The revamped BlackBerry Curve 8900 by RIM is the convertible sports-car of BlackBerrys. It is sleek, light, comfortably sized and incredibly powerful.
The Curve has been an abiding standby for BlackBerry nation, and the newest model promises to deliver on expectations. Much of the 8900′s improvements can be attributed to design considerations and software and usability.
There is still room for improvement in some areas, though. Most notably, the Curve 8900 lacks 3G, but T-Mobile’s version does have UMA-enabled Wi-Fi. Also lacking on the Curve 8900 are the rubbery keys sported by models such as the 8800 and the Bold. These deficiencies are small, however, compared to the considerable assets the device boasts.
The 8900 pulls on many of the best features of existing BlackBerrys and rolls them together in a nice package.
Build and Design
Like its big cousin the BlackBerry Bold, the Blackberry Curve 8900 features a black finish with faux-chrome overlays. These accents deliver a sexy, sophisticated look for the device.
It offers a full QWERTY keyboard in a curved layout, with slight spacing between keys. The keyboard is accurate and usable, but it’s hard to type as fast as on other devices, such as the BlackBerry Bold or 8800 with their rubbery keys. To the credit of this keyboard however, you do feel a satisfying click after hitting the buttons. Inclusion of this specific keyboard was likely a business decision on RIM’s part to be able to to diversify its product offerings, but it’s still a point some users may take issue with.
The Curve’s top row of keys is also appropriately sized for the device, unlike the Bold, whose keys are awkwardly large.
And for what its worth, the trackball is dark, not white like on the Bold… not a deal breaker!
Convenient Convenience Keys: On offerings from most manufacturers, there are keys reserved for specific functions. Of the four external keys on the 8900, two are customizable — one on each side. Though it would be nice for the volume keys to be shortcuts, they do act as navigation tools in certain media menus. The ability to customize the right and left keys are something that users who demand the most from their phones will appreciate.
The Curve 8900 borrows the incredibly useful lock and mute buttons from the BlackBerry Storm that are a part of the top rocker keys (see picture), providing an easy way to lock your keyboard.
Portability: This smartphone has roughly the same dimensions as the previous Curve models. Compared to other BlackBerrys such as the Bold and Storm, the 8900 feels incredibly light and fits very nicely in your pocket. It comes with a carrying pouch that offers protection, and activates the “in holster” profile settings for notifications.
The back panel covering the battery improves upon the Storm’s shortcoming but falls short of the iconic faux-leather backing of the Bold. Those in colder climates will find that metallic back plates (such as the Storm’s) can get uncomfortably cold; the Curve overcomes this with a slightly textured brushed plastic back that looks good but is a bit prone to scratching.
Sadly, the charging port is awkwardly placed on the right side of the keyboard, making it difficult to type while it’s plugged in. Also upsetting is that the microSD card is accessible only after removing the back panel.
For those of you wondering how much of your old tech you can use with your new Curve, the answer is that it uses the D-X1 battery, and a micro-USB charger. Arguably mini-USBs are more common, but utilizing a micro-USB charger aligns with the Mobile World Congress’ recent announcement that micro will be the new charging standard moving forward.
Other users have reported that at times performance was sluggish on the 8900, but this has not been my experience. In fact, the operating system has been reliable, performing consistently throughout the test period so far. In comparison, on occasion my Bold will give me a “white screen of death”, but the Curve has not given me any problems.
There are some graphical nuances, however: it seems that sometimes menu screens and other items are miss-sized for the screen. If the screen is locked, the message informs the user to press the lock button, but doesn’t indicate its position. This can be confusing to some, as it’s not immediately clear that the lock button is a button at all. This message screen is identical to that on the Storm; on previous BlackBerrys it informed the user to *+green key to unlock.
Though the OS is stable and reliable, these small issues suggest that perhaps it wasn’t given enough time to bake before being taken out of the oven.
Wi-Fi/VoIP: RIM and T-Mobile have equipped the 8900 with Wi-Fi supporting UMA, which natively supports VoIP. This means that as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, you can not only send/receive data, but voice calls as well. This is a huge advantage, as T-Mobile’s network, in my experience, covers the smallest area of the big carriers.
Although this feature is incredibly useful, it has limitations — if your signal isn’t strong, sound becomes garbled and echoes. The Curve supports only the 802.11 protocol and not 802.1x. This may interest institutional users or iPhone users (which supports both). Finally, if you are making calls over Wi-Fi, be prepared not to stray too far. Although I used it in a large building, if I covered too much ground too quickly while on Wi-Fi, my calls would drop. For you home users, I suspect this problem won’t be as noticeable.
UMA calling counts against your regular non-myFaves minutes, but for $10 a month you can add unlimited UMA calling.
Given the limitations of not being able to stray too far or the requirement of 802.11 networks, the UMA call quality is pretty remarkable. A few times during testing in strong signal areas, there was so little background noise that I thought the call had dropped. This feature is truly one of the gems of the 8900, and should be standard issue in all BlackBerrys moving forward.
