Remember when BlackBerry was a hunky piece of nerdy plastic with no multimedia features? In less than a year, those days have been whisked away so completely by the BlackBerry Pearl, BlackBerry 8800 and BlackBerry 8830 that owning a BlackBerry is now hip. Enter the most recent model, the BlackBerry Curve 8300, which takes a nod at the more plasticy look and rounded keys of the BlackBerry of old. But wait: it's still fantastically thin, compact, cool-looking and it does all sorts of nice multimedia things. Veteran BlackBerry users who found the 8800 too angular and the keys too flat should love the Curve, which manages to capture the essence of old time models while still looking good. The literally curvy plastic casing and chunkier keys mean the Curve is easy to hold and type on. But it's small enough that you might just be able to leave that holster at home and tuck it in a pocket.
The Curve is a quad band GSM phone with EDGE for data and full BlackBerry service capabilities on BES and BIS. It's currently offered only by AT&T in the US who released it at the beginning of June 2007, and they have a 90 day exclusive.
Which Berry? 8800 vs. Curve
In terms of basic specs, the Curve is quite similar to the 8800. It has the same Intel XScale 312MHz processor, a QVGA color display, microSD card slot, Bluetooth and RIM's new trackball which replaces the jog wheel on old school BlackBerries. Wondering which BlackBerry to choose: the Curve or 8800? The Curve is aimed at small business owners, anyone who needs to stay connected to email and can take a camera phone to work. It's less expensive than the 8800, is a tad thicker and lacks the GPS. The 8800 is for corporate users who can't have a camera phone at work, need a full GPS and perhaps want the utmost in smartphone style. The 8800 has 300 mAh more battery capacity (a good idea given the GPS) and it weighs 0.8 ounces more than the Curve. While both have capable music players that can pump out good sounding music through the included stereo earbud headset, only the Curve has A2DP Bluetooth stereo for wireless music-listening.
The Curve feels great in the hand, more so than the wider and sharp-angled BlackBerry 8800 and 8830 (the 8830 is the CDMA version of the 8800). Though it's thicker (0.60 vs. 0.55 inches), it's still quite thin for a PDA phone or smartphone and it's pocket-friendly. But should you prefer the usual BlackBerry on the hip experience, you'll have to buy a case or holster separately since AT&T does not include one. The full 35 key QWERTY thumb keyboard is very easy to use, in the RIM tradition. Though the keyboard is a bit narrower than the 8800's, the keys are large, well-spaced and domed-- and thus require little if any adjustment if you've been using prior generation BlackBerry phones. Thankfully RIM has returned to white backlighting from the 8830's hard-to-see blue, though the entire key lights up dimly rather than our preferred brightly lit letters as on the 8800. Keys are the standard BlackBerry affair with the shift, ALT and symbols where they always are. As always, you get two shift keys, shift lock, num lock and user-friendly adaptations such as the space bar enters a period when typing a URL and the phone will enter numbers rather than letters when it determines you're in a number-only field. In general, the BlackBerry offers the most expedient UI among smartphones and has all sorts of little features than reduce key strokes, clicks and steps to accomplish common phone and email tasks.
Up top you'll find the slightly recessed mute key (press and hold it to put the Berry into standby which is basically keyguard), and on the right side volume up and down keys with a depressed ridge so you can feel which is which. The right convenience key launches the camera and the left one is user-assignable. The mini USB sync port and 3.5mm headset jack are on the left side. Unlike most phones, the Curve has the 3.5mm stereo headset jack more commonly used on consumer electronics (phones use 2.5mm). This means you can use your favorite wired headphones with the Curve, but not your old BlackBerry headset (unless you find an adapter). The camera lens, LED flash and self portrait mirror are on the back and the battery lives under a door on the back. The SIM card slot is under the battery, and so unfortunately is the microSD card slot, so you'll have to power down the phone to insert or remove a memory card (the 8800's card is not under the battery).
Phone Features, Data and Reception
The BlackBerry 8300 is a quad band 850/900/1800/1900 MHz GSM phone that works anywhere in the world GSM service is available. It's sold locked to AT&T, which means you must use an AT&T SIM in the phone (customers in good standing can generally call customer service for an unlock code if traveling overseas). The BlackBerry has EDGE for data but unfortunately no 3G. Since CDMA BlackBerries have had EVDO for some time, we're surprised that there's still no 3G GSM version for AT&T whose high speed network is well-deployed in metro areas. Thus overall, don't expect any significant speed improvements for web page, email and attachment download over previous EDGE BlackBerry phones. That said, RIM has always done a good job of making email download a fast process and we can't say it takes any longer than downloading email on the 3G (HSDPA) Samsung BlackJack-- in fact it's a bit faster. Full HTML web pages do take longer to download on the Curve than on the BlackJack, but speed is quite good, even when the browser is set to desktop mode and IE emulation. The BlackBerry still doesn't render HTML email (you'll see some ugly text in HTML-only emails) but a beta 3rd party plugin called Empower shows good promise for making those HTML emails pretty and more readable.
