"The Curve 9380 is considered an entry level BlackBerry and does make some concessions in achieving a price tag that is extremely affordable, but overall delivers solid performance and will be a success in markets where carrier subsidy is not available."
Filmed live on location at BlackBerry headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, in this video you'll get a good first look at the touchscreen BlackBerry Curve 9380 as CrackBerry Kevin and the Curve 9380 Product Marketing Manager walk through the phone.
Like its full qwerty sibling the Curve 9360, we love the overall look and feel of the Curve 9380. It's small and pocketable and while affordable, doesn't feel like a good phone was made cheap. The design is very intentional and well thought out. It really is a good looking phone. People who want a touchscreen BlackBerry experience and value a phone that feels small will like the Curve 9380.
Positioning Curve as the entry-level product family of the BlackBerry portfolio allows RIM to get away with implementing some lower end features in order to achieve low cost. Casual users may not mind the 9380's lack of HD video recording and autofocus, though we can't help but wish it had it. More pixels would be nice for web browsing, though the display itself is decent. The built-in navigation buttons look nice, but are a bit hard to press.
It really comes down to $$$ on this one. In North America where carriers will subsidize the cost of your phone purchase by signing a contract, we'd go for the Torch 9860 over the Curve 9380 every day of the week. The Torch 9860 gains a faster processor, higher resolution display, HD video recording and autofocus (it doesn't have NFC though), and while the 9380's navigation buttons look better, the 9860's work better. Comparing specs, it's no contest.
That said, the Curve 9380 is a capable touchscreen BlackBerry and if you're in a prepaid market where you have to buy the phone outright, the Curve 9380's lower cost may well be worth the trade off. The phone is quite a bit smaller than the Torch 9860, making it more friendly to those with small hands, and it takes up less space in your pocket or purse.
Within RIM's current BlackBerry family it makes sense for them to release this phone. With the introduction of the Curve 9380, there is now a touchscreen option available in all of the BlackBerry 7 product families. Is this the touchscreen BlackBerry for you though? You'll really have to be the one to decide that one.
Research In Motion has positioned Curve as its entry level lineup of smartphones. While Curve delivers the same basic BlackBerry experience as other BlackBerry 7 Smartphones, it delivers that experience with watered down specs and thankfully, watered down pricing to match.
Both the BlackBerry Curve 9380 and its physical qwerty sibling the Curve 9360 (and 9370/9350 variations) were purpose designed and built to be low cost phones. While some North American carriers will pick up the new Curve 9380, it's clear that the majority of the sales of Curve will occur in emerging markets, where consumers must buy the phone outright. With no carrier contracts and thus no carrier subsidy on the upfront cost of the phone, cost does matter, and the ability to be able to afford a good BlackBerry is more important than getting the best phone at two (or more) times the cost. TELUS, a Canadian carrier, announced the off contract pricing of the 9380 at $369.99 (remember, carriers set pricing of BlackBerry Smartphones, not RIM).
It's important to remember this fact both when reviewing the Curve 9380 and considering it as a phone to purchase. Where the Curve 9380 lacks specs compared to the flagship BlackBerry Smartphones, it isn't due to a technical limitation but rather a conscious tradeoff of cost over performance. The real assessment to be made is on how much the compromise in specs compromises the overall experience, if it all.
BlackBerry Curve 9380 Hardware Impressions
A quick glance at the BlackBerry Curve 9380 and it's immediately apparent that the phone is the touchscreen sibling of the BlackBerry Curve 9360. Compared side-by-side facing down, the phones look identical. The only hint of a difference is the location of the microUSB port. Looking from the front, simply remove the physical keyboard from the 9360 and stretch the screen down the front along with the navigation controls to the bottom, and you essentially have the Curve 9380. This isn't a bad thing. We really liked the look of the Curve 9360 which brought back thoughts of Curve 8900 quality and looks, and we like the look of the new 9380 too. It's a clean looking phone and a touchscreen is a long overdue addition to Curve.
Looking at the specs side of things, the Curve 9380 and Curve 9360 match up the same, the exceptions being the display (obviously) and the battery. The Curve 9380 uses the bigger 1230mAh JM1 battery found in the Bold 9900 and Torch 9900, up from the 9360's 1000mAh EM1 battery.
