Reviewed May 27, 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Like many BlackBerry smartphones, the BlackBerry Curve continues to make its rounds with US carriers after two GSM versions paved the way: the BlackBerry Curve 8300 came out last summer on AT&T and the Curve 8320 with Wi-Fi came out on T-Mobile later last year. The CDMA versions of the Curve finally are here in May of 2008 for both the Verizon and Sprint networks. The two Curves have essentially the same hardware, but are just accessorized differently with each carrier’s branding, software and services. In addition to the 2 megapixel camera, built-in GPS, BlackBerry email software, Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP, HTML browser and a media player available on both devices, the Sprint version adds Sprint TV, Pocket Express (Handmark Express) and BlackBerry Maps. The Verizon BlackBerry Curve 8330 comes in silver and the Sprint Curve comes in titanium. The CDMA BlackBerry Curve 8830 has support for EV-DO for fast data but doesn’t have Wi-Fi (the 8320 is the only Curve with WiFi support, and only the BlackBerry 8820 on AT&T and the upcoming BlackBerry Bold have both GPS and WiFi).
The Sprint Curve, left and the Verizon Curve, right.
The Same Look, Different Logos and Colors
The Curve 8330 has the same 2.5” landscape LCD with QVGA resolution as the previous Curve models. The LCD looks bright and color saturated. The very useable QWERTY keyboard, the call control buttons, menu buttons and the trackball control remain unchanged also. The same goes for the side buttons and the camera cluster on the back. It’s worth mentioning that the Curve 8330 has a 3.5mm headset jack and comes with a stereo wired headset for your MP3/AAC playback pleasure. The Curve’s microSD card slot is convenient for expanding memory but isn’t convenient to get to. It’s under the battery and you must power down the phone to access it. Have fun with that slow boot up time when you have to access the card frequently.
Making Phone Calls and Browsing the Web
The GSM Curve models have slightly above average reception and good voice quality, and the CDMA Curves continue that trend. The reception in strong coverage areas is usually 4 bars (out of 5 bars max) and in spotty coverage areas is 1-3 bars. The Curve 8330 has not dropped a call on either Verizon or Sprint and voice call quality is quite good, and the built-in speakerphone is loud and clear. The BlackBerry Curve 8330 supports Hands free and Headset profiles via Bluetooth, and we tested several Bluetooth headsets including the Nokia BH-902 and the Plantronics Explorer 330. The voice quality was much clearer and louder on the Plantronics than on the Nokia. The DSP worked fine via both headsets and reduced most road noises except wind noise. The range wasn’t good: with the Plantronics Explorer 330 we got 5 feet and with the Nokia BH-902 we reached 8 feet. For voice dialing and voice command, the BlackBerry has VoiceSignal’s excellent VSuite 2.1 voice command software. Voice dialing worked very well without pre-recorded voice tags or voice training and also worked flawlessly over Bluetooth.
Sprint's BlackBerry Curve 8330.
The BlackBerry devices have the undisputed advantage in push email and corporate backend email integration. The BlackBerry Curve offers all that push email goodness: email set up is easy, sending and receiving email is very fast and has support for a wide variety of attachment formats. In almost all aspects the BlackBerry devices are still the kings of email except in one area: rendering HTML email. While the iPhone, some Nokia smartphones and Window Mobile smartphones with Exchange support can display emails in HTML format, the BlackBerry Curve 8330 only shows unsightly links and broken pages when displaying emails with HTML without third party software like BBSmart or Empower solutions. BlackBerry Bold, anyone?
Verizon's BlackBerry Curve 8330.
The BlackBerry Curve supports SMS, MMS , IM and comes with contacts, calendar, notes, tasks, password keeper, calculator as always the BrickBreaker game. These all sync with Outlook on the desktop if desired, and with the Mac’s iCal and Address book apps in Mac OS X (requires free download of PocketMac for BlackBerry).