Call Quality: Calls over the cell network are of more consistent quality than UMA calls. I also noticed that calls seemed to connect quicker than another device I was carrying on AT&T. Connection times took a little longer with UMA calls. The speaker phone is crisp and loud enough to be useful.
One area that I experienced problems with was shifting from UMA to cell network zones. Often calls dropped when leaving one zone and entering another. Because the phone gives priority to UMA connections by default, this is a potential area of concern for users to consider.
Battery Life: After some recent disappointments with the Storm and Bold, the Blackberry Curve 8900 restores some respectability with its battery life. With moderate-to-heavy use, about three days or more can be expected from the battery.
This can undoubtedly be brought down by leaving Wi-Fi on in order to supplement T-Mobile’s spotty coverage. Additionally, it can be improved by using settings that do not vibrate as much.
Most users will find that the battery life is sufficient, and shouldn’t worry about not being able to charge daily.
Productivity: Standard in BlackBerry OS 4.6.1.x is DataViz’s suite of Office productivity tools. With these you can view, edit, save, and send Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint files. This type of functionality adds a new layer to the device, and makes the user more productive and capable than before.
The Curve has some annoyances typical of BlackBerrys, including having to select “get more” in data-laden emails. Another is the need to “get images” in emails embedded with pictures. Finally, the lack of 3G support and a larger lack of coverage in some areas precludes the transmission of data in some regions, which is an obvious detriment to productivity.
Entertainment: Because you can’t work all the time, the Curve has several creative ways for you to waste time while appearing productive. These include the standard suite of games on the 4.6.1.x OS, including Brick Breaker, Word Mole, Texas Hold ‘Em, Sudoku, and Klondike.
The device also comes with the ability to record and share pictures, movies, audio, and ringtones. See below for discussion on ringtones. Being able to store media on a microSD card means the 8900 doesn’t even need to be connected to a desktop or laptop to transfer files; it can be done by popping the SD card into an adapter for most computers’ on-board card slot (sorry, Mac users).
Over Wi-Fi, the browser is quicker than EDGE, but it is notably slower than AT&T’s 3G network. I do not have T Mobile 3G benchmarks to compare to.
The browsing experience is satisfactory enough for casual browsing, but don’t plan to rely on it. The Bold is my primary personal device and although the 8900′s screen has markedly better resolution than previous offerings, it is still about the same physical size as the previous gen. This lack of screen real estate can impact the browsing experience for some. Of course, the browser features mouse-like navigation via the trackball, which means that scrolling into areas off screen is easier than on previous models.
In a play to appeal to its more social customer base, the Curve offers a slew of instant messaging programs including BlackBerry Messenger, AIM, Google talk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, and even ICQ for those international customers, or those stuck in 1999.
myFaves – Being on T-Mobile, this device sports myFaves, which allow for unlimited calling to five people of your choosing. These minutes are also free when calling over UMA. myFaves (or yours) can be added pretty simply on the phone, and proves a useful feature if you find yourself spending most of your time chatting with a few people.
Camera: The Curve 8900 features a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus. This means that finally, you can feel comfortable carrying your phone around as a camera knowing you’ll be able to snap some fairly decent pictures.
GPS: This model also boasts GPS, which has become pretty standard-issue for smartphones. To make use of this feature, the Curve 8900 comes with BlackBerry Maps. Although BlackBerry Maps is adequate, it would have been nice to have seen more applications that could make use of the GPS.
Ringtones: RIM has been recruiting talent to step up its ringtones. Although “Antelope” is great, the Curve supplements the selection with John Mayer offerings. There are four John Mayer ringtones included for your listening pleasure, but these aren’t custom creations but samples of longer songs.
BlackBerrys are among the device-of-choice for the deaf community, in part due to its strong vibration features. This feature has been subdued in the Curve. Though it will mean fewer audible buzzes during meetings, it also means you might occasional miss your phone buzzing if, for example, it’s on your desk and you’re sporting headphones. This problem is overcome by the LED indicator, and the obsessive rigor with which most owners check their devices. Nevertheless, it is less effective than other models.
Other Notables: Conspicuously absent on the Curve is application demos and T-Mobile-centric applications. Users who know what they want (and what they don’t want) on their device will appreciate this, but it might be doing a disservice to new users wanting to get a feel for the full range of capabilities of the device and applications.
Though parting with $200 may be difficult in these economic conditions, the BlackBerry Curve 8900 is well worth it. It offers plenty of power and performance for its price, although lacking 3G and the slick keyboard some users prefer. Most will agree that it’s easy to overlook its shortcomings considering the price differential between the Curve and other devices.
UMA calling, the handy camera, size, weight, and usefulness of its OS and apps all make a compelling case for the Curve. If you want a capable device primarily for messaging, this is a great option. If however, you want a device that offers a browsing experience on par with its messaging, you might have to keep looking.
For most new users and those upgrading, I would safely recommend this device… just be sure to check your coverage options first.