Check out the video above for a closer look at the BlackBerry Curve 9380 and how it compares to other BlackBerry 7 Smartphones.
Appearance, Form Factor, Build Quality
The BlackBerry Curve 9380 is a nice little phone. It doesn't come across as trying to be small, as would arguably be the design goal of a phone like the BlackBerry Pearl, but the Curve 9380 definitely is small. Pick up the BlackBerry Bold 9900, Torch 9860, Torch 9810 and then hold the Curve 9380 in hand and you'll know what I mean. It's almost as thin as the Bold 9900 and its length and width are on par with a closed Torch. Combine the tight shape with a design that's light in weight and it's really an effortless phone to hold. It feels good. While the North American trend is towards massive touchscreens, in a product briefing we were informed that research still shows there is a demand for smaller, portable phones, especially in international markets, and the Curve 9380 caters to this demand. While the 9380 doesn't ooze luxury like the Bold 9900 does (no other BlackBerry to date really does, P'9981 the exception), the 9380 by no means feels cheap. It's easy to connect light weight with a feeling of cheapness, but the overall attention to detail in the 9380's design helps deliver a feeling of quality.
Though it's a full touchscreen, the Curve 9380 still features a trackpad for one-handed ease of use
Looking at the Curve 9380 from the front, in addition to the 3.2" touchscreen display are the the BlackBerry control and navigation buttons. While RIM's first two attempts at a full touchscreen smartphone (let's call it The BlackBerry That Shall Not Be Named) didn't feature a trackpad or trackball in addition to the touchscreen navigation, RIM's newer touchscreen devices do. This is a great feature as it allows for one handed use of the phone via the trackpad, which does get the glowing outline treatment as pictured above.
The phone and menu / back buttons on either side of the trackpad are built into the display cover. They are not raised, which makes for a super clean look, but as a result, they do feel a bit harder to use and press compared to the individual buttons on the Torch 9860. They're not bad though - they just take a little getting used to. At the top right corner of the phone is the infamous LED, which puts the crack into the BlackBerry experience. It calls out to you to touch it.
The "waterfall" design featured in many of the new BlackBerry models really is beautiful. Phone art.
The back the Curve 9380 is very clean, very curvy, and dare we say it, beautiful. Just look at the photo above. It almost looks like art. The way the battery door is sculpted and the lines of the phone cut across in curved manner really do justice to the name of the phone. At the top are the camera and flash with Curve branding in the middle. Below the battery door is the speaker port for allowing sound to escape from within the device.
Removing the battery door takes practice - you need to pry it off with a fingernail
Don't mistake the speaker port as a battery door latch. It is not. To remove the battery door you'll need to attack the phone from the side, with a carefully placed fingernail in between the door and body of the phone.
The microUSB charging/syncing port is centrally mounted - should work well for a charging stand
The left side of the Curve 9380 is very clean with only a microUSB port present. The port is located smack dab in the middle of the phone. While the last few generations of Curve have not had any charging contacts along the bottom for use with a Charging Stand or Charging Pod accessory, we're guessing we should see some BlackBerry or third party charging stands show up for the 9380 which will slot nicely into this port.
We're starting to get used to the super slender volume buttons - but we still don't love them
The right side of the phone is very clean looking as well, but there are buttons present. They just happen to be really, really tiny buttons that are designed to be felt rather than seen. Looking at the Curve 9380 head on, you can't even see the buttons as the bottom of the device is sloped in. The buttons are of the same soft touch rubber design we saw debut on the Torch 9860 and also featured on the Curve 9360. They are super thin and little more than raised bumps on the side of the phone. At the top are the volume up/down keys, with a mute button in the middle. Further down is the right side convenience key. At first, I hated these buttons on the Torch 9860. They feel a little fragile and are not very visible. Since then I've realized these buttons don't need to be visible - you never actually need to look at them to use them in daily use, so they've grown on me. My new taste is that you either go all out with buttons -- like on the Bold 9900 or P'9981 where they're big and ball'n in metal -- or you go the opposite and try and do everything you can to make them invisible. I still don't love them on the 9380, but I appreciate them.
