BlackBerry Curve (9350) Review: Too Little, Too Late
If you're a BlackBerry fan, you like what they like -- the stiff, physical keyboard and the excellent e-mail integration. RIM rarely deviates from that, but then iPhone and Android stole customers away. Now, BlackBerry is due for a serious revamp. Now, it's life or death.
The Curve puts a few modern twists on the tried-and-true BlackBerry formula. Covered in plastic, it's not elegant and you'd never mistake it for a high-end device. But it can fit in the smallest of purses and the tightest of jeans. It's a smaller and lighter than older versions -- a tenth of an inch slimmer and weighing just three and a half ounces -- but there's a 99 percent chance you'll smudge it. Ever heard of smudge-proof plastic? This is the exact opposite. Out of the package, it's glossy and clean. But the slightest of touches turns it into a hodge-podge of swirly fingerprints and grease marks.
The 2.4-inch display, meanwhile, is bigger than its predecessors, but that's puny by today's standards, showing you how behind-the-times RIM is. Still, the 480-by-360 resolution is crisp, with terrific definition. Due to the small screen, each pixel hard to pick out, so it's sharp. But it's too small to comfortably watch movies. That's an odd combination of clarity and discomfort. For quick YouTube clips, it's okay. But I strained my eyes trying to watch Avatar.
Perpetually stuck in the past, RIM didn't add a touch display. I poked at the screen a few times before my brain registered that nothing was happening. The physical keyboard, though, remains solid. The four-row QWERTY gives a pleasant tactile sensation, and buttons are easy to press. But if you have large hands, the pared-down size will frustrate you and you'll want a roomier typing experience like the Bold. I don't have large hands, but even I found it a little small. Still, the keys are well-spaced and after some time, I'm sure I'd get used to it. RIM's trademark trackball is gone -- switched out for a trackpad, which is a definite improvement. It's very responsive and fairly accurate, and I found it easier to control with.
The 5-megapixel camera, meanwhile, is much improved over older versions, but, like the display, it still falls short of competitors. Photos I took came out bright and vivid, but a lot of settings and editing tools are missing. You'll still get a great LED flash that lights up the darkest of rooms, but the shutter speed is a bit on the slow side. If you're snapping a photo at night, make sure everyone is standing rock-solid. As for video, RIM says it records high-definition clips, but from what I can tell, it tops off at VGA quality.
The Curve runs on the revamped BlackBerry 7 platform -- not that you can tell the difference. Very little has changed from version 6, but the biggest update is the browser: it now renders full HTML5 and Flash, with tabbed browsing, so you can open several pages at once. I say it like it's groundbreaking, but for RIM it is. Now, surfing the Web is "slightly tolerable" rather than "completely intolerable." Thanks to the trackpad, you can move around is easier, too. But not as easy as with a touch screen. Browsing on the measly display was a chore, and you're not going to want to look at sites for too long.
It comes with some useful apps. You still get push e-mail notifications for up to 10 accounts, but now it also includes Facebook and Twitter. But the bigger problem is the hole in the BlackBerry App World. It should be called BlackBerry App Town, because the pint-sized choices are a pale comparison to the robust stores for iOS and Android. You won't find Instagram, but you'll find poor knockoffs.
The 1,000 mAh battery last about five hours of talk time, and over a day on standby. Compared to rivals, that's one area the Curve beats them on. For a device that isn't built for multimedia, there's not much to drain the battery. The 800-megahertz chip is plenty speedy for the same reasons.
RIM knows it needs to change, but it didn't change enough. It made half-steps, for fear of alienating a loyal business crowd, but it's also crippling any hope of a comeback. Overall, if you just need to call, text and e-mail, okay, it's a decent option. But so are other devices out there -- except you can comfortably watch movies, easily browse the Web and touch the screen. I'd only recommend it if you're a BlackBerry fiend on a budget. But even then, I'd suggest you drop a little more and go for the Bold. It has better features and a faster processor. If you're not a RIM loyalist, though, not is not the time go buy a BlackBerry. There are better Android phones, like the Motorola Photon, which has a touch display, a wider choice of apps and 4G. ♦
TFT (Accelerometer / Proximity Sensor / Ambient Light Sensor)
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