In a world full of Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile, Blackberry launches quietly yet another of its smartphones with QWERTY keyboard – Blackberry Curve 8900. The device bears the Canadian company's trademark when it comes to design and software embedded. Fans will most likely be happy as the gadget is one of the few outed by RIM last year.
After trying its hand on touchscreen smartphones, RIM continues on the same conservative line and announces a new device, which doesn't really come up with anything new in terms of design or features. Thanks to PureMobile, we had the chance to test the BlackBerry Curve 8900, as usual a business smartphone that offers its users a complete email solution for the right price. Don't expect fresh things, as Blackberry Curve 8900 is just a standard reliable smartphone meant for the mid-budget market.
Announced in November 2008, BlackBerry Curve 8900 was made available on the market the same month. There's only one color available for this product and as a business phone, this is black. Curve 8900 can be bought for around 450USD unlocked and without any plan.
Compared to its Bold 9000 predecessor, Curve 8900 is much smaller, but a little bit thicker. Also, I didn't anticipate the display's size, which is now more to my liking – 480x360 pixels. You can definitely see more on the screen, when reading your emails or browsing the Internet. Other than the screen's size, there's nothing unusual regarding its design. It features the same standard block form with plenty of space for a complete QWERTY keyboard. Even though the keys are a little bit small, there is enough space between them, so texting won't become a pain. Above the keyboard, there's a black trackball, a Menu key, a Back key and the usual Accept/Reject call keys. I was disappointed of the responsiveness of the trackball, which is hard to control. Even with its sensitivity set to 100, it's annoying to browse the menu fast, but in time, I guess I could get used to it.
Above the 2.4-inch display, there's an in-call loudspeaker and small ambient light sensor. The left side of the phone has a voice dial command key, while on the right side, users can notice a dual volume key, a dedicated camera key, a microUSB port and a 3.5mm jack port. On top of the phone, there are two almost invisible keys placed on the left and right edges and can be used to lock the device or set it to silent profile. The 3.2-megapixel camera on the back doesn't look to be protected and features a flash LED for night pictures. Between the two, there's a small loudspeaker.
The microSD slot has been placed under the metallic back cover near the SIM and doesn't imply pulling out the battery. The front part of the phone is made from a shiny plastic that makes it look classy and stylish, but it is highly susceptible to fingerprints. The handheld is surrounded by a silvery band, which peels off after frequent use or accidental drops. The lower part of the backside of the phone is made of a leather-like plastic that assures some steadiness and a better grip when kept in hand. I have noticed there's a very thin gap between the display and keypad part, which might fill with dust very fast. Blackberry Curve 8900 measures 109 x 60 x 13.5 mm and weighs around 110g (including battery). Overall, the smartphone doesn't surprise in terms of design, instead keeps the same compact form, specific to Blackberry devices.
Display and Camera
Curve 8900 has a TFT 2.4-inch display, supporting 65k colors and a half-VGA 480x360 pixel resolution. Pretty unusual for a Blackberry smartphone, but in a positive way, this time. The medium-sized screen does its job very well. Thanks to its different resolution, it is wide enough to provide an immersive Web browsing experience. The quality of the images on the screen is high-standard, with excellent brightness, vivid colors and very good contrast. Also, the screen is perfectly visible in strong sunlight, which has become quite a common thing for the latest Blackberrie smartphones. The two themes included with the operating system make the phone's interface even more appealing. Overall, the quality image is quite high for a Blackberry business device. In terms of performance, you can check out some of the test results below.
The 3.2-megapixel camera has been upgraded, compared with Bold's 2-megapixel one. Even though it has little protection against scratches, the camera includes the autofocus ability and you will also notice a large LED flash to its right. The latter will enable users to take night pictures, but to really get something that can be tagged as "picture," you will need to stay really close to the subject.
Otherwise, the camera interface is pretty standard with settings such as: White Balance, Color Effect, Geo-tagging and Picture Quality. Blackberry Curve 8900 also includes a dedicated camera button; unfortunately, it was placed right in the middle of the left side. This will make shooting a little bit harder, unless you start using the trackball as main shutter.
The maximum resolution for pictures is 2048x1536 pixels, while movies can be recorded using a resolution of 240x180 pixels. In terms of performance, Curve 8900 does decent pictures, which won't disappoint a businessman. Even if it's not the best 3-megapixel camera, let's not forget it has been attached to a business smartphone, which doesn't really need this feature to be at high standards.
The only thing I found annoying is the long time it takes for the camera to process a picture. Anyway, take a look at the samples below to get a better idea of what 8900's camera can do.
Menu and Software
Blackberry Curve 8900 runs the Blackberry 4.6.1 operating system, platform 4.2.0, an updated version of Bold's OS. Nothing new happening to the main menu and graphical user interface. Users will get the same eye-candy menus, but that only applies to the surface. As you go deeper and deeper into the menus, you'll find the same boring "black&white" sub-menus, which are also a small issue for Windows Mobile.
The colors of the icons you'll find in the main menu are softly lit in contrast with the dark background, and make a very good impression on the user. The usual Office package, called Documents To Go, developed by DataViz, is also included in Bold's operating system. Unfortunately, as you can see from the screenshots, you can only read or edit Word docs, Excel docs, and PowerPoint presentations, but need to pay if you want to make new documents.
The phonebook can store an unlimited number of contacts, as long as your available memory allows it. Each contact can be filled with multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, birthday and anniversary information, a picture and a slot for both work and home addresses.
