The eagerly awaited BlackBerry Bold 9000 continues RIM's legacy for qwerty smartphones - and may be its best yet.

So here it is; the most anticipated BlackBerry handset to date. The BlackBerry Bold 9000 is a quad-band handset with both HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) 3G and GPS navigation that its maker, Research In Motion, hopes will cause as much of a furore as the iPhone 3G.

The handset we tested is on the Vodafone network, but T-Mobile announced last week that it will also be selling the Bold, while RIM tells us that in time it expects all UK networks to offer its latest quad-band baby.

First impressions are extremely favourable: this is a superb looking smartphone with strong lines and a gorgeous screen.

BlackBerry handsets traditionally come with leatherette cases in which to store your precious gem – the Bold meanwhile has a leatherette back, into which is set the 2Mp camera and video capture unit. There's space enough to emboss this with a discreet BlackBerry logo – we’re sure it was no coincidence that Apple also has a central distinctive silver logo on the back of its iPhone.

Design comparisons with the iPhone are unfair, however: the Bold is said to have been in the planning stages for three years and it more closely resembles smartphones from HTC and Motorola than it does Apple's iPhone.

A broad, flat handset that nonetheless fits comfortably in the palm, it's noticeably heavier than other BlackBerry handsets, but has a cleaner, more modern look. This is helped by the fact that there's a smart silver magnesium-alloy trim around the Bold's circumference with silver lines separating each line of keys on its full Qwerty keypad. These 'frets' between the rows of keys help distinguish between them – a device that Bold’s designer borrowed from the guitar (though we think RIM's reference to the keys being on a musical stave is stretching the analogy somewhat).

NEXT PAGE: look and feel and the BlackBerry Bold 9000's screen