Keyboard or Touchscreen?

Keyboard phones seem like a bit of a blast from the past. It's been a while since having a full QWERTY keyboard on a mobile was fashionable, and yet you can still buy plenty of models with operators. Possibly this is because some people still find that typing on a physical keyboard is easier than typing on a touch screen keyboard.

Of course, the king of keyboard phones has got to be Blackberry. The majority of Blackberry's devices have keyboards, which either means that they're rapidly going bankrupt, or they know something that we don't. The truth about keyboard phones is that on today's smart phone market they can very rarely compete against a touch screen device. You just don't get the specs.

Blackberry's 9720 device is a solid, budget keyboard phone, but that doesn't mean that it's a solid, budget smart phone. We took a closer look at the 9720 to see exactly what it is offering, its specs, its price and how it competes. After reading this, you might be a convert to touch screen models just like most of the rest of us are these days.

What the Blackberry 9720 is All About...

Specs on keyboard phones rarely match up to what you're going to get on a touch screen. The 9720 is running a mere 800 MHz processor (for this price we'd expect at least a dual core 1.2 GHz model) and 512 MB of RAM. This isn't going to be a fast and snappy little phone by any means. Screen size is obviously limited due to the need to fit that keyboard in, and the 9720 has a mere 2.8 inch display, which is hardly great for reading a web page.

There's a 5 MP camera on board (again, we'd expect around an 8 MP device for the price) and there's no front camera at all, a feature that many of us have come to see as standard on a smart phone. Things get even worse when we look at memory. There's a mere 512 MB of memory on board, which means that you literally can't keep anything more than your contacts list on your phone, but you can add up to 32 GB of external storage via Micro SD card.

One area in which the 9720 actually does do well is in appearance. It's a jaunty little thing coming in blue, pink, purple, black or white. It's fairly square in looks, and the front is pretty evenly divided between the keyboard and the screen. There's also the traditional Blackberry touch pad between the screen and keys.

The model is plastic, but we expect that in a cheaper phone, and the rubberised back panel feels surprisingly nice and secure in the hand, and it's also pretty easy to remove so that you can get at the battery. There is a dedicated camera key, which we like because it means that you don't need to fuss around opening your camera app, and weight comes in at 120 grams, which is pretty portable.

Basically, you're getting some very low end specs, but the 9720 is a good looking model, even we admit that. When it comes to the competition though, the Blackberry really doesn't do so well.

How the 9720 Competes...

You might say that putting the 9720 up against touch screen models is unfair, but frankly, that's what the competition is these days, and there are no other keyboard phones of comparable price to the 9720. Put up against the identically priced LG Optimus L5 II the Blackberry fails in every respect, seriously, every spec is lower on the 9720.

Up against the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, the Blackberry again comes second in every single spec category, though interestingly both phones run the same processing power. The closest Windows competitor is the HTC 8S and the Blackberry does little better here, although it does get better battery power. In short, the 9720 just fails to match up to anything else in its price category, which is disappointing.

What You'll Pay for the 9720...

The nice thing about the 9720 is that it only costs £170, making it the cheapest full keyboard phone on the market. The LG Optimus L5 II sells for the exact same price, and the Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 and the HTC 8S both retail for a slightly more expensive £180.

The only operator currently offering a down payment contract (which tends to lower your monthly payment) on the 9720 is Vodafone. Paying a £49 down payment on the Blackberry will get you a £21 a month calling plan with unlimited texts, six hundred calling minutes, and a healthy 500 MB data limit.

There is a wealth of no money down contracts available though. The cheapest is with O2, and you'll pay £11 a month for a plan with a 100 MB data allowance. Orange will up that data to 250 MB for £12 a month, or 500 MB for £17 a month. T-Mobile however will give you a larger 1 GB data allowance for the same £17 a month. The cheapest unlimited data plan is again with T-Mobile, but it will set you back a pricey £28 a month.

Should You Get It?

This is a tough thing for us to decide. On the one hand, the Blackberry 9720 just doesn't compete with a touch screen smart phone. Every price comparable model we looked at just blew the 9720 out of the water, and spending the same amount of cash on a phone that's undeniably worse does seem quite ridiculous to us. In fact, you'd be better off going with the hugely outdated Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 in black than a Blackberry 9720 in snazzy pink...

On the other hand, yes, there are obviously people who prefer having a full QWERTY keyboard on their smart phone. If you're one of these fans, then the Blackberry 9720 is going to be your cheapest option right now to get the keyboard that you want on an affordable model. For the majority of us, the 9720 isn't a good buy, for a select few it may be though.

Blackberry Means Business

BlackBerry 9720 Samoa Black Factory Unlocked OS 7.1
Amazon Price: $280.00 $199.99 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 30, 2013)