There are also some games that you can play when you're bored: BrickBreaker, WordMole, Texas Hold'em King 2, Sudoku, Klondike. Other applications included are: MemoPad, Tasks, Calculator, Voice Notes Recorder, Voice Dialing, Password Keeper. Of course, there's always the possibility to add more pieces of software, Blackberry or Java compatible.
Blackberry Curve 8900 is a mid-budget smartphone, so don't expect 3G or HSDPA. Users will only benefit from EDGE and GPRS class 10 connectivity. Thankfully, RIM also included Wi-Fi 802.11b/g to reduce Internet browsing or data transfer costs. Although the integrated browser is decent enough, you can easily change it for the MiniOpera browser, which is perfectly compatible. Unfortunately, you'll have a hard time when loading rich in graphics websites when using EDGE connectivity. I suggest getting near a Wi-Fi hotspot if you intend to browse these kinds of websites or have to transfer big chunks of data. Tested on EDGE networks, the device's results were medium: 138 Kbit/s download and 74 Kbit/s upload (EDGE).
In terms of messaging, Curve 8900 features the standard Blackberry package. Should you either want multiple emails or instant messaging, this smartphone has it all. Unfortunately, you will be limited to BlackBerry Internet Service email accounts on the 8900. Unlike Bold, Curve 8900 features two more instant messaging services (Windows Live Messenger and GoogleTalk), besides the usual Blackberry Messenger. Furthermore, to fully integrate the BlackBerry into a company's system, the installation of BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) is required. Synchronizing the smartphone with the PC can be made very easily with the Blackberry Desktop Manager. The transfer is very fast, should you either be syncing emails and messages or simply filling your smartphone with music files.
If that is still not enough for you, then note that Curve 8900 features a built-in GPS receiver with A-GPS support and BlackBerry Maps. The GPS module works perfectly and completes the technical features of a smartphone that has all the BB fans wanted included in a single device.
Blackberry Curve 8900 is a quad-band GSM (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900), which features GPRS and EDGE. Other connectivity options are the Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP and the microUSB for PC synchronization (including charging). I recommend using the dedicated charger found in the sales package, as charging through the USB cable will take more than 2 hours. The call quality is good, but cannot be compared with Bold's. The GSM signal is very good on the EDGE network.
Processor and Memory
Blackberry Curve 8900 is powered by a single Marvell 512MHz CPU, which makes it one of the fastest BlackBerries up to date. While modern Blackberries incorporate ARM9-family processors, there are some featuring ARM7 CPUs, which are a little bit slower. Unfortunately, I have noticed big lags when employing multiple applications. Fortunately, I haven't experienced freezes at all, except for these lags when using two or more apps. I still think Bold is a little bit faster, but the difference is barely noticeable. Overall, there are some hiccups that could have been avoided if a more powerful CPU had been embedded.
The smartphone embeds 120 MB user free internal storage memory and 256 MB Flash memory, which makes data processing much faster. Storage space can be expanded up to 16GB through the hot-swappable microSD slot card.
There's not much to tell about the multimedia, just that it bears the same conservative and business-like look, which is quite understandable as we’re talking about a business smartphone. The built-in music player supports album art features, but lacks any Equalizers. It also supports MP3/WMA/AAC+ music files, which can be sorted by Artist, Albums and Genre. Users will be able to make their own playlists within seconds.
Furthermore, even if these are only basic features, I was surprised to find out that the quality of the sound was pretty high, especially when using your own headphones. Thanks to the 3.5mm port, you can now change the included headphones, which are not that bad. One drawback that I noticed was the placing of the 3.5mm jack port on the right side, which will make it almost impossible to carry in the pocket with the headphones inserted.
The music player can be minimized to the background and listening to music through the stereo Bluetooth feature is also possible. The external speaker is loud enough and pretty clear, but the lack of an Equalizer makes the music sound pretty much the same, regardless of the song played. Overall, multimedia features are surprisingly good for a business phone, and especially for a Blackberry device.
The 1400 mAh Li-Ion battery has an officially stated life expectancy of 356 hours in standby, and of about 5 hours and 30 minutes in talk-time mode. Our test unit made it for about 3 days at medium use. Heavy users will need daily charging or 3-4 charges per week. The autonomy is acceptable for a Blackberry owner that only uses the specific Blackberry services, namely messaging capabilities, but if you talk on the phone too much, you might have a problem.
Well, I haven't been impressed by the smartphone, as it looks just like another Blackberry device. If you're not used with the "pie" form of the Blackberries, you might find it interesting in terms of design. Anyway, Curve 8900 is just a cheaper version of Bold, but that doesn't mean that it is lower in performance. I found the device good enough, built with an attractive look that will surely appeal to RIM's fans. The medium ranges of features included are well balanced and work flawlessly, offering users solid stability on the go.
I guess the highlights of this smartphone are the Wi-Fi technology, the improved 256MB Flash memory, the GPS receiver, as well as the whole messaging package. Also, having a good responsive full QWERTY keyboard comes in handy when you need to answer an email fast. I would also like to mention the price that can appeal to most Blackberry users, especially that it's a good alternative to the more expensive Bold.
I have found that the main drawback of the device is the low autonomy of the battery, not fit for a businessman. Another issue that might considerably lower the phone's functionality is the lack of a free document editor, as the one embedded must be bought in order to be able to make your own document files.Sales Package
Blackberry Curve 8900 smartphone
Standard battery 1400 mAh Li-Ion
Blackberry Premium 3.5mm Stereo Headset
AC Travel charger
microUSB data cable
Sync software CD-ROM.