Screen lock button and headset jack at the top of the phone
The top of the BlackBerry Curve 9380 features two things: a centrally mounted button used for turning the display on and off, along with the 3.5mm headset port.
The 9380 gets an upgraded battery over the 9360 - the JM1 offers 1230mAH of battery life
Under the pain-in-the-butt-to-remove battery door you'll find the 1230mAh JM1 battery. Above the battery and below the Curve badge on the phone you'll find the microSD card slot. It's mounted at an angle that allows for the card to be pulled out even when a battery is installed. That's a good thing, because pulling the battery out of the 9380 is a challenge. It's a tight fit! Under the battery things are clean, minus a spot for the SIM card. As for the battery door, it features an NFC antenna - which we'll take a closer look at later in the review.
The BlackBerry Torch 9860 compared to the Curve 9380
Overall we really like the flowing look of the BlackBerry Curve 9380. It's a small, easy to palm and easy to pocket phone that feels really nice in the hand. Lining it up side-by-side to the Torch 9860 gives you a real sense of just how much smaller the new Curve is in comparison.
Processor / Chipset / Performance
The BlackBerry Curve 9380 features the same 800MHz processor found in its physical keyboard counterparts, the Curve 9360 (and 9350/9370). The Tavor MG-1 comes from Marvell and like the Qualcomm 1.2GHz processor/chipset found in the Bold 9900 and Torches, according to RIM packs the same graphical goodness thanks to a dedicated GPU. For our 9360 review we reached out to RIM to verify the support of Liquid Graphics and OpenGL on the next generation Curves and we assume this holds true for the 9380:
The BlackBerry Curve 9350/9360/9370 all support Liquid Graphics. They each have a GPU and the re-architected graphics pipeline works wonders, so you should notice the fast, responsive UI, which is made possible by Liquid Graphics. And yes, the BlackBerry Curve 9350/9360/9370 models all support OpenGL.
While you can't call it high resolution, the 9380's display is still bright and vivid
The Curve 9380's 3.2" display is OK. It's not great. Put it this way - it's fine as long as you don't compare it to a phone with a better display. At 360x480 resolution in portrait and pixel per inch density of 187, it's essentially the same display that was on the original Torch 9800. Put the newer full touchscreen Torch 9860 next to the Curve 9360 and there's no comparison. With a 3.7" display and 480x800 resolution at 253ppi, the 9860 blows the Curve 9380 away. Looking at a homescreen icon on the 9380, the colors looked washed out and the image looks pixelated in comparison to the same icon on the 9860. Whatever liquid graphics are in the 9380 are definitely not as liquidy.
But again, it's all about trade-offs here. If you want the best touchscreen BlackBerry display available, the Torch 9860 is the clear winner. Is the tradeoff of a lower resolution screen acceptable for a more reasonably priced entry level phone? Maybe. For flipping through photos and watching the odd movie, the display is pretty good still. One area where I really wish the display had more pixels was while browsing the web. When zoomed out it's pretty impossible to read the text on a site like CrackBerry. More pixels are always better in the web browser.
Overall, the Curve 9380's display in everyday use is still pretty bright and vivid. It's only when you compare it to an amazing display that you'll feel short changed. As for the touchscreen input, like other new touchscreen phones from BlackBerry I found it to be adequately responsive.
Typing on the Curve 9380's touchscreen keyboard isn't too bad. Really. Honest!
Ok, Ok. As a long time BlackBerry user I still prefer typing on physical keyboards (the keyboard on the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is frak'n amazing), but I'm not going to knock a phone (anymore) for not having a physical keyboard. I've actually been practicing up my touchscreen typing quite a bit and am getting fast on it.
I actually really love typing in landscape on the Curve 9380. With the size of my hands, in portrait orientation I find the BlackBerry touchscreen keyboard to be just a little too tight for comfortable two thumb action, and that goes for both the Curve 9380 and Torch 9860. And on the Torch 9860 in landscape I find the keyboard to be just a little too big - to the point where my thumbs are traveling further than I want them to. The Curve 9380's keyboard in landscape is pretty perfect - it's big enough that you can type with accuracy yet tight enough to remain efficient.
