What's Good: Optical trackpad; 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity
What's Bad: 3G cuts down on battery life; build quality difference between high-end BlackBerry
Much like the Curve 8520, the BlackBerry Curve 8530 is the "BudgetBerry" of the group. Sporting a few design changes, 3G connectivity and OS 5.0, it represents a continued push by RIM to appeal to first-time smartphone buyers. There's a marked difference in build quality versus other BlackBerry models like the Storm2 and the Bold 9700. Other features include a full QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, a 2-megapixel camera, and RIM's new trackpad. It's relatively inexpensive and more durable than the other models on the market (thanks to the plastic build), but with that in mind, will the 8530 deliver and provide the ever-so-popular BlackBerry experience?
Design & Features
Most of the design features of the GSM Curve 8520 carried over to the CDMA Curve 8530. Sporting a black housing, the lack of chrome, which many recognize as a trademark feature on BlackBerry devices as of late, is immediately noticed. Minus the rubber sides and top piece, the device is all plastic. The left side of the device contains the 3.5mm headphone jack, a microUSB charging port, and a shortcut button. On the right side of the device, a volume rocker and shortcut key can be found. In a new addition, the top has been replaced by media keys. Back, play/pause (which doubles as the mute button), and forward can all be found. Though the option may be nice for music junkies, I was disappointed that RIM left out the lock button. Unlike the glossy black battery cover on the 8520, the Curve 8530 offers a carbon fiber.
As with any budget device, Verizon's Curve 8530 is barebones when it comes to accessories. Aside from the device and battery, the box contains a microUSB travel charger, USB sync cable, and a basic pair of earphones.
Usability & Performance
Following the 8520's design, the Curve 8530 offers an optical trackpad in place of a trackball. If you're familiar with BlackBerry devices, there will be a slight learning curve, but the trackpad is a smart move on RIM's part (given the numerous trackball problems). The Curve 8530 is the third BlackBerry to ship with the optical trackpad, and is a welcome change from the trackball. Upon testing, I immediately noticed a bit of play in the Curve's trackpad that wasn't present on the Bold 9700. I don't imagine it to be an issue; however it may merit a second look in the store prior to purchase. After working with it for a few hours and becoming accustomed to the general feel of it, using the trackpad becomes quite easy.
The launch of the Curve 8530 marks the third retail BlackBerry to ship with OS 5.0 (after the Storm2 and Bold 9700). Offering threaded text messaging, a faster boot sequence (a common frustration among BlackBerry users), an updated web browser, and a refreshed "applications installed" menu, the OS has been eagerly anticipated. As with any BlackBerry device, a reasonable level of customization is offered. Out of the box, the Storm2 offers VZ Navigator, Visual Voice Mail, City ID, V CAST Music with Rhapsody, V CAST Song ID, V CAST Videos, VZW Tones Deluxe, Documents to Go (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), and shortcuts to Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, and AIM. Though not installed, the BlackBerry App World offers numerous applications, such as Poynt, Nimbuzz, and eBay.
The keyboard, on the other hand, is a bit disappointing. Though somewhat similar to the keys found on the Curve 8300 series, they differ in terms of shape and overall quality. Additionally, the 8520's keyboard is a bit firmer, making it hard to type at times and serving as a reminder of the device's "budget" status. Those new to the BlackBerry platform may not notice, but die-hard BlackBerry users will feel the difference between the various QWERTY options that the company offers.
The Curve 8530 offers a 2.0 megapixel camera, though the picture quality isn't the best in the world. Thanks to the lack of a flash, the photo must be taken in the light for it to come out properly. Pictures I took were, for the most part, quite grainy. Other features included a 5x zoom and the ability to change the white balance, picture size, picture quality, and color effect. Video quality was mediocre. It's fine for recording a shot every now and again, but falters in low light and quick actions. A media card is required to record video.
I tested the BlackBerry Curve 8530 in the Charlotte area, and call quality was very good. Callers had no problem hearing me, and call quality was clear and trouble-free on my end as well. When I went to a known Verizon fringe spot, I found calls to sound quite clear, with no fading. When testing the device in a loud store, I was able to hear my callers without a problem. I successfully paired the Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset to the device without issue. Like other BlackBerry devices I've worked with, the speakerphone was impressive, with several callers commenting about the clarity. Despite the Curve 8530 being an EVDO Rev. 0 device, data speeds were decent. CNN Mobile loaded in about 18 seconds, and the PhoneDog homepage loaded in 48 seconds. Other data-intensive tasks such as V CAST Music and VZ Navigator performed well throughout the testing.
Estimated talk time is 4.5 hours, and in my testing, battery life was reasonable. Thanks to the inclusion of 3G and Wi-Fi (the second CDMA BlackBerry to offer it), battery life isn't as strong as the EDGE-only Curve 8520. If you've played with the two, you'll notice a difference. With moderate use encompassing text messaging, calling, e-mail, web browsing, and VZ Navigator, I was able to make it just over a day before the low battery warning flashed. With little to no use, the device lasted just under three days. As a fully featured smartphone, one full day of battery life seems to be the norm. Battery numbers will vary with the level of usage that they're subjected to between charging cycles, but the Curve 8530 should be fine for the average consumer. For those frequently away from the home or office, the e-mailing fiend, or the road warrior, the Tour 9630 might be the best fit for you.
It's clear that the target audience for the BlackBerry Curve 8530 is new smartphone users. Those upgrading from the Curve 8330 will face a tough decision: the Curve 8530, which offers the trackpad and Wi-Fi; or the Tour 9630, which offers a higher build quality and a high-resolution screen. With the price difference between the two, the decision will be even tougher. Be sure to check out both in store prior to purchasing.