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Home > Hardware Reviews > Mobiles

Monday, July 23, 2007
Blackberry Curve

2. Design and Operation, Conclusion

Design:

The BlackBerry Curve really does take the best of both the Pearl and the 8800 Series. People either love or hate the SureType keyboard on the Pearl and there were mixed reviews of the full QWERTY keyboard on the 8800. The Curve responds with a full QWERTY design with a wonderful tactile feel. Keys are similar in shape to the 8800 but with a much more "rubberized feel" and great spacing. Two finger typing was better on the Curve than any other BlackBerry I have tested.

The screen is wider than the Pearl, but no taller - pretty much identical to the 8800. Colors were bright and beautiful.

On the front of the device, under the screen, there is the trackball - front and center - with the "Escape" or "Back" key to the right and the "Menu" key to the left of the trackball. To the left of the Menu key sits the familiar "Green" phone key which places calls or accesses the phone menus and to the far right is the "Red" end or cancel key.

The top of the Curve has the traditional BlackBerry "Mute" button on the left-hand side. There are Volume up and Volume down buttons along the right hand side of the device. Also on the right hand side of the device is a dedicated convenience key pre-programmed for the Camera.

Along the left hand side you can find the mini-USB charging port (The Curve can charge off an AC adapter, the PC or the car,) a full 3.5 mm earphone/headphone port and a dedicated "Convenience" button which is by default set to the Push to Talk Program.

The Curve is designed with a full QWERTY keyboard. Each key can also double for a number or symbol with a push of the ALT key. The keys are close together - but not too close by any means. I also found them to be bigger and easier to push than the Treo keys. The keys are contoured with flat faces and rounded sides.

One very nice feature is the inclusion of the Micro SD card which sits in a dedicated slot under the back cover of the Curve. While this might be a little inconvenient, it is certainly better than the placement under the battery (which how the 8100 is designed.) In reality, I find that once I insert a memory card it stays there. If you frequently swap out your memory cards, you might find the placement inconvenient.

The intangible element which is hard to describe is how nice this thing feels in your hand. Heavy, but not really - more solid than anything. It has a nice rubberized texture on the sides and parts of the bottom and back. Where the 8800 felt sort of "cheap" by blackberry standards, the Curve feels rugged and not fragile. It is also beautifully thin - as thin as the Pearl. It is noticeably shorter and thinner than the 8800 fitting nicely in a pocket or purse.

The Curve as an Email Device:

BlackBerry devices are known for their email capabilities and the Curve certainly excels in this area. The Curve can handle up to 10 personal email accounts and also works with the BlackBerry enterprise Server for all your corporate email needs.

BlackBerry Internet Service
BlackBerry Internet Email™, part of BlackBerry Internet Service™, allows users to access up to ten personal and corporate email accounts (such as Yahoo!® and Microsoft® Exchange) from a single device

Wireless synchronization (optional setting)
 
  • Messages deleted on your handset will be automatically deleted from your email account.
  • Messages read on your handset will be automatically marked as read in your email account.
  • Messages sent from your handset will appear in the ‘sent items’ folder of your email account.
Account configuration features include:
 
  • Filters
  • Reply-to address
  • Friendly Name
  • Auto Signature
With BlackBerry Internet Service you can also create a special BlackBerry email address just for your device.  The device you are using has already been set up with a special address that looks like this: (name)@mycingular.blackberry.net.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server

Users can also select the BlackBerry Enterpriser Server option.  Users can use this option to associate the BlackBerry Pearl with a Microsoft® Outlook, IBM® Lotus® Notes® or Novell® GroupWise® work email account and to take advantage of advanced wireless data synchronization capabilities.  If a system administrator has provided an enterprise activation password, users can set up email using this option by selecting the I want to use a work email account with a BlackBerry Enterprise Server option in the setup wizard of the handset.  If the user does not have an enterprise activation password, contact the system administrator.

Email setup was a snap. I used the BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) and had my email up and running very quickly. The BlackBerry was not able to automatically configure my IMAP account, but I was able to very easily input the settings and get that working perfectly.

