RIM BlackBerry Curve 8300
Dial C for Consumer
Review There's a new addition to the BlackBerry line up, to slot neatly in between the Pearl and 8800. The Curve 8300 features a full QWERTY keyboard, but without making the unit overly large. It's certainly more consumer-focused than the 8800, but that doesn't mean it can't turn its hand to business when the time comes.
The rounded design of the Curve makes it pleasant to hold and it's small enough to use single-handed if you're just doing it bit of surfing. But it's not so tiny that using two hands feels cramped. The trackball, as per the previous models, is great - an intuitive and natural device to find your way around the interface and web pages. You can navigate up, down, left and right with the single control, and to make a selection you simply press on the ball. The usual layout of menu key and back button sit either side of the trackball with green and red call start and end buttons outside those.
The bottom third of the unit is occupied by the QWERTY keyboard. The keys are bevelled slightly, which helps avoid the problem of pressing more than one at the same time. Despite the small size, with a little practice you can attain a decent typing speed - certainly good enough for responding to email or composing text messages. At the top is a bright and clear 2.4in screen with a 320 x 240 resolution and the ability to show 65,000 colours.
Size-wise, it's not that much bigger than the Pearl - it's obviously wider, but it's only slightly thicker and about the same height: 10.7 x 6 x 1.6cm. The additional width makes it feel a little unnatural when using it as a phone at first, but it doesn't take that much getting used to. It weighs a light-on-pockets 111g.
The software has been tweaked slightly, but it's not drastically different to that seen on previous models. One nice new addition is built-in spell check, so you can ensure your emails aren't riddled with errors before they go out.
The Curve has a strong consumer feel to it. For example, it features beefed up multimedia capabilities. So, you can now play back video full screen, and RIM has helpfully thrown in some software - Roxio Media Manager - for converting video into a suitable format to play on the device. However, the results weren't fantastic, with some converted files exhibiting lip sync problems, which was annoying.
The Curve can handle iPod-compatible video files without the need for conversion, which is a plus given that it's probably the most readily available format of portable video files on the internet.
Support for A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) is included, so you can stream stereo audio to a compatible Bluetooth headset - although for some reason this only seemed to work for music, not videos. Music tracks would quite happily play back through a headset, but as soon as a video file was selected the audio reverted to the built in speaker instead. No amount of tweaking stopped it from doing this.
If Bluetooth seems a bit too swish - or battery draining - for your liking then there's a wired headset in the box. Don't expect stunning fidelity from it, though: bass was distinctly lacking and if you push the volume too high it starts to distort. Thankfully, there's a standard 3.5mm jack on the side so you can plug in a better set of headphones, although you'll lose the ability to make hands-free calls as well if you do this.
RIM has beefed up the Curve's camera to include a two-megapixel sensor. Results in well-lit surroundings or daylight were fine, but it struggled with noise in darker environments. There's a flash to help compensate for this, although it does tend to over-saturate the subject if you take pictures too close up.
The Curve supports the standard BlackBerry email services. New messages are pushed to the device so there's no need to manually check to see what's arrived - it just appears as if by magic. There are two options available: BlackBerry Internet Service and BlackBerry Enterprise Server - the former's the one for consumers and individual business people, tying in to existing email accounts.
The Curve's call quality was a little disappointing - while it was still possible to make out what the other party was saying, it didn't sound as clear as, quite frankly, it should have done.
A copy of BlackBerry Maps is included, although there's no built in GPS receiver. Map data is downloaded as it's needed, rather than stored on the device, so unless you've got an unlimited-airtime data account you could run up a hefty bill using it. There's obviously a short pause while downloading map information, but the application seemed slow to redraw maps even when it didn't need to get more data. Scroll around and it can take about a second for the formerly off-screen area to appear on the display.
The Curve is a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) handset, with support for GPRS and Edge, and comes with 64MB of memory. You can add additional storage through a MicroSD card slot, although it's annoyingly positioned underneath the battery.
The handset charges through its mini USB port - handy if you're on the move with a laptop, particularly given the bog-standard but unimpressive four hours' talktime you get out of it, though you'll fare rather better if you reserve your Curve for email.
The Curve is a well thought out consumer BlackBerry with a texting-friendly full QWERTY keyboard. Like its siblings, it still lags a little on the multimedia side of things, but it's getting there. But it excels with email.