Unfortunately, the BlackBerry Curve 9370 suffers from one major flaw: it runs BlackBerry OS 7. I have lamented this operating system at length in other recent reviews of RIM’s offerings, so I won’t go too far into detail, but suffice it to say that it’s just… not very good. But it is important that I cover the user interface to some extent, as it is probably the worst part: it’s clunky, fragmented, and generally not comfortable to navigate.
I especially hate how poorly designed the menus are; for those of you who haven’t used a BlackBerry before, the menu set up is broken up in such a unintuitive fashion that it’s hard to describe. From the home screen, you can navigate the menus by category (e.g. “All,” Frequent,” “Media,” etc.), but that must be done by highlighting the band above the app icons which line the bottom of the screen and then swiping side to side on the trackpad. If you highlight the icons themselves, you’re supposed to be able to go to the end and swipe to move to the next category listing, but it’s sticky and the command rarely goes through. As for the icons themselves, only six can be shown at a time at the bottom of the screen; if you want to see the rest of what’s stored under that particular category, you have to use the trackpad to move and highlight the band above the icons (the same one you highlight to swipe through categories) and press the confirm button to expand the category and allow it to be fully browsable.
And all of the annoying design choices and menu setups are made even worse by the fact that the Curve 9370 doesn’t have a touchscreen. At least with a touchscreen, you could skip having to scroll through all of the selectable objects on the home screen to get from one place to another. You could, for instance, just tap on the apps bar to expand it. But with only the trackpad, navigation becomes a chore as you have to cycle through tons of selectable items just to get to where you want. Imagine having to navigate a UI that is clearly designed for use with touch controls — say, something like Android — except you have to navigate it with an on-rails cursor. So, for example, the volume control menu button is located up towards the top and to the left. That means that if your cursor is down at the bottom on one of the app icons, you can’t just go left… you have to scroll the cursor up to the top, and then over to the left. With that sort of clumsy design, you’ll find yourself dying for the ability to just tap that part of the screen to get there.
There are other inexplicably poor design choices to the UI, like a notifications bar that does not allow you to see previous notifications — only new ones — and needing to highlight and select the volume control menu from the home screen (rather than just allowing users to use the volume rocker to adjust sounds), but you get the idea.
It’s also worth noting that the storage capacity of the Curve 9370 is surprisingly low. It only comes equipped with 1GB of internal storage and an included 2GB microSD card (it’s expandable up to 32GB). Equally unimpressive is the phone’s 512MB of RAM and 800 MHz processor, which tends to hinder the already abysmal OS performance by causing stuttering and hangups during relatively simple operations.
Calls made on the Curve 9370 were just fine, as I never encountered any issues with clarity or dropped calls during my time with the unit. Texting/BBMing also works well, and is a fairly smooth experience thanks to the (mostly) well-designed keyboard. It’s also worth noting that this BlackBerry is equipped with NFC capabilities, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. The issue, however, is that NFC has not proliferated too much yet, so I was actually unable to test it out, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless.
Unlike calls and messaging, however, internet browsing is an absolute nightmare. Web pages usually take a good 5-10 seconds longer to load on the Curve 9370 than on my personal smartphone, which is on the exact same Verizon Wireless 3G network. So, I can say with certainty that the issue is not with the data speeds, but rather the browser itself.
And those tests that I did in which I was trying to compare load times often just ended with the BlackBerry browser claiming the page was done loading when in fact it had only loaded the topmost chunk of the page; attempt to scroll down and I would find nothing, nor would it load anything further. There are a lot of broken aspects such as this that you’ll encounter when dealing with the browser in OS 7.
I ran into a handful of freezes and crashes during my time with the Curve 9370 and — truth be told, I don’t know if this was a bug or if it was foolishly done by choice — I couldn’t actually scroll up to the top to access the navigation bar, like you do with any other mobile browser. Instead, to enter a URL you have to hit the BlackBerry key, scroll down to “Go To…” and then hit confirm, at which point you’re taken to the navigation bar. Due to headache-inducing issues like these, internet browsing could very well be the worst part of the heavily-flawed BlackBerry OS 7.
Productivity is what BlackBerrys do best, so it’s not too surprising that the Curve 9370 has a healthy assortment of apps that will help you get the job done while on the go. As usual, there are enterprise-friendly apps like Password Keeper and BlackBerry protect, as well as Documents To Go, a Word/Excel/Powerpoint viewer and editor.
More importantly, the Curve 9370 continues to excel in the typical area of BlackBerry expertise, as it has great contacts, calendar, and email apps. I especially love the way email threads are organized within the app; as a Windows Phone 7 user — an OS in which the kinks with displaying email threads are still being worked out — I can say that it’s a pleasure to navigate threads are organized in BlackBerry OS 7. It’s easily the strongest part of the operating system.
But the Curve 9370 is not without weaknesses in the productivity department, the most notable of which is the Maps app. I’ve already covered this in other reviews involving BlackBerry OS 7 (in which the Maps were supposed to be improved), but my goodness, the Maps in OS 7 are just dreadful. Aside from its inability to find an astounding number of locations (whether you provide a name of a landmark or an actual numbered address), it’s also plagued by painfully long loading times and its inability to display the map and the directions simultaneously. The lack of a touchscreen really hurts here too, since on-screen navigation, as it is in many parts of OS 7, is an absolute chore.
The Curve 9370 is a little light on the entertainment front, but then again, that’s not really what people get BlackBerrys for. So I’m less inclined to knock it for its lack of entertaining content, but the usual suite of media apps are still here, including a YouTube app (which basically just takes you to the mobile YouTube site), Slacker Radio, and BlackBerry music, video, photo, and podcast apps. That being said, any sort of streaming media — YouTube especially — tends to struggle due to the incredibly slow speeds of the browser and operating system. Like I said before, I know for sure that the long load times and stuttering video problems I experience are issues caused by BlackBerry OS 7 and not my Verizon Wireless 3G connection, because my personal smartphone is on the same network and can watch the same videos without any issue.
Social networking is also covered in the form of YouTube and Twitter apps (as well as a Social Feeds app which consolidates everything into one location), and messaging options include Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and Google Talk.
At 5 megapixels, I wasn’t expecting the camera on the Curve 9370 to be as mediocre as it is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never very impressed by smartphone cameras, but I found the BlackBerry Curve 9370’s camera to be extremely disappointing. The camera on my HTC Trophy is the same resolution, but it takes far better pictures than this BlackBerry.
Pictures look extraordinarily grainy, an issue that is highly exacerbated by even the slightest amount of low-light situations. Colors are bleak too; I would venture to say that the only thing that didn’t really disappoint me about the Cuve 9370’s pictures was the white balance, which was typically accurate and kept whites looking pure — as pure as they could look through all the noise —rather than suffering from any sort of tinge.
The video capture capabilities aren’t impressive either, as it cannot capture at as high of a resolution as some of the other current-gen BlackBerrys. With a shoddy VGA 640 x 480 resolution, videos taken with the Curve 9370 not only look bad, they can’t even compete with those taken with the likes of the Bold 9930, which can at least do 720p video capture.
Given my past experiences with BlackBerrys, I was not surprised to see that the battery life of the Curve 9370 was excellent. On my first full charge, I thought I would try my best to see how quickly I could drain it, so aside from the sustained 3G connection, I kept Wi-Fi and NFC on while also browsing frequently, downloading multiple apps, playing games, placing two lengthy phone calls, and using the Maps app once…and the phone managed to last for a little over four days on a single charge. For my second charge, I did all of the above and tossed in email push and it only shortened the battery life by about a day.