When email arrives, the LED in the upper right hand corner flashes red. Simply navigate to the messages icon and there is your email. A simple push on the trackball and a click of reply and you can easily type in your reply. One more click of the trackball and you send your email. It could not be easier.

The full keyboard is a nice addition. Although, I find that my emails are just as quick using the Sure-Type keyboard on the Pearl, I must say that it is nice to use a full keyboard and not have to wonder if the right word will be displayed. They keys worked well for me - more responsive than either the 8800 or the Treo or MotoQ keys..

The Curve as a Phone:

I found the call quality of the Curve to be generally very good. I always had strong signal and never had a problem hearing callers. Callers on the other end told me that my voice sounded fine and clear. I did experience the dreaded AT&T drop out a few times - but I blame the crappy network and not the Curve for that. The Curve is a full featured phone. You can make conference calls, use call forwarding, set individual ring tones and pictures for your contacts, access your call log - pretty much everything you need a phone to do.

The Curve also includes Voice Signal's speech recognition "Voice Command" software which worked quite well. Simply say "Call X" and the Voice Command software confirms your selection, asks you whether you want "home" or "work" or "mobile" and places the call. No voice training was necessary.

When a call came in, a simple press of the Green phone key or the trackball answered the call. The Curve also has an excellent speaker phone option which was loud and clear.

The Curve as a PIM (Personal Information Manager)

All your PIM needs can certainly be handled by this phone. Since this is primarily a business device (that many consumers will use) it handles calendar, address book, tasks, memos and attachments with ease.

The Calendar program is very easy to use and quite powerful. It easily Syncs with either Outlook or most other popular programs and it can import your data from a .csv or tab delineated format. It was easy to navigate to the date wanted with the trackball. Click the trackball and you can easily navigate down to put in the subject of the appointment, change the date, time, duration, set alarms and set recurring appointments.

The address book can also import your information from Outlook or other programs and can also import Vcard files. I found that it even imported the pictures that I used with my contacts from Outlook. One of the nice features of the BlackBerry address book is the ability to highlight your contact, then push the menu key and scroll to send them an SMS message, email them or call them. The BlackBerry software makes these tasks very intuitive. Contextual help built into each application can also guide the user through the various tasks and capabilities.

Tasks and memos can also easily be imported and were easy to use on the Curve. The nice amount of real estate on the screen and the bright, self adjusting light of the screen coupled with clear fonts made reading memos and tasks quite nice. One nice feature found on the Curve (as well as other newer Blackberries) is Voice memos. it is so easy to just record a message and send it to a contact. They receive a simple .wav file which most other phones can open easily.

The BlackBerry Curve is capable of viewing attachments in most formats - PDF's, Spreadsheets, Document and Power Points (albeit scaled down) but it cannot edit these files or open them in any other form than from attachments. For most business users, this is adequate functionality. On the horizon is Documents to Go for the BlackBerry which, if priced similarly to the Windows Mobile version, will take the BlackBerry world by storm.

Multi-Media Features:

The Curve is much more of a "Media Centric" device that the 8800 and it has better Media features than the Pearl. There are many media icons on the Curve - some linked to specific AT& T services. A click on the main "Media" icon brings up a nice media screen with easy navigation between Music, Video, Ringtones and Pictures. Music sounded crisp through the Curve and the standard 3.5 mm jack makes plugging in your headphones a snap. You will want to think about using a combo Earphone/Microphone setup since you can take calls while listening to music,

There are icons on the Curve for shopping games, tones, music and graphics. There is also an icon for a "killer" feature - streaming music. With the Curve, you can subscribe to XM satellite music and enjoy streaming music from several of their great stations. What is even cooler than that is that the Curve supports A2DP - Streaming Bluetooth Stereo. So, you can stream XM and listen through Bluetooth Stereo Headphones (look ma, no wires.)

As cool as this was - it was far less cool in reality - no fault of the Curve - but of the poor AT&T network. In my neighborhood, although the Curve showed full EDGE service, the streaming music stopped to buffer about every minute or so with at least a 20 second pause before it restarted. This was just not acceptable for continued listening. I can only hope that AT&T will improve their network and maybe RIM will take advantage of true 3G speeds available on other devices.

