Before I got my BlackBerry Bold I was a BlackBerry Curve user. I had a T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve 8320. The 8320 has Wi-Fi and supports Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA). The other Curve models were 8300, and 8310. The 8310 has GPS but no Wi-Fi. The 8300 has neither GPS nor Wi-Fi. I chose the 8320 so I could make use of the free calling on UMA.
The original Curve is a great BlackBerry. It fits in your hand well, it is light, the keyboard is great, and the screen is beautiful. When you made the choice on which Curve to buy however, you had to decide whether you wanted Wi-Fi or GPS. Wi-Fi allows for UMA (translation free calling) and super fast Wi-Fi browsing if you associate with a HotSpot. GPS allows for location based services (LBS). Sometimes it became a tough choice because after all, wouldn't we all rather have it all?
Well when RIM sent me the new BlackBerry Curve 8900 to review I was excited. This new Curve doesn't make you have to choose. On top of that, it is a jump forward in technology and features that are very welcomed indeed.
To get a better idea how the old Curve 8320 stacks up against the new Curve 8900, let us compare some of the physical attributes. These will cover the size and weight, but also screen resolution, camera, and memory.
BlackBerry Curve 8320 vs. BlackBerry Curve 8900
| BlackBerry Curve 8320
|| BlackBerry Curve 8900
|Size (length, width, depth)||4.21"/107mm x 2.36"/60mm x 0.61"/15.5mm||4.29"/109mm x 2.36"/60 mm x 0.53"/13.5 mm|
|Weight (including battery)||3.91 oz/111g||3.88 oz/110g|
|Screen resolution||320x240 pixels||480x360 pixels|
|Camera||2.0 Megapixel with flash||3.2 Megapixel with mechanical auto focus and flash|
| CPU Speed
||312 MHz||512 MHz|
| On-board memory
||64 Megabytes||256 Megabytes|
|Radios||GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900, Wi-Fi||GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900, GPS, Wi-Fi|
From a size standpoint this new Curve 8900 is 2mm longer than its predecessor, but in your hand it feels exactly the same. Incredibly this Curve 8900 is actually 2mm thinner than its predecessor even though it is packing more radios and features. This new Curve 8900 is also a little lighter weighing in at 110g with its battery installed. When you hold it, you can actually feel that it is lighter.
While this new Curve is almost the same size as its predecessor, it looks a lot better. The new lines on the Curve 8900 look more modern with a hint of those BlackBerry Bold design cues.
The build quality of the Curve 8900 feels better than the older 8320. Although it is still all plastic, the new Curve feels solid. The old Curve would creek slightly if you squeezed it too hard. The new one does not. The back cover looks like it is brushed aluminum but it is really plastic. Even though it is plastic, it fits on nicely and has a new clip which is an improvement over the old Curve.
T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve 8900 Back
On the left of the Curve 8900 there is no head phone jack as on the Curve 8320. In fact the only thing on the left side is the left side convenience button (which is defaulted to voice dialing). On the right side you find the 3.5mm head phone jack, volume control, right side convenience button (defaulted to camera), and the micro-USB connector. I like the micro-USB connector because it is very thin and small and less noticeable.
The BlackBerry Curve 8900 in hand
Under the battery door things have been rearranged. The battery is now horizontal as opposed to vertical on the old Curve. This allows for the SIM card and MicroSD card to be inserted and removed without having to remove the battery. This is a great idea and makes up for the lack of external MicroSD slot that can be found on the BlackBerry Bold.
New battery configuration
The top of the Curve 8900 has the normal lock and mute buttons, but they are not physical buttons. Well there are but they are hidden under the skin of the 8900. So to press the button, you just press on top of the button icon. This helps smooth out the 8900's lines even more.
Finally the Curve 8900's track ball is different. It is black and does not illuminate, but rather a ring around the trackball illuminates instead. This adds to the "cool factor".
