Overshadowed BlackBerry Bold Is All Business

(Updates to make clear that the Bold 9650 is compared with the older version.)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- And now let's have a small-business ode to the Bold.

With all the fancy-schmancy, touch-activated smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy, the Apple ( AAPL) iPhone 4, the HTC EVO and the Motorola ( MOT) DroidX clogging the mobile-river byway these days, it's easy to forget that for 25 million small businesses, the cellular weapon of choice is still BlackBerry, from Canadian smartphone giant Research in Motion ( RIMM), and specifically the Bold 9000 series

And cell operators, such as Verizon ( VZ), AT&T ( T) and T-Mobile, have been quietly selling upgrades to the data-entry-friendly keyboard, blazing fast email access and bulletproof security of this line of devices since it came online in 2008.

To wit, earlier this year, Verizon released its latest update in the Bold line, the 9650 ($99 with a plan). And compared to 9000s of old, it packs bulked-up RAM, tweaked keyboard and a host of other upgrades. I've been giving the 9650 a small-business once-over for the past few weeks.

And here is what you need to know about the latest Bold, if your old Bold's contract is coming up and you're still thinking of keeping it real and in the BlackBerry way.

What you get: The Bold 9650 is 5 ounces of pure small-business productivity.

The reason the new Bold is not much different than the old Bold is, for businesses anyway, the phones pretty much work as is. The new 9650 is smaller than the older Bold 9000 series, the model popular with many small-business types. The new 9650 is in line with RIM's current models, such as the BlackBerry Tour. It has a decent 2 3/4-inch, daylight-friendly screen. The awful rotating control ball from Bolds of back in the day -- which was notorious for getting clogged with gosh knows -- has been replaced with the bomb-proof touch-pad controller. If you have not tried that, it's worth the upgrade on its own. RIM has also shrunk the QWERTY keyboard with no noticeable loss of data-entry speed from old Bolds. And the unit supports Wi-Fi, both domestic and international roaming, which has always performed well when I travel abroad.

Today's Bolds are also more media-friendly than those of old: The 9650 comes with 512 MB of RAM, a surprisingly media-friendly MicroSD expansion for music and apps. And the phone can be turned into a modem -- so-called data tethering is fully supported -- though still a pain to set up.

In all, the unit is a step faster, easier and more robust than the Bold your small business is probably currently using. And the 9650 should clearly be on your short list if you are considering an upgrade.

Want you don't get: Today's Bold 9650 is not an iPhone or Droid: Web surfing, multimedia and lots of apps are just not this device's forte.

As powerful and business-ready as BBerrys are, they're still BlackBerrys. Browsing is way clumsy. And performance even on faster 3G networks is slow compared to, say, a hefty HTC EVO. Any serious online software downloads should pretty much be done via the Wi-Fi connection. Screens also are limited in size and resolution isn't great -- basically nothing compared to the iPhone 4. And software developers simply don't develop for these devices, though RIM is trying to change that with its App World software market, which opened earlier this year.

Which means, beyond core email, calendar and contacts, if you're running any sort of remote business apps, just make sure you test the 9650 before you buy.

It simply may not work in RIM land.

Bottom line: The Bold 9650 is a heck of small-biz phone. It combines most of what's excellent about the BBerrys you know into a reasonably high-performance package that can do a surprising number of next-gen smartphone things in most cities around the globe. Just try that on the iPhone and let me know how that works out for you.

Just don't expect the today's Bold to be a fully-integrated smartphone. That's just not a BlackBerry. Nor probably will it ever be.

-- Reported by Jonathan Blum in New York.


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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.

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