RIM BlackBerry Bold skins

CIO.com – There aren't too many things today's high-end smartphones can't do.

But all of that functionality doesn't often come cheap. Owners of cutting-edge devices like Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Bold 9000 typically pay hundreds of dollars for their smartphones -- never mind the monthly service bills -- and therefore, protecting those investments is essential.

Over the past few months, I've reviewed a wide selection of BlackBerry carrying and protection options -- including a number of accessories specifically for the new BlackBerry Storm -- but today I'm focusing on two skins for the Bold 9000: RIM's own original equipment manufacturer (OEM) skin and OtterBox's Impact Series for Bold skin.

Though both Bold skins provide similar overall functionality, for a variety of reasons, one stands out. Read on for more on each of these great products, as well as which one my Bold is still wearing.

Fit and Function

The OEM skin is designed by RIM, and it shows. The skin fit very well when first applied to my Bold, and it was tight so the device didn't shift around at all while in use. None of the device's ports, speakers or microphones are blocked by the skin in any way. And it's also very easy to remove and replace at any time, though I quickly realized that the rubber the skin's composed of stretches a bit and frequent removal can negatively affect the fit. In other words, the OEM skin becomes looser the more you remove and replace it.

My experiences with the OtterBox Impact for Bold skin weren't as positive in this category. That's because the Impact skin just didn't fit my Bold quite right; I was constantly fidgeting with and repositioning it so that my LED indicator, front-facing speaker and bottom microphone weren't covered up by the skin. And whenever I shifted the skin upward so my LED indicator and ear-speaker weren't covered at all, the bottom of the skin would move over the Bold's bottom microphone.

Also, the OtterBox Impact for Bold doesn't completely "rise up" on the sides as much as I'd like, so the metallic bezel next to the display and keyboard is left exposed and unprotected.

Compared with the OEM skin, the OtterBox Impact does cover and protect more of the Bold's 480 x 320 display, but that protection comes at a price: It hangs over the top of the display, covering the BlackBerry name/logo -- which adds to the aesthetic value of the device--and partially blocking the LED indicator and ear-speaker, as mentioned above.

One of the features I like most about the OEM skin is the fact that a small lip extends from its sides and top to completely cover -- and protect -- the metallic bezel that surrounds the Bold. In fact, the only shiny metallic surfaces visible when the Bold OEM skin's in place are the shiny guitar-fret-like spacers between rows of keys and the rear-facing camera panel.

One complaint about the rubber OEM skin: It's a uniform thickness throughout, and unfortunately, corners and other areas with the most potential for impact aren't reinforced.

The best thing about the OtterBox Impact skin is the fact that the insides of its corners are fortified with silicon "webbing," or coring, for added shock absorption and impact protection. The extra defense bulks up the Impact skin a bit around the edges, but my Bold really felt solid with it in place, and I'd say the added protection is worth the minor size increase.

If I had to choose a Bold skin based on fit, I'd go with the OEM skin. But if I had to pick a skin based solely on the protection it affords, the OtterBox Impact would get my vote every time.

Style

RIM's OEM skin is very basic -- it's only one texture and there are no designs or patterns. However, the clean lines and smooth, rounded corners almost merge with the sleek design of the Bold.

The OEM skin also comes in a variety of colors, including black, gray, sandstone, merlot and indigo, so you can match your phone to your daily getup. And there's a BlackBerry logo near the bottom of the skin's back side.

OtterBox is well-known for its extremely durable cases and shells for a variety of electronics, but style has never been the company's strong suit. The vast majority of OtterBox products are bulky, clunky, and just kind of ugly -- though they all seem to be extremely functional. The Impact for Bold skin addresses the bulky and clunky issues, but unfortunately, it's still not a looker -- at least in my opinion.

The Impact's silicon outer is textured on its sides, top, bottom and rear panel, with a combination of smooth and soft, sandpaper-like rubber. RIM and its design team clearly put a lot of thought into the design of the Bold; it's one of the company's best-looking devices. And whereas, the OEM skin works to compliment that design, the OtterBox Impact seems to have an opposite effect; its textured rubber sides and raised, somewhat-boxy-looking top and bottom sections draw attention away from the device itself to the skin. And the rear side is festooned with a large (awkward) OtterBox logo.

The Impact Series skin is also currently only available in black.

If I had to select a BlackBerry Bold skin based on looks, I'd go with RIM's OEM skin.

Price

Both the OEM Bold and OtterBox Impact skins are made of just rubber and silicon, and as such they're not particularly pricey. In fact, both skins sell for less than $15 each, meaning you could potentially own both of them without doing any significant damage to your wallet.

Best Buy is currently selling the OEM Bold skin for $14.99, though it's available for significantly cheaper at $9.99 through RIM's ShopBlackBerry.com and the CrackBerry store.

The OtterBox Impact Series for Bold is a bit more expensive than RIM's OEM skin, and it's also harder to find; few brick-and-mortar shops stock them, so you'll likely have to order one from an online retailer like the CrackBerry store, where it's currently selling for $12.99.

Ten dollars seems just about right to me, and as such, the $13 OtterBox Impact for Bold skin is a bit overpriced. If I were making a decision on cost alone, I'd go with RIM's OEM skin.

Conclusion

If you're in the market for the most protective skin available for your BlackBerry Bold 9000, you'll find a friend in the OtterBox Impact Series skin. It provides much the same protection as the OEM skin -- with the exception of a lip to fully cover the Bold's bezel -- and its fortified corners offer much better shock absorption.

However, if you're seeking a skin that fits perfectly and complements the appearance of your Bold, RIM's OEM skin is a better option.

I love the design of the BlackBerry Bold and I'm extremely careful with all of my electronics, so I value the design and fit of the OEM skin over the added protection afforded by the OtterBox Impact Series for Bold. As such, my BlackBerry Bold and its RIM OEM skin are now inseparable.

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