It Can Get You to Places
Both Sprint and Verizon BlackBerry Curve smartphones come with built-in aGPS that’s fast to get a fix and reliable to use as navigation tool. The GPS performance is not only fast but also accurate (very accurate in the DFW area), and even gets a GPS signals indoors. The Sprint Curve comes with RIM’s free BlackBerry Maps which offers North America maps and navigation software that has only directions but no voice guidance. You can buy Sprint’s Navigation services ($9.99 per month or $2.99 per day) to get the full navigation package including voice guidance powered by TeleNav. The Verizon Curve turns off GPS access in RIM’s BlackBerry Maps *sigh* and offers Verizon’s own VZ Navigator powered by Networks In Motion for the same fees as the Sprint Navigation.The navigation features features and options are very similar. The routes, maps, directions and voice guidance are also very similar and very accurate on both Curves. In addition to navigation, you can also send your locations and directions to friends via SMS, email and PIN.
What if you don’t want to pay for the services? If you are a Sprint customer you can use the BlackBerry Maps on the Curve for free. The BlackBerry Maps has North America maps and can give you turn-by-turn on-screen directions as well as POIs (point of interest). But the map rendering and speed are inferior to the excellent 3D maps on TeleNav and routing and rerouting are slower using the BlackBerry Maps. It also lacks the voice guidance that both Sprint Navigation and VZ Navigator offer. If you mostly drive alone, this isn’t the best solution since you must keep checking the maps/directions on the device without the voice guidance and the screen turns off (if you don’t change the setting for the device) while the paid navigation solutions keep the screen alive during a trip.
Performance and Multimedia
Just like the BlackBerry 8800 series, the CDMA version of the BlackBerry Curve 8300 scaled back on the processor front from the GSM version. Gone is the Xscale 312MHz processor found on the Curve 8320 (T-Mobile) and the Curve 8310 (AT&T), instead the Curve 8330 gets the Qualcomm MSM6550 Chipset running at 225 MHz, an ARM9 family CPU. The nice thing about getting the Qualcomm chipset is you get the built-in GPS but the slower speed gets in the way of good performance when running CPU intensive applications. In reality the device doesn’t feel that slow, save for the very slow boot up time. Most applications launch quickly and messages send/receive quite fast. Video playback suffers using the slower CPU, so make sure to use mobile level encoding when ripping videos for the Curve. Large web sites take longer to download. Not all is bad news for the Curve 8330: the internal flash memory is now at 96MB, a bump from the 64MB on previous Curve. After the carrier software and RIM standard software previsions, the phone has about 43MB (Sprint Curve) and 45MB (Verizon Curve) free. To expand the memory, the Curve 8330 comes with a microSD card slot that supports high capacity SDHC cards (up to 8 gigs currently).
Multimedia on a full QWERTY BlackBerry? Sure, you get a media player for music and video playback and on the Sprint Curve you even get Sprint TV! The media player supports MP3 and AAC files, and the unprotected iTunes songs play fine on the Curve. The audio quality is excellent through the built-in speaker and the included stereo headset, and the volume is loud. If you are a fan of Bluetooth stereo headsets, you’ll love listening to music on the Curve. Audio playback through the Samsung SBH500 Bluetooth stereo headset sounded excellent with very good channel separation. The media player has basic playback controls, shuffle and playlist support. For video playback, we tested an mp4 video encoded at a meek 326kbps/15fps/QVGA and the Curve 8330 played it quite well. But it had trouble playing WMV files.
Though the same device, you don’t get the same treatment in the multimedia department from the two CDMA carriers: the Sprint version supports Sprint TV while the Verizon version doesn’t have support for V CAST video. We were all excited to see Sprint TV on the BlackBerry until we saw Sprint TV on the BlackBerry. Perhaps our review unit has some early software or Sprint TV needs one or two updates. The software crashed a few times and had a few hiccups playing the wide variety of on-demand video channels offered by Sprint TV. Many videos play in full screen QVGA mode, which is very nice, but most had ghosting, audio was out of sync with video and frames dropped and stuttered. These were truly annoying because we couldn’t even complete a 3-minute video without interruption. We sure hope that this gets fixed with a software update soon, especially now that Sprint TV’s selections are becoming more and more compelling.
