Smartphone review: BlackBerry Curve 8330

Maintaining the business attributes that has made RIM profitable, the BlackBerry Curve 8330 also offers enough consumer-end features to increase the appeal to both business users and consumers alike.

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Maintaining the business attributes that has made RIM profitable, the BlackBerry Curve 8330 also offers enough consumer-end features to increase the appeal to both business users and consumers alike. In offering features for both markets, RIM can market the device to each group separately or to users who are looking for a 'lifestyle' device.

RIM has been pretty successful in many respects with both its BlackBerry Curve and BlackBerry Pearl offerings. Both models have the business sense and email ability that marks the BlackBerry brand, and offer a bit more style and substance to the table than past devices.

The Curve leans toward staying mainly a business device, but with a bit of a consumer flair. Its smaller profile than the BlackBerry 8800 series makes it pocketable, but its not so much so that the famous RIM QWERTY keyboard style needs to be changed, as it is on the Pearl. It also offers an increasing amount of third party applications, and a slightly different style than feature phones tend to have.

I spent some time with the BlackBerry Curve 8330 for Sprint to see for myself some of this ability to merge consumer functionality with BlackBerry sensibility. And while not everything is as point-and-go as the push email, there's good reason to believe that future RIM models will be able to do just fine keeping work productive and play enjoyable.

The Curve is shaped and designed to fit well into just about any size hands.

The bright QVGA (320 x 240 pixel) screen does a solid job of displaying text and some pictures. However, the Curve, like other current BlackBerry products, uses some archaic fonts which take up more space than they probably should. That being said, most items are quite readable in most lighting conditions.

The front side of the device also contains a the BlackBerry Trackball and QWERTY keyboard. RIM's keyboards are highly touted for their ease of use and numerous shortcuts. I found the keyboard to be OK to use, but it did feel a bit inferior to the one on my Treo 680. While the keys were of a good size, I had to aim for them moreso than with the Treo.

The trackball was a breeze to use and made navigating the device fairly simple. In some places it was faster than I needed it to be, but was overall just fine.

The trackball is flanked by four application buttons: green and red call buttons, a menu button, and a back button. While small, these gave great feedback and didn't get in the way when using the trackball or QWERTY keyboard.

The top of the Curve simply has a mute button. The mute button also functions as a standby button when pressed and held for a few seconds. It reminded me of the Treo/Centro's button at the top, but less intuitive.

The rear of the Curve has only the 2 megapixel digital camera's lens. There is no opening to remove the battery. The rear is otherwise flush and uneventful.

The left side of the Curve has a 3.5mm headset jack, mini-USB connector, and a customizable application button. The right side has the volume up/down buttons and a button to launch the camera.

Wireless connectivity
The Curve line has been a notable series of devices for RIM in that it brought additional levels of connectivity to the BlackBerry fold. The Sprint version of the 8330 has GPS and Bluetooth to compliment the EV-DO cellular connectivity. What this means for most people is that almost anything can be done in terms of connecting to devices and services.

Starting with the cellular end, the Sprint Curve is an EV-DO 1x device. Not always as fast as a basic DSL connection, the EV-DO speeds are still quite fast for a cellular connection, and works efficiently enough that it's not a major drain on battery life.

Bluetooth is featured as an additional wireless option for headsets and dial up networking (DUN) connectivity. Using Bluetooth, the Curve can be utilized as a modem for laptops and tablet PCs. Depending on the plan level, there may be an additional cost to use this feature.

The version of the BlackBerry Curve that is sold by Sprint does not have Wi-Fi.

GPS is included, though. Using TeleAtlas maps and software, along with A-GPS (cellular triangulation) supported by the EV-DO connection, using the Curve as a navigation device is fast and easy. It takes about 30 seconds to get a lock, and after that map views are downloaded dynamically to the device.

Day-to-day use
The Curve is a no-nonsense device. It pretty much sits ready to work and just does what it does. There's no swooshing or transitional graphics to enlighten the senses, and the lack of a touchscreen only becomes an issue when using the application launch screen

Of course, email is a major selling point. Corporate BlackBerry users are already used to the "push" aspect of BlackBerry email that allows for immediate delivery of messages. Having it for consumer/prosumer use takes the IT department out of the picture but keeps the fast email experience.

You can use a BlackBerry email account, or use a personal one from services such as Google, Yahoo, or Hotmail.

Regardless of the service used, consumers utilize the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) servers rather than the enterprise-level BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES). The difference in these services is the type of support, and whether they are integrated with an enterprise IT department.

To me, about the only real fault in the email system of the Curve -- and this is apparently the case with all BlackBerry devices -- is that there is just one messaging center for all types of messages: email, SMS, and voice mail. While this seems like a great idea and works well, when training several users it is a problem. I would have expected that a device sold on the consumer level to have different means of handling those three very different message types.

PIM and other applications
The BlackBerry Curve comes with personal information management (PIM) applications such as:

  • Calendar
  • Address Book
  • Tasks
  • MemoPad
  • Voice Recorder
  • Alarm
  • Calculator
  • Password Keeper

These are for the most part simple and to the point. There is nothing spectacular about any of them, but it is good to see a mobile device come with a solid password application as part of the default suite.

Some other applications that come with the Curve include:

  • Sprint TV
  • Sprint Music Store
  • Handmark's Pocket Express
  • Facebook
  • an instant messaging application that does AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk and BlackBerry Messaging
  • A voice dialer

Battery life
The 8330's battery life is something that caught me completely off guard. I am used to having to charge devices once a day, and sometimes more if its a busy day. The Curve took my hardest day and still managed to make it easily to the lunch of the next day just fine.

I am not really sure how RIM has managed to do it, but the battery life being so good is an unexpected and very nice feature.

Switching smartphones
To those already familiar with BlackJacks and Treos, using the Curve might feel a bit familiar and a bit foreign at the same time.

Windows Mobile is a much better personal organizer solution. Pocket Outlook, while heaver in terms of user interface design, just seems more natural to use.

Palm OS Treo users might find the lack of a touchscreen disconcerting, and the menu structure a bit tedious. However, the user experience of the BlackBerry operating system is largely similar to the Palm OS, so there is at least not as much of a learning curve to get started.

The BlackBerry Curve 8330 for Sprint is not a fancy device, nor is it extra special in any real particular way. However, it is solid, well built, and has the kind of ability to just blend into day-to-day activities without requiring too much in the way of tweaking and modifying the default setup.

Areas that can be improved with third-party software include the browser (Opera Mini rocks on the Curve). The ability to personalize with themes also helps to take some of the stodgy looks and give it some personality.

But when it comes down to it, the Curve is all about getting information to you from one point to another. The GPS integration is the best demonstration of this; the email is the best integration of this. Whether it is enough to move you from a current mobile to the Curve really depends on your needs and budget. But you can be assured that what the Curve lacks in iPhone-like flash, it makes up for easily in its ability to be enjoyable enough to get the job done.

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