RIM may not be in the best of shape these days, but it's still coming out with new devices for its BlackBerry OS 7 platform, including the recent BlackBerry Curve 9370. A BlackBerry intended for entry-level users, the Curve 9370 is highly affordable at $100 when ordered online from Verizon Wireless's website with a two-year contract. It's certainly not a bad price for a current generation BlackBerry, so the question is: how is the quality?
The Curve 9370 is one of the most compact, lightweight BlackBerrys available, and that's a design choice that I'm particularly fond of, given my diminutive hand size. It measures only 4.3 x 2.4 x 0.4 inches and weighs in at mere 3.5 ounces, so it looks small compared to even average-sized smartphones.
And as much as I love the build for being light and thin, it's not so small that it becomes uncomfortable to hold. It has a good feel in your hand, thanks in large part to the textured and rubberized back panel. In all, the Curve 9370 has a very sleek design that allows it to be easily pocketed, at which point you might just forget that it's there.
Also on the back is the phone's 5-megapixel camera and LED flash. Down toward the bottom of the rear of the unit is its speaker, which can be obnoxiously loud when cranked up to full volume… and I mean that as a compliment. I wouldn't have expected something as tiny as the Curve 9370 to crank out sound as loudly as it does.
Despite the diminutive size of the Curve 9370, it still has a decently-sized display that measures 2.44 inches diagonally, so nothing feels too cramped. With a resolution of 480 x 360 pixels, the display quality isn't anything stunning, but it's not terrible either; at the very least, I was happy with how vibrant colors looked on it, and it had a wide viewing angle thanks to sufficient brightness.
But what I was disappointed by was the fact that the Curve 9370's display is not a touchscreen. While I'm not a proponent of touch controls 100% of the time, I am when it comes to using the BlackBerry OS 7 interface. As I mentioned in my reviews of the BlackBerry Bold 9930 and the BlackBerry Torch 9850, the ideal control scheme for the OS 7 UI is having both the trackpad and the touchscreen controls. That way, you can use the touchscreen for swiping quickly through the oddly fragmented menus or scrolling while you use the trackpad for more precise actions like selecting menu items in the UI and clicking on links in the browser.
The touchscreen and trackpad combination meshes perfectly and makes for an excellent control scheme with this iteration of the BlackBerry OS…and the Curve 9370 doesn't have it. With only a trackpad, navigation and web browsing on the handset becomes an even more miserable experience than it already was, thanks to the cumbersome design of OS 7. But more on that later.
While I am generally a huge fan of the physical keyboards on BlackBerrys, something is a little off about the one on the Curve 9370. I can't quite put my finger on it — pun completely intended — but I think a big part of it is that with this smaller form factor, the keyboard is ever so slightly cramped. Unlike the display, I think the keyboard suffers as a result of the device having such a compact design. The keys are marginally smaller and may only be a tiny bit closer together on this model versus other BlackBerrys, but it seemed to make a noticeable difference.
There was also the fact that the keys were only slightly sloped. I know this may sound like a nitpicky complaint, but on other recent BlackBerry models, the way the keys on either half of the keyboard slope inwards somewhat dramatically toward the middle really made for a more comfortable typing experience. At the very least, it was a good way to sort of isolate the keys from each other, since the low edge of one was next to the high edge of the one adjacent.
So without the comfortable ergonomics of the sloped keys, and with the buttons placed just a little too close together, I had a hard time typing with one hand. Generally, my thumb threatened to hit more than one key at once, which caused me to slow down and very carefully pick my presses; it was like the BlackBerry version of hunt and peck. I was much better off typing with two thumbs, but even then things felt a bit crowded.
Don't get me wrong, in the grand scheme of things this is still a very good physical keyboard; I don't think RIM is capable of completely botching the physical keyboards on their BlackBerrys. But after using the one on the Curve 9370, I got the sense that RIM had achieved perfection on models like the Bold 9930 and tweaking that design - even if it was in an extremely minute fashion - caused it to feel off to me.
Other Buttons & Controls
The Curve 9370 keeps things pretty simple in terms of the rest of its buttons and controls. As usual, there is the lock button that is located on the top of the device right next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. On the left, there is a micro-USB port through which the BlackBerry charges, and the right side is host to the volume rocker and convenience key.
There are issues with the latter two controls, however. As I have mentioned in previous BlackBerry reviews, it drives me insane that the volume rocker does not allow me to control the sound levels unless I'm actually in the process of making a call. I'm used to being able to switch my phone from ring to vibrate by simply holding down the volume down button on the rocker until it hits zero; that's how most phones work. Instead, with BlackBerrys, the volume rocker does absolutely nothing unless you're actually in a call.
And the other issue is with the convenience key. Normally, this is a design choice that I appreciate, as you can assign whatever command you would like to it; hit it to launch the camera, the browser, your email, or maybe your text messages. But for some reason, there seems to be a bug with this particular model (or at least my unit) in that the convenience key option in the settings menu — which is where you have to go if you want to change the assignment for the convenience key — is broken. I select it and nothing happens, so I can't link the convenience key to launch something other than the camera (which is the default setting). It's very frustrating, but hopefully something that doesn't hold true to all 9370s.
The battery, SIM card slot, and microSD card slot are all found behind the back panel, which is designed in very clever fashion. Instead of having a little tab that you lift to yank off the back panel (or having to push down and slide it, which can often prove to be a bit frustrating), there is a very subtle divot on the left side of the BlackBerry Curve 9370's frame that you can stick your fingernail under and just pull up gently to remove it.
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