Music can be loaded using the desktop manager software onto the Micro SD card (to save space) into the Music subdirectory. Simply navigate to the music and play a single song, play all of your music, shuffle your songs and even show the playlist on the screen. Music is arranged by songs, artists, genres and you have the ability to shuffle your music as well. There are no audio controls except for volume - but music sounded very good on the Curve - certainly rivaling the sonic quality of pretty much any MP3 player.

The Curve ships with a sample video which was remarkably smooth. Getting my own videos to play was another matter altogether. While the Curve does support several different video formats, most videos had to be converted to work properly on the Curve. Fortunately, unlike the Pearl and 8800, the Curve comes with a Media Manager desktop program based on Roxio's Media Manager software. There are options for Video conversion built in which made life much easier than on the Pearl and the 8800.

Assigning your MP3's as ringtones was very easy, provided you have the song copied in the "Ringtone" folder on either the Micro SD card or the device itself.

There are many free games, however, which can be downloaded from the BlackBerry Help bookmark in the web browser. I found Solitaire, a fishing game and several others which were easy to install, fun to play and looked great on the BlackBerry screen. With AT&T you can download games over the air (are you listening T-Mobile) and they are billed directly to your account.

Web Browsing:

I do believe (and some disagree with me) that the BlackBerry web browser is tops in the mobile browsing field. Of course, the new iPhone (based on the Safari Browser) is providing a strong challenge to my theory. The BlackBerry browser loads text first and quickly adds the graphics. Web pages that took close to 30 seconds to fully load on a Windows Mobile phone with a 3G connection took almost half as long to load on the BlackBerry.

Setting bookmarks was very easy as was putting in an address to go to.

One nice feature of the BlackBerry is the availability of free "Push" web services like weather, Reuters news and others. The BlackBerry will periodically go online and update the content and push it right to your phone.

I found the trackball great for web browsing - it was very easy and intuitive to move up, down, left or right on the screen using the trackball.

 

Bundled Software and Accessories:

The BlackBerry Curve come very nicely equipped - much better equipped than pretty much any other smartphone. In the box, you get the Phone, AC charger, USB charging/Data cable, an earbud headset, stereo earphones with a Microphone, a Micro SD card Adapter, manual and CD with a great video tutorial.

Software is pretty standard issue. BlackBerry does have lots of free downloadable add ons from the BlackBerry Home page or Help page of the web browser. News readers, Push content, games and free wallpaper and ringtones can easily be found if you look for them.

One other software feature I was not able to try out is AT&T's Push to Talk feature which is included on the Curve. For those who are accustomed to this feature, I am sure they will appreciate its inclusion on the Curve.

Overall Conclusions:

I love my Pearl. That being said, I think this is BlackBerry's best device to date. The Curve is so nice to hold and use. It feels solid - there is no squeaking like the 8800 and the Pearl. The keys are very tactile and easy to use. BlackBerry Email just can't be beat and it works flawlessly on the Curve.

Throw in a good 2.0 Mega Pixel camera and full media capabilities along with flawless Synchronization with Outlook and you have (almost) the perfect device. Powerful enough for the business user and die-hard BlackBerry user and fun for those looking to also use this as an MP3 device, Video viewer and Camera.

Bluetooth Stereo is a great addition and AT&T give you lots of options for spending money on extra software, music and games.

My biggest gripe (this will sound familiar to iPhone users) is the AT&T network. At my home, my T-Mobile Pearl only gets GPRS - but that was faster than AT&T's EDGE service. Web browsing was passable but streaming music was impossible.

Pros:

  • Great size, feel and build quality
  • Nice set of features
  • Great email capabilities
  • A good Media device

Cons:

  • AT&T network is iffy and slow
  • Call quality was good but not great

The BlackBerry Curve is available for US$199.00 from http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/cell-phones/pda-phones-smartphones.jsp with a two year agreement and for $75.00 with a rebate of $75.00 making it FREE from www.amazon.com.

 




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