Auto correct works pretty well, but i still find I have a hard time putting complete faith in it. Is it the best touchscreen keyboard in the business? I'm not so sure about that, but Joseph on the CrackBerry team thinks it is. A lot of keyboard love and hate comes back to your past device history, the size of your hands, your touchscreen dexterity and what you're comfortable with. Overall, it's a pretty decent keyboard.
The BlackBerry Curve 9380 comes with 512MB of RAM, which out of the box leaves approximately 120MB free for applications to be installed. It's not a lot, but most users should be ok with it.
I was actually surprised to learn that the BlackBerry Curve 9380 has a JM1 1230mAh battery, seeing as the Curve 9360 has a 1000mAh battery. The JM-1 is the same battery that is in the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860. I haven't had too many days on the Curve 9380 yet to really get a definite feel on the battery life, but it seems pretty good. Come the end of the day I haven't been into the yellow. Good stuff.
Phone & Audio
Nothing has jumped out at me one way or another on the phone call and audio quality of the Curve 9380. So to that I think it's all good. Phone calls were clear to me and I had no complaints on the other end - part of this is the network, and Rogers is always very good. I cranked up some music to listen through the speaker and took a few calls on speakerphone and that too was ok - if anything maybe the speakerphone was a little quiet. The audiophiles out there will have to report back in the comments with a greater level of detail on the audio feedback, but I don't think there is any deal breaker here as far as audio goes for the 9380.
Photos taken on the BlackBerry Curve 9380's 5 megapixel camera
Unfortunately there is no HD video recording on the Curve 9380. Recording comes in at 640 x 480 pixels. This may or may not be a big deal to most folks, but it's definitely an important factor to me. When social video sites like YouTube support HD, you sort of expect that the phone hardware out there can keep up. This is a brand new phone hitting the market in 2011/early 2012. I want HD!
On the still photo side of things, the five megapixel camera takes decent photos. Like the Bold 9900 and Curve 9360, autofocus has been left off the camera - apparently in the pursuit of building a thin device (or to save money, or both). When I first switched to the Bold 9900 I was hoping that not having autofocus wouldn't be a big deal, but it really is. I can count at least twenty times now where I have gone to snap photos and the lack of autofocus made for frustration. I hope future RIM devices bring autofocus back.
When away from the closeups, the camera takes good pictures. Better when outside with plenty of light. Not quite as good when there's less light. I snapped a few photos above as a representation of what you could expect in everyday life.
The NFC antenna is built into the battery door of the BlackBerry Curve 9380
One of the surprising high end features on the entry level Curve 9380 is the presence of NFC. Built into the battery door is the NFC antenna, which connects back to the phone via two pin connectors (next to the microSD card in the photo above).
NFC use is stlll pretty limited, but Research In Motion will soon be releasing the BlackBerry Tag app which will allow BlackBerry users to put the functionality to use much sooner than later. You can check out a demo of BlackBerry Tag in action below.
Other Internals - Bluetooth, WiFi , GPS and Other Sensors
Bluetooth and WiFi are of course present in the Curve 9380, and everything is up to BlackBerry par. Bluetooth is version 2.1 and it does support stereo bluetooth (A2DP). Wi-Fi is 802.11 b/g/n at 2.4GHz (no WiFi Hotspot). Other sensors include GPS, an orientation sensor (accelerometer) and digital compass (magnetometer) that allow for augmented reality applications like Wikitude, which comes preloaded on the phone.
BlackBerry Curve 9380 Accessories
I'm a big accessories fan, so can't let a review go by without addressing them. We'll have lots of BlackBerry Curve 9380 cases and accessories in our ShopCrackBerry.com store and CrackBerry Canada stores. The form factor is a new one and it's important to note the USB port location on the 9380 is different than that of the 9360, so open face cases won't really work (ports won't line up even though the phone will fit).
BlackBerry Curve 9380 Hardware Wrap-Up
Put it all together and the hardware story of the BlackBerry Curve 9380 is straight forward. The phone looks great and feels great and the rest of the components are good enough to deliver an overall solid experience that should meet the needs of budget minded consumers. A faster processor, better display, better camera and more memory would all be appreciated, but overall BlackBerry experience on the Curve 9380 is still there in a more than acceptable form. Especially when you consider that our new entry model BlackBerry has better specs than what our top of the line BlackBerry Smartphones had not so long ago (and we were pretty darn excited about those phones when they came out!).