Like all BlackBerry phones, the Curve handles push email via BIS (BlackBerry Internet Server) provided by your carrier and BES for those whose companies run BlackBerry Enterprise Servers. BIS users can set up a dedicated BlackBerry email address (email@example.com) which you'll manage on Cingular's BlackBerry settings web page, and you can setup POP3 and IMAP accounts from personal and non-BlackBerry server work email accounts. Enterprise users can manage (or have their IT folks manage) their accounts as per usual. In addition, RIM offers their desktop redirector software, a Windows-based application that redirects mail from your PC's inbox to your BlackBerry.
Call quality is good and volume is loud by GSM standards. The speakerphone is clear and loud. The Curve has good but not stellar reception, with a signal that's short of the Treo 750 and Samsung BlackJack on EDGE. The Curve generally runs a bar less of signal compared to these two, which still makes for good reception but not the best if you frequent marginal coverage areas.
Horsepower and Performance
The BlackBerry Curve runs on a 312MHz Intel XScale processor. That's the same CPU used in the 8800 and faster than the BlackBerry 8830's CPU. As with most Berries, the Curve is responsive and performs most tasks with good speed. The BlackBerry 8300 has 32 megs of RAM (used like RAM in your computer) and 64MB of flash memory for storage. Before loading data and applications, the Curve has 21.8 megs of free storage. When you first setup the phone, it will ask you if you wish to delete languages other than English, and after doing so we had 21.8 megs of free memory.
To expand the storage space for data (but not application installation), the BlackBerry comes with an SDHC microSD card slot and you can use up to 4 GB cards to store your data (more when higher capacity cards become available). The card is located under the battery unfortunately, which means you must power down the phone to insert or remove a card.
Display and Multimedia
Like the BlackBerry 8800 series of smartphones. the Curve has a QVGA (320 x 240) TFT display that’s very bright, colorful and crisp. It has a light sensor that adjusts to ambient lighting conditions, and you can turn this feature off -- though we found it worked well except in near-dark rooms where the display sensor opted for too little backlight. The screen is capable of displaying 65k colors and is extremely bright at 100%; too bright for AT&T's washed out theme (RIM's Dimension theme is pre-installed as well and we opted for it and its more familiar icon set). The screen is viewable outdoors, more so than Windows Mobile Professional (Pocket PC) and the Palm OS Treo PDA phones.
The Media Player application has been jazzed up with a skin compared to the 8800's dull media player. There are 4 icons for music, video, ringtone and photos viewing/listening. The music player has options for shuffle, genres, play by artist and play by album. The image viewer is fairly fast and you can use it to set any image as the home screen background. the ringtone manager at The media player plays MP3, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ and WMA files. You can use the microSD card to store music and video. Sound is decent through the mono speaker and very good with the included 3.5mm stereo headset with inline mic.
The Media Player can also play video in MP4, H.263 and Simple Profile WMV formats. Video playback is smooth and sound is in sync with video even at QVGA resolution, just make sure you've encoded the file in a compatible format. The BlackBerry desktop software can help convert both audio and video files to the formats that the device can play.
Unlike the corporate-oriented BlackBerry 8800 series, the Curve features a 2 megapixel camera with 5x digital zoom and a built-in flash along with a self-portrait mirror. The camera application offers three picture qualities and three still image resolutions (1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480), and it uses the screen as the viewfinder. The photo quality isn’t the best we’ve seen on a 2 megapixel camera, but photos have good amount of useful image data that can be corrected using Photoshop or RIM's photo editing tool on the desktop to yield a good image.
In outdoor sunlight conditions, the photos are reasonably true to their subject, albeit with a dark and muddy look. Even though outdoor shots might not look bright, the camera captures enough detail to make for a more realistic photo compared to some competing smartphones' images. The 2 megapixel camera on the HTC Touch, for example, captures bright photos but they lack textural details (they're obliterated by a bad case of in-camera over sharpening) and are much harder to correct in post-processing. When correcting the Curve's overly-warm outdoor photos, Photoshop didn’t fix the color bias automatically (using auto-level, auto-color, etc.) but manually changing the color balance and levels wasn't hard and produced decent outdoor photos. As expected, indoor low light shots have more noise than outdoor shots, but well-lit indoor shots were better than average in terms of color saturation and accuracy. The best photos we took with the BlackBerry 8300 were under well-lit indoor conditions, and they look reasonably sharp, color balanced with minimal noise.
