The Curve 8330 is the best of current BlackBerries rolled into one. (May 19th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Research in Motion
Price: $150 (Verizon), $180 (Sprint), $250 (Telus)
- Good keyboard and messaging interface.
- 3G speed helps in many cases..
- Priced below much of its similar competition.
- Good on-phone media playback; full headphone port.
- GPS is useful in most cases.
- Excellent battery life and reception with data.
- No externally reachable microSD slot.
- GPS has same flaws as most units; built-in app lacks extras.
- Same BlackBerry interface as before, for better or worse.
- Call quality and battery life still not much better than for other CDMA phones.
The party trick of the 8330 is its GPS mapping, and for many this will be the deciding factor between a BlackBerry or a less expensive smartphone without the feature. In practice, it's not quite as seamless as one would expect, though it's typical for GPS. The need to reach a sky-bound satellite means that it's often impossible to get a signal indoors; signal lock can be frustratingly slow at more than a minute between starting the GPS receiver and getting a fix on your location.
For free, RIM supplies its in-house navigator app, BlackBerry Maps. It's useful for basic route-finding and will probably accomplish the job for the majority of the Curve's target audience, but it does have limitations. There doesn't appear to be an assisted GPS mode that uses data to help speed up a position fix, for example. It also seems too easy to break the map view out of following the driver just by adjusting the zoom, which forces the user to either reset the navigation or else scroll by hand to follow positions and directions. There's likewise no luxuries: don't expect traffic warnings or voiced directions. The Curve just doesn't serve as a full replacement for a dedicated GPS receiver, as much as it can help over assist-only GPS.
A word of warning is also necessary for the built-in software: it may be free, but data charges to load in new map information are not. Look into at least a basic data plan if you opt to use BlackBerry Maps regularly.
Most carriers, including Telus, do however have subscription services, and this is definitely something to consider on the 8330 for frequent travelers: it not only absorbs all of the data costs, but also potentially adds features that don't exist in BlackBerry Maps, like the voice readouts added by Telus navigator. It may be the most realistic option for drivers who expect to mount the BlackBerry on a car's dash and use it as a sole navigation device, and at $10 per month it's inexpensive enough; note, though, that these apps rarely support use outside of the carrier's home country.
call quality, reception, and battery life
Whether it's a function of the particular coverage in the area or something inherent to the technology, CDMA phones have never provided exceptional call quality, and the Curve isn't much of an exception. It at times does sound better than CDMA phones we've tested before, but the clarity isn't as strong as with a good portion of the GSM phones we've tested so far, especially the unusually pristine sound of Sony Ericsson phones. It's good enough to be functional and, with the built-in mic, does a reasonably good job of picking up the caller without also catching moderate background noise.
On the upside, the 8330's reception is very strong. Outside of obvious dead zones such as elevators or deep inside buildings, the new Curve almost always has a usable signal. It also holds a signal at further distances; tests had it receiving one or two bars of service with 3G Internet access even at the fringes of the Ottawa service area, where past CDMA phones have dropped off entirely. This last part may be attributable to regional expansion, but it still translates to a genuinely usable phone outside of core areas.
Battery life is unusually strong as well. The calling time is typically short for CDMA devices at just over four hours, but the phone is exceptionally miserly with data use and standby mode. A single charge is often enough for several days of mild-to-moderate e-mail and web browsing, even with occasionally very battery-intensive actions such as using GPS with short drives or snapping photos. If phone use is secondary -- and it often is with smartphones -- it would be hard to find a device more capable than this.