Ahead of the curve
Test Drive | BlackBerry's newest model combines a lot of the best smart-phone features
GOOD CALL: The BlackBerry Curve feels more like a phone that previous BlackBerrys. The trackball in the center is another design improvement.
Research in Motion
With a Palm Treo's body and a BlackBerry's brain, Research in Motion's latest smart phone ' called the Curve, or the 8300 ' offers the best of both worlds.
One of the most annoying things about smart phones is their inability to use standard ports to connect to your computer or to charge the battery. Come to think of it, the lack of standardization with this technology has been driving me mad for years.
But RIM has put together a phone that not only takes advantage of other technologies but adds everything you need in a true enterprise client. The Curve interfaces with your computer or wall socket via a basic four-pin USB connection.
Just as nice is the standard miniSD card ' common and inexpensive ' that enhances the 64M of built-in memory.
The one drawback is the placement of the miniSD port. When I first received the unit, I searched in vain for the miniSD card slot until, by coincidence, while I was installing my SIM card inside the chassis, I noticed a tiny, hard-to-open card slot behind the battery.
I use a host of video, pictures and audio files to test the unit, and I can't express enough what a pain it is to have to turn off the unit, take out the battery, unhook the SD slot, take out the old card, put in the new card, reconnect the battery and power up the unit just to get a file from another card.
Despite this drawback, the other features of the 8300 are impressive.
Given the number of media and Internet-driven applications in the Curve, the 31-MHz Intel PXA901 Hermon processor does a great job of processing executions and maintaining a constant flow during navigation.
Additionally, RIM kept simple what needed to be simple, with Version 4.2.2 of their BlackBerry operating system with Java support