As with all Curve smartphones, the BlackBerry Curve 8330 has a 2 megapixel camera with digital zoom, and LED flash and a self portrait mirror. However, the camera on the Curve 8330 can record video while previous Curve models didn’t offer this feature. The quality of photos the Curve takes has also advanced. We didn’t find any difference in camera performance between the two CDMA Curve versions. The camera lens isn’t terribly wide and you can have the LED flash turned on automatically or manually. The Curve takes sharp photos by 2 mp camera phone standards both indoors and outdoors with a good amount of detail and very good color balance. The images look good even though overly sharpened like many of today’s camera phone photos, but the high contrast works well with the images. Indoor shots have some noise but not bad at all, and in very poor lighting conditions the camera will turn on the flash. The camera phone can shoot photos in three resolutions: 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768 and 640 x 480 with three quality settings and the camera software also has white balance and color effects settings. You can use photos as screen image and caller ID or send them to email and Messenger contacts.
The BlackBerry Curve can also record video with audio, a feature that’s so far enjoyed by BlackBerry Pearl users. You can take video clips in 240 x 176 and 176 x 144 resolutions, but oddly can only save them to a storage card not the phone’s internal memory. The videos look reasonably good, and the LED flash can illuminate subjects within an arm’s length well.
The BlackBerry 8330 has a slight battery increase from the previous Curve models. The rechargeable Lithium Ion battery is now at 1150 mAh and has longer talk time but shorter standby time. The claimed 4.3 hours talk time and claimed 11 day standby time are a little overestimated but not by too much. Talking on the phone, checking email and playing music will not drain the battery life dramatically. But if you use GPS navigation for long commutes, watch videos and especially if you watch Sprint TV in addition to talking and emailing, the Curve will require daily charging. For example, 15 minutes of Sprint TV watching will use 15-20 percent battery life.
Pro:Excellent push email support, easy to set up and use. Good corporate IT email and security support. The camera is good by 2 megapixel camera phone standards. Very good audio for voice calls and music playback. Video player is decent, music player outputs good sound and A2DP is lovely.
Con:Can’t display HTML email out of the box. Battery isn’t set adequate for heavy streaming multimedia use.
Price: Verizon: $199.99 with 2-year contract after online discount. Sprint: $179.99 with 2-year contract after savings and mail-in rebate.
Phone:CDMA digital dual-band 800/1900 MHz, 1x Ev-DO.
Camera:2.0MP camera with LED flash, can shoot still photos and video. Max photo resolution 1600 x 1200 pixels, with several smaller resolutions available. 5x digital zoom, full screen viewfinder. Can take video with audio at 240 x 180 and 176 x 144 with audio at ~15 fps (3GP format).
Audio:Built-in mic, speaker and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice recorder and media player included for playing MP3, MIDI, AMR-NB, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA files. Supports polyphonic and MP3 ringtones.
GPS:Yes. Free BlackBerry Maps on the Sprint version, Sprint Navigation for purchase; no BlackBerry Maps on the Verizon version, VZ Navigator for purchase.
Networking:Bluetooth 2.0. Headset, hands-free, serial port, A2DP, AVRCP and FTP.
Software:BlackBerry push email client. BlackBerry IM client along with IM clients for Yahoo, AIM, Windows Live, ICQ and Google Talk. VoiceSignal voice dialing software, BlackBerry Maps (uses Tele Atlas data) on Sprint Curve, 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 (PocketMac for BlackBerry Mac software can be downloaded for free from RIM's site). Sprint version has Sprint TV, Pocket Express and FaceBook plug-in.