The Bold 9700 has a keyboard similar to that of the Bold 9000, with sculpted keys and thin metal dividers akin to guitar frets. This design is meant to eliminate finger slippage and to enhance the keyboard's usability. The original Bold's keyboard felt roomy and ergonomic, due somewhat in part to the handset's measurements. Though the Bold 9700 has a narrower keyboard, I still found it quite comfortable to type on. My colleague who has larger hands than I do and is a Bold 9000 owner preferred the width of the 9000's keyboard but didn't have any issues typing on the 9700.
The 9700's 2.4-inch display has a 480-by-360-pixel resolution, which is slightly better than the original Bold's. The display looks quite stunning, especially when you're viewing pictures and playing back video. One gripe I have about BlackBerry displays, however, concerns their annoying black border--why not make the display bigger and get rid of the border? This seems to be a signature RIM design, but maybe in the next round of devices it will go the way of the trackball and disappear.
Shipping with the Bold 9700 is BlackBerry OS 5.0, which we also saw on the BlackBerry Storm 2. BlackBerry OS 5.0 has sharper icons, brighter colors, and blacker blacks than BlackBerry OS 4.6 (which shipped on the original Bold). The interface is clean and simple to navigate, thanks to the easy-to-identify icons.
The Bold's browser is definitely its weak spot. Because it isn't built on WebKit, it simply doesn't compare to the browsers on the iPhone, the Palm Pre, and Android phones. The browser will default to a mobile site when one is available, and it takes a bit of time to render a full site. That said, OS 5.0 adds some useful features, such as tabbed browsing.
Pressing the Bold 9700's shutter key instantly launches the camera app. The 3.2-megapixel camera is an upgrade over the original Bold's 2-megapixel lens. It also has a flash, variable zoom, image stabilization, autofocus, and video recording. The image quality of the photos I took, particularly outdoors, was pleasantly surprising: Colors looked accurate and details appeared sharp. While the flash helped with indoor shots, I detected a fair amount of graininess and image noise. Video recording wasn't as good. In a side-by-side test with the iPhone 3GS, the Bold 9700 produced a noticeable amount of ghosting and blurriness.
BlackBerry OS 5.0's fairly plain native music app lets you view your library by song, artist, or genre. During playback, a miniature album thumbnail appears. The app also has playlist and shuffle features, and a headphone equalizer. Sound quality was good through the included earbuds, but a bit hollow over the external speaker.