BlackBerry 7 OS on the BlackBerry Curve 9380
BlackBerry 7 on the BlackBerry Curve 9380 (landscape)
While RIM is hard at work on their next generation of BlackBerry Operating system, BBX, the company is continuing to breathe new life into the traditional BlackBerry OS platform with incremental improvements and new devices. It doesn't seem like the cross over from the BlackBerry OS to BBX will be a clean cut, so it's likely we'll see overlap with two BlackBerry operating systems in the market for at least a while once BBX goes on sale.
The BlackBerry Curve 9380 features BlackBerry 7, which makes a number of improvements over BlackBerry 6. BlackBerry 6 was a big jump for the BlackBerry OS, which modernized the user experience and optimized it for touchscreen displays (see our extremely in-depth BlackBerry 6 Review). In addition, it introduced a WebKit rendering engine that addressed BlackBerry's historically poor web browsing experience. Some of the more notable features of BlackBerry 7 are the ability to manage homescreen panels, the addition of Voice Universal Search (especially handy on a full touchscreen phone) and further improvements to the web browser.
BlackBerry still doesn't have the app catalog of that the competition has, but there are some great apps on BlackBerry. Everybody is familiar with BlackBerry Messenger and we've begun to see the social success of BBM make its way into more apps and games on the device. The addition of BBM Groups to BlackBerry Messenger turned BBM from a chat application to one of the most useful group sharing services ever. The newly introduced BBM Music service makes discovering music fun. BlackBerry Protect helps do just that - protect your data. Social apps like Facebook and Twitter are preloaded, as is the Social Feeds 2.0 app which lets you stay up to date with your networks and your favorite websites. On the productivity side, Documents to Go Premium is included for free which takes care of Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs. For those who value the BlackBerry way of getting things done, the Curve 9380 out of the box with BlackBerry 7 makes for a more feature rich phone than any previous generation of BlackBerry.
The Crack Team is definitely looking forward to a new generation of BBX phones, but there's still a lot of love and respect for the traditional BlackBerry OS around these parts. It's still the ultimate communication tool with a lot more going for it now than it had in years before.
BlackBerry Curve 9380 Conclusions
The best touchscreen BlackBerry Curve by far! :)
Considering the BlackBerry Curve 9380 is positioned as RIM's entry level touchscreen BlackBerry, it delivers all of the experience of the bigger and better heeled BlackBerry Torch 9860. It just doesn't deliver it with quite the same level of performance. Taking money out of the equation, I think most would opt for the Torch 9860, which doesn't make some of the compononent compromises that the Curve 9380 makes with the aim of keeping the cost low. That said, the Curve 9380 doesn't totally get trumped by the Torch 9860 either. The Curve has NFC, something the 9860 does not have, and personally I prefer typing on the Curve 9380 - and we all know how important the ability to type fast is to a BlackBerry user.
Final verdict? The BlackBerry Curve 9380 is by far the best touchscreen Curve to date! Of course, it's the only touchscreen Curve to date, but it definitely is a worthy addition to the Curve family and it's great to see BlackBerry now have a touchscreen offering in every current device family.
Final prediction? I doubt the Curve 9380 will top any best sellers lists in North America, but internationally and in emerging markets I'm sure it'll be a success. It's an affordable BlackBerry with a full touchscreen. Did you see the craziness at the opening of the BlackBerry store in Jakarta? I'm telling, you... the Curve 9380 will sell.
BlackBerry Curve 9380 Summary
The first touchscreen Curve!
Feels good in the hand
Looks great - a nice evolution to standard BlackBerry touchscreen design
JM-1 seems to deliver pretty solid battery life
BlackBerry 7 features are nice - voice search, digital compass, etc.
Buttons built into the screen look nice but are a bit hard to press
No HD video recording or autofocus on the camera
The super slim volume up/down and convenience key buttons are a little too minimalistic
Battery door is tricky to get off, especially if you don't know how to do it
With 400MHz less processing power than the Torch 9860, the browser doesn't seem as snappy
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