BlackBerry Curve (9370) Review: New Isn't Always Better
RIM was the company to beat. But it failed to innovate, leaving the door open for Apple and Android to grab market share. Now, the Curve 9370 comes to Verizon on the heels of the 9350 and 9360, but it suffers from the same problem as its predecessors: it's just not good enough.
RIM tries to pass the Curve off as a shiny toy with meaningful updates, but it's literally the same old phone with the same old features. In fact, the price tag looks like a joke when you look at rival devices. That isn't to say the Curve is awful -- it's not an atrocity, it's just a disappointment.
The streamline, lightweight body, which weighs just three and a half ounces, is easier to slide into your pocket. The glossy black bezel and metallic edge, meanwhile, gives a slightly industrial look to break up the monotony of the design. But RIM sacrificed keyboard and screen space to make shrink down the handset. But even though you can fit it easily in your hand, the problem is, why would you want to?
Style was also sacrificed to keep it lightweight -- the flimsy plastic body looks like a children's toy, and the shiny bezel doesn't make up for the cheap materials. The textured back, meanwhile, gives you a good grip, but the pattern is just plain ugly. Besides the keyboard, the Curve is very similar to the Torch, which also suffered from a smudge-prone shell that a gun-metal band couldn't counterbalance.
The 2.4-inch screen, though, is larger and much improved over older versions, but still smaller than rival displays. Still, the 480-by-360 pixel resolution has an impressive 246-ppi pixels density, so it's very sharp and clear. And the 16-million colors, increased from 65,000, is more vibrant to watch movies and browse the Web, not that you'll want to -- I'll get to that later. Overall, the improvements to the display are significant, making text easier to read and images sharper and more vibrant. But the dinky size is a big problem -- and the lack of touch functionality. No matter how great the trackball is, it's not as good as simply swiping your finger.
Meanwhile, the 5-megapixel lens can stand on its own. I'm disappointed it lacks auto-focus, but the LED flash illuminates any dim room. Photos are sharp indoors and out, as long as you're skilled enough to focus on your own. If you turn on image stabilization, you can get a fairly pristine shot, but occasionally photos come out with a bit of noise, so it's not good enough to replace a standalone camera.
The Curve runs on BlackBerry 7 software, which, like the phone, isn't much different from its predecessors. It's the last device before RIM moves to BlackBerry 10, so if you want anything remotely resembling cutting-edge, this isn't it. It does have NFC, though, so you can pay with your phone at the checkout line, but few stores use the technology -- and since Verizon is prepping its own NFC-based mobile payment, you're not allowed to use Google Wallet, which further limits it.
But that's not the biggest drawback. No, that award goes to the underwhelming app ecosystem. Since RIM is on the downward slide, few developers are interested in creating programs for it, especially when customers are flocking to iOS and Android. Sure, you'll find basics -- like Facebook and Twitter preloaded in a decent social media hub -- but if you're waiting for that new app to come, it probably won't make it to BlackBerry.
The browser is the biggest improvement. You'll be able to render HTML5 and Flash, and use tabs to open multiple windows, but rivals have done that for years. I did notice lag when surfing the Web, and the tiny screen made any viewing uncomfortable after long periods of time.
RIM has always been strong in the corporate world, and you'll appreciate the e-mail services -- like Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Domino, arguably still the best -- as well as BBM Messenger. Those are the few remaining features that RIM still trump Apple and Google in.
The Curve packs an underwhelming 1,000 mAh battery, but since it also has a small screen, it ends up staying charged for a decently long time -- about four to five hours of talk time and over a day of standby. That basically, represents the Curve, in general. It's not the worst, but it's a little too puny. Oddly, it comes with a generous 1-gigabytes of storage and a microSD slot for 32-gigabytes more, but since there's little multimedia to consume, you'll have a lot of free space. Meanwhile, an 800-megahertz chip provides adequate power, but it underscores how behind-the-times RIM is, and once again proves that the Curve is just a phone with potential but not enough power.
So unless you're a die-hard BlackBerry fan and you can't get your hands on another model, skip the Curve. Yes, it has a very beautiful screen -- but it's not touch -- and both the display and keyboard are simply too small. You can get better phone for the same price, like any number of Androids -- like the Motorola Droid 4, which also comes with a physical keyboard -- or the iPhone 4. ♦
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