Like the BlackBerry Curve 8320, this new Curve 8900 can play many different video and audio formats. You can use the Roxio Media Manager that comes with the BlackBerry Desktop Software to move multimedia files between your computer and handheld. Roxio even converts them on the fly so that they look and sound good on the Curve.
You can also synchronize your Curve with iTunes by using the BlackBerry Media Sync. BlackBerry Media Sync connects to iTunes and allows you to choose which media or playlists to synchronize with your BlackBerry. It even grabs the album art. BlackBerry Media Sync will not be able to synchronize iTunes media that has embedded Digital Rights Management (DRM) but as Apple announced recently, they will eventually be dropping all DRM so this will resolve itself as you migrate your library to DRM free.
BlackBerry Media Sync
You can of course include podcasts in the synchronization process, but the BlackBerry does not see them as podcasts, but just another audio or video file. It would be great if Media Sync handled podcasts like an iPhone. Other than that I had no complaints finding songs by artist, albums, or genre.
The camera on the Curve 8900 is a huge improvement over its predecessor. This camera is a 3.2 megapixel camera with a flash, however in my opinion the best feature about this new camera is that it has mechanical auto focus. Yes you read correctly. This camera actually has moving parts.
When I first used the camera I was surprised to find that the right convenience button which is used for the camera, has two positions. If you press lightly on the button, it depresses halfway. This causes the camera to bring up a box over the image which turns green once the image is in focus. Then once it is in focus, you press harder on the button and it depresses all the way and the picture is taken. This auto focus allows you to take pictures of people up close without the normal blur from a fixed focus camera. The auto focus also helps for all pictures by correctly focusing and making the images much sharper. This combined with the high resolution means much, much better pictures.
Here is a picture taken on a BlackBerry Bold and the new Curve 8900. Both BlackBerrys were placed in the exact same position and were resting on a solid surface to prevent any movement.
The keyboard seems to be the same size as the old Curve and the keys seem to be the same size as well. The keys themselves are slanted away from the center of the keyboard very slightly which seems to help accuracy. I can't remember if the old Curve was like this but I have a feeling that the keys were actually all flat and not slanted. These slanted keys seem to really help. The keyboard has the same key depress feel as before. I had no problems typing quickly even though I have big thumbs. I also like the fact that the keys that have phone functionality are red, like the number keys and the speaker phone key.
The T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve 8900 has the typical BlackBerry interface. It ships running BlackBerry Handheld OS 184.108.40.206 which is very snappy to navigate around (partly thanks to the much faster 512 MHz CPU). Comparing it to the BlackBerry Bold I found that the Curve was only a microsecond behind the Bold when launching applications, but all other functions seemed equally as fast as the Bold (or at least my eyes couldn't tell the difference).
Because this is a T-Mobile BlackBerry it comes with the MyFaves application pre-installed. MyFaves is a T-Mobile specific service that allows calls to your favorite five people to remain free. The MyFaves application is a 3D spinning wheel allowing you to spin around to the person you want to call. This application sits on the home screen of the Curve and is in focus, or selected by default.
The one thing that was a little off-putting was that the MyFaves is always in-focus (selected) whenever you opened the home screen. On other BlackBerrys the icon bar is in-focus (selected) by default so you can just click for email. Here you have to first scroll down, and then click for email. Even if you hide the MyFaves application, the focus is still not on the icon bar still requiring a scroll then click. It's a bit nitpicky but it may just be me. I'm sure that T-Mobile and RIM can address this if you choose to hide the MyFaves application.
Other than that MyFaves is a great idea, and the interface is well implemented on the BlackBerry.
T-Mobile has also made sure that this BlackBerry has all of the Instant Messaging (IM) clients pre-installed. Included are AIM, GTalk, ICQ, Yahoo!, and Windows Live, plus of course the BlackBerry Messenger.
Messenger Clients Galore (anybody still use ICQ?)
Zooming in on the pages is pretty quick, but scrolling up and down is too slow. The browser seems unable to keep up and displays a grey background while it gets itself into gear.
