution. The best bet for Mac fans remains Missing Sync for BlackBerry which for $US35 synchronises your address book calendar iPhoto snaps and iTunes music. The forthcoming Missing Sync for BlackBerry 2.0 due for release in late September or early October will add the ability to transcode video clips into a Bold-friendly format. The roster includes H.263 H.264 MPEG-4 and XviD. Yes XviD on a smartphone – now that’s a Bold move!