We tested the BlackBerry Curve with several Bluetooth headsets and it paired with all easily. The Jawbone Bluetooth headset performed best among all headsets we tested with the Curve. Voice was clear and full, and volume was plenty loud. The Jawbone's noise canceling feature works very well with the 8300 and it canceled-out almost all ambient noise in both mildly noisy and very noisy conditions (it silenced a jet plane flying fairly low overhead without muffling the speaker's voice). The range was quite good, and we got about 20 feet before voice quality degraded. The Plantronics Discovery 655 also had good voice quality with the BlackBerry Curve, though voice wasn't as full as with the Jawbone. Voice was clear and volume loud. The DSP worked OK on the Plantronics: we still heard some noise (unlike the Jawbone with its noise canceling turned on), but it was minimal. Range isn't the Plantronics 655's strong point, and thus we got about 5 feet at best before hearing some crackling and voice breakup.
The BlackBerry 8300 is the first RIM device to offer A2DP, a feature allows you to listen to music wirelessly via a Bluetooth stereo headset. We tested the Curve with the Plantronics Pulsar 590A and the Motorola S9 stereo Bluetooth headsets, and the BlackBerry paired with both fine. The audio quality for music wasn't the best we've heard on an A2DP mobile phone, though it was certainly good. We noted less stereo separation and fullness compared to the best A2DP phones. The volume is good and range is acceptable. You can hear some noticeable white noise via the Motorola S9, but that's not the BlackBerry's fault. This headset has white background noise (hiss) on all the phones with which we've tested it.
The Curve supports handsfree, headset, A2DP, AVRC, DUN (dial up networking) and file transfer.
The Curve has an 1100 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's user replaceable. It ships with RIM's standard world-friendly charger with fold-down prongs. As with most GSM BlackBerry phones, the Curve has excellent battery life (being EDGE-only helps). Push email generally greatly reduces battery life on competing smartphone platforms, but somehow RIM manages to give us phones that last 2 to 3 days on a charge. Claimed talk time is 5 hours and we got close to that. Standby is 22 days-- very long by smartphone standards.
We like recent BlackBerry smartphones, and the Curve is no exception. It does all the things you'd expect from a BlackBerry but it's smaller, cooler looking and boasts decent, though not earth-shattering multimedia capabilities. The Curve is responsive, easy to use, easy to type on and it has good quality. Though not as pretty as the BlackBerry 8800, the Curve feels better in the hand and is easier on the pocket, price-wise. For those not tied to corporate rules, the camera adds a bit of fun, though we can't say the image quality is anything to write (or more than MMS) home about.
Pro: Stable, fast and easy to use. Great curvy ergonomics. Good call quality, very good music playback quality and A2DP support (something the more multimedia-oriented iPhone lacks). Battery life, as is generally true of RIM devices, is quite good.
Con: Not a con, per se, but an important consideration if you're thinking of the Curve vs. the 8800 line: the Curve lacks a GPS. Still no 3G on a BlackBerry. You have to turn off the phone to insert or remove a memory card.
Display:2.5” landscape 65K color TFT LCD. 320 x 240 resolution.
Battery:1100 mAh lithium Ion battery, rechargeable and user replaceable. Claimed talk time: 5 hours. Claimed standby time: 22 Days.
Performance: Intel Xscale processor, 312 MHz. 64 MB flash memory with 21.8 megs available for storage and program installation.
Size:4.21 x 2.36 x 0.61 inches. Weight: 3.9 ounces.
Keyboard:QWERTY thumb keyboard, 35 keys, backlit.
Phone:Quad-band GSM operating on 850/900/1800/1900 MHz. GPRS and EDGE for data.
Networking:Bluetooth v2.0. Supports Headset, A2DP and AVRC for stereo Bluetooth, Hands-free and Serial Port Profiles.
Software:BlackBerry push email client. BlackBerry IM client. VoiceSignal voice dialing software, BlackBerry Maps and TeleNav navigation software, media player for your MP3 pleasure and video playback. PIM apps include address book, calendar, tasks and memo. Also Alarm, voice note, calculator, Password Keeper included. BrickBreaker game is bundled. BlackBerry Desktop software for PC included for syncing and software installation.
Expansion:1 microSD slot supporting SDHC.
In the Box:The BlackBerry 8300 with battery, AC travel charger, USB cable for syncing, wired 3.5mm stereo headset, getting started guide and 4.2 desktop software CD.