Blackberry 8320
What’s Good: Excellent QWERTY keypad; WiFi for Email/Web and UMA voice calling; Legendary push Email system; Trackball navigation; Media player with 3.5mm headphone jack.

What’s Not Good: No 3G data; No GPS; Web browser not on par with best smartphones; Memory card hidden behind battery.


Bottom Line:
T-Mobile’s version of the Curve is one of the best smartphones around.  It lacks high speed data access data but adds WiFi for data access and unlimited UMA calling, and the inclusion of a 2MP camera with flash and standard headphone jack make this the most consumer-oriented BlackBerry ever.  All in all it’s an excellent smartphone that adds some entertainment value to BlackBerry’s renowned push Email service, and is actually a hair more responsive than AT&T’s version.

Specs:

  • Make/Model: RIM BlackBerry Curve (8320)
  • Network: GSM Quad-Band
  • Data: EDGE (2.5G), WiFi (802.11 b/g) with UMA support
  • Carrier: T-Mobile USA (Locked)
  • Size: 107 x 60 x 16 mm
  • Weight: 111 g
  • Form Factor: Candybar
  • Display: 2.5” Color LCD, 320 x 240 (QVGA) resolution, 65,000 Colors
  • Memory:  60 MB built-in, microSD card slot
  • Notable Features: Push Email with MS Exchange and Lotus Domino support; Extensive IM support; A/V player; Trackball navigation and full QWERTY keypad

Design & Features

BlackBerrys have never been known for their stylish designs, but the Curve and Pearl models have done at least a little something to change that.  While nobody’s going to mistake the Curve for an iPhone, it’s not a bad looking handset, especially in the Pale Gold finish that T-Mobile sent me for review (a Titanium grey version is also available).  And these new BlackBerrys are smaller and more ergonomic than the old 8700s.  Curve is roughly the same size as the HTC-made T-Mobile Dash and many other modern smartphones, though Curve feels a bit chunkier because its profile is uniform whereas many smartphones taper down in the display area to create a thinner look.  But while the phone isn’t super sleek, it’s perfectly pocketable and feels quite good in hand.

RIM built Curve with a full QWERTY keypad that’s more like the old-style BB 8700 thumb boards then those found on the more recent 8800 series.  That’s a good thing - Curve’s 35 front alphanumeric keys are easy to type on, and generally much nicer to use than those on the 8800s.  The center-mounted trackball is a great navigational tool and makes Curve equally friendly to lefties and righties; some may bemoan the loss of the side-mounted jog dial/back button setup, but for my money the trackball is a step forward in terms of both form and function.

Blackberry 8320

BlackBerrys are of course known for their robust Email performance, and this Curve is no different.  T-Mobile offers BlackBerry Internet and Enterprise Server data plans so you can connect to your POP3/IMAP Email or your corporate Email and calendar/contacts, depending on your personal and business needs.  Both plans also include unlimited Web browsing via BlackBerry’s HTML browser, which isn’t bad but also isn’t quite on par with best-in-class offerings available on Apple’s iPhone and Nokia’s S60 devices.  Email and browsing over WiFi were quite snappy, while T-Mobile’s EDGE network is better suited to Email service than heavy Web surfing.

A true smartphone, Curve runs BlackBerry’s proprietary operating system, which can be expanded via third-party applications that run the gamut from productivity apps to games.  Speaking of third-party apps, while Curve can handle email attachments straight out of the box, you’ll need to acquire some additional software to edit office documents on the handset.  Current versions of Windows Mobile and Symbian handsets generally include some form of an office suite, while Apple’s iPhone is not capable of document editing at the present time.

Curve also features some consumer-oriented touches including a 2-megapixel camera with flash and self-portrait mirror, and an audio/video player with - get this! - a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.  I connected my Etymotic Research hf2 “made for iPhone” headset to the curve and suddenly had a quality stand-in for my video iPod, with access to voice calls, Email, IM (AIM, GTalk, Yahoo!, ICQ, and WIndows Live are all supported out of the box) and the Web to boot.  The one drawback about using Curve as a media player lies in the placement of its microSD memory card slot - the slot is hidden behind the back panel and beneath the battery, so hot-swapping is not an option.


Usability & Performance

T-Mobile’s Curve performed very well as a telephone.  I was able to pull in strong signals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and UMA calls using the T-Mobile branded WiFi router I was given also worked quite well.  T-Mobile’s “HotSpot@Home” UMA plan allows for unlimited voice calling when using a compatible handset connected to a WiFi network.  This is a great option if you’ve given up your home landline or are a small business owner who relies on your cellphone for all of your calls — get a UMA phone like Curve and you won’t have to worry about spending monthly minutes when you’re within range of an open WiFi network.  Curve also works with T-Mobile’s myFaves calling plans.

The handset worked well with the included wired stereo headset, and I was also able to easily pair it with a variety of mono and stereo Bluetooth headsets.  Voice quality and wireless range was strong - on par with the best results I’ve gotten when trying any of the headsets with other phones.  Voice quality was also good using both the internal earpiece and integrated speakerphone.

As mentioned, the 8320’s backlit QWERTY keyboard was quite comfortable for thumb typing, and the overall Email experience was excellent whether connected via EDGE or a WiFi network.  The QVGA display features a light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness depending on conditions, and I generally had no trouble reading LCD screen except in bright, direct sunlight.  While not quite on par with iPhone, SE’s Walkman series, or Nokia’s N-Series, Curve’s media player worked quite well for both listening to music and watching video clips in standard or full-screen mode.  The simple inclusion of a standard headphone jack actually makes Curve one of the more attractive music phone solutions out there, at least in my book.  And the 2MP camera is a nice touch - performance was generally pretty good, and made better by the flash assist light.

Rumors have been swirling around some potential new touchscreen and sliding-keyboard designs forthcoming from RIM, and while it’s hard to argue that BlackBerry needs to reinvent itself a bit to keep up with industry trends, there’s a reason the things are so popular.  BlackBerry’s OS looks a bit antiquated compared to today’s state of the art smartphones, particularly when you get into the lower-level menu screens, but it works.  Navigation makes sense, response is pretty snappy, and Email is rock solid (so long as the network is up).  This Curve lacks GPS and, as I mentioned, there’s no out of the box office suite, but the 8320 is generally a very solid all-around performer.


Conclusion

BlackBerrys have made their name on corporate Email service.  Over the past few years, RIM has broadened BlackBerry’s market with the development of more consumer-friendly devices, most notably the Pearl and now the Curve.  While retaining the push Email system that’s made BlackBerry the American Executive’s Best Friend, Curve has also added some solid entertainment features to the mix, and improved usability by way of a very handy trackball for navigation, a lightweight housing that’s comfortable in hand, and a redesigned QWERTY thumb board that takes its cues from the old-style 8700 series.

The result is a BlackBerry that’s got ergonomics and entertainment value in addition to everything that’s good and bad about always-on Email.  T-Mobile’s Curve doesn’t have the 3G data access and integrated GPS that AT&T’s version does, but the 8320 offers WiFi connectivity and the value-add of UMA calling for folks who are worried about overage charges on their monthly bill.  Of course there’s room for improvement, and the OS is looking just a bit outdated in the face of all those new touch-navigation handsets, but the Curve 8320 still remains one of the best smartphones available in the US right now.

Blackberry 8320


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