CrackBerry as seen from the Curve 8900
National Geographic as seen from the Curve 8900 (Full)
National Geographic as seen from the Curve 8900 (zoomed)
The Curve 8900 comes with DocumentsToGo pre-installed (in fact it is part of the OS). DocumentsToGo allows you to download the real attachment to your BlackBerry (as opposed to before where you would be able to only view a distilled version of the attachment). You can then choose to edit that attachment, and even save a revised copy and email it directly from your BlackBerry.
Documents To Go
DocumentsToGo supports Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files and today T-Mobile supports this extra functionality on their BlackBerry Internet Server (BIS) infrastructure.
Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA)
The BlackBerry Curve 8900 supports UMA. UMA does two things. It expands T-Mobile's network by using Wi-Fi Hot Spots as extra antennas, and it allows free calling while in Wi-Fi coverage if you choose to add that service to your bill. The Curve 8900 roams seamlessly between Wi-Fi and regular cell phone coverage even in the middle of a call with no audible breakdown.
If you would like to learn more about UMA and how it can save you money, click here to read my UMA article.
Now that we have been spoiled with the BlackBerry Bold and its fast 3G HSDPA radio which provides much faster downloads and video streaming, it is inevitable that people will see the lack of 3G on the Curve 8900 as a weak point. It would be great to have 3G on the Curve 8900 but that would mean sacrificing the size and weight of the Curve. To get similar battery life with 3G as we are used to on EDGE or GPRS requires bigger batteries and space for that extra radio. With rumors of a 3G Curve kicking around for a while now, it'll be interesting to see exactly what the casing of this device looks like when it hits - I doubt that it will clock in as small and leightweight.
This is a T-Mobile US device and as of right now, T-Mobile US has just started rolling out their 3G network. In addition it runs on a completely different frequency to the other carriers so even if you SIM unlock the Bold, it will not get 3G on T-Mobile US's network. T-Mobile US does not sell the Bold so current T-Mobile customers will not have the Bold as a comparison device. However the Bold is out there and is very popular for all of its features and professional design.
If we look at this situation through a T-Mobile US filter, there is no issue. No Bold, no 3G. Through this filter, the Curve 8900 is the best BlackBerry being offered by T-Mobile US right now. It has all of the features of the Bold, a much better camera than the Bold, more on-board memory at 256 megabytes, UMA support for free calls, and it is much smaller and lighter than the Bold.
If we look at this situation with no filter and view the Curve 8900 as it stacks up against other devices like the Bold, then there is a choice. If you must have 3G then you must get the Bold. If you are not that worried about 3G but want the best BlackBerry to date, then you get the Curve 8900. When making your choice remember that with 3G comes more weight and size. In addition the Curve 8900's camera is far superior to the Bold or earlier Curve cameras with its mechanical auto focus and large 3.2 megapixel resolution. There is also UMA for free calling, and finally 256 Megabytes of on-board memory, the largest yet.
This is a hot BlackBerry. It not only updates the Curve brand but it turns it into a super BlackBerry. There is nothing to hate about the Curve 8900. It has Wi-Fi, GPS, UMA, a quad band GSM radio, a beautiful 480x360 screen, a 3.2 megapixel camera with a mechanical auto focus, a fast CPU, and a snappy GUI.
This T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve 8900 has all the right features to make it a perfect consumer smartphone, however it is also right at home in a corporate environment allowing its user to balance serious work life with his or her home life.
B2B availability will begin the week of January 26th (or sooner as many CrackBerry.com members have discovered and taken advantage of) and full retail availability begins on February 11th. Pricing is $199 with a 2 year T-Mobile contract.
[ Craig Johnston is the author of Professional BlackBerry and is CrackBerry.com's Podcast co-host and resident enterprise guru and all-round BlackBerry expert. If you have an enterprise application or topic that you would like to have addressed by Craig, send him an email at crackberrycraig @ crackberry.com. ]