RIM gives the BlackBerry Curve its largest and best update ever. (December 20th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Research in Motion
Price: $180 CDN (3 yr., Rogers)
- Gorgeous display.
- GPS and Wi-Fi together in a Curve for 1st time.
- Smaller form factor than Bold yet easy to type with.
- Above-average camera; now has video capture.
- Much improved web browsing and general OS.
- Good (but not perfect) call quality.
- UMA support.
- Display, GPS still have some limitations.
- Battery life a bit disappointing.
- UMA oversold; only really useful to specific users.
- microSDHC slot not externally accessible.
- Few major changes to media playback, other OS elements.
BlackBerry OS 4.6, media and the web
The Curve 8900 and early every 2008 BlackBerry from the Bold onwards is using BlackBerry OS 4.6, which brings several significant changes versus the 4.3 releases for the Curve 8300 line and many older phones. Most will at first notice the new look: it's much "prettier" and uses stylized line-drawing icons as well as ample amounts of transparency. It's largely superficial, though it's tangibly easier to recognize certain app icons and it all goes a long way towards conveying a sense of polish that Symbian and Windows Mobile currently lack. That said, it would be appreciated if RIM finally switched to more visual settings menus instead of the plain text it's at times notorious for using below the surface.
A lot of this cosmetic focus applies to media playback. While it's described as a new media player, most of the changes simply improve the look of playing music or videos rather than genuinely new features. The greatest change we noticed was a full-screen mode for video, which is admittedly helpful to make the most of the extra-sharp display. RIM's latest software is enjoyable and entirely usable for frequent music duties, but it's not the fundamental shift that would be needed to unseat the iPhone as the reigning champion.
Most of the additions really focus on the BlackBerry's most glaring problem, its support for the web. Both the web browser and the mail client now support a much wider swath of modern web standards and thus render many websites or HTML e-mail messages properly where the Curve from several months ago would have fallen apart. While a touchscreen would be nice, the web is now eminently more workable and displays more like a desktop equivalent; RIM wisely chose to use a whole-page view in the browser that lets users zoom in before worrying about clicking active links. This is the closest we've seen a non-touch browser get to the "real" Internet in awhile.
It's not quite flawless; we've noticed that some websites (including Electronista) still have formatting errors that don't show on the iPhone or similar browsers, and features like mobile YouTube support haven't quite panned out. Likely for navigation reasons when plain text is involved, HTML e-mail is also wrapped around to fit and frequently looks ugly.
Other changes in 4.6 are more subtle. Video capture is the most notable and may prove a seller for MMS and video upload sites; besides this, there's more customization of the menu grid, more advanced spelling checks, a substantial alarm clock function, and better Bluetooth support that involves stereo audio and listen-only pairing. They amount to a substantial improvement, even if few beyond the browser really affect the final experience.
call quality and battery life
Voice on the new Curve is good, though not spectacular. Recipients often had nothing but praise for the incoming quality, which was loud and free of background, but incoming voice wasn't always great. Calls would occasionally sound muffled if still legible. Part of this stems from the absence of HSPA-based 3G, however, and so it's half the nature of the phone itself as any potential flaws.
Longevity is a bit shorter than one would initially expect for a phone without 3G. Officially, call time is rated at about 5.5 hours and isn't uncharacteristic of smartphones, but is a bit surprising given the standard-sized screen and the use of habitually more energy-friendly GSM for phone calls. We tended to get slightly short of this figure in practice, and turning on Wi-Fi only shortens that further. Standby mode is still as strong as ever for a BlackBerry and easily lasts for three to four days with light use, putting it above the E71 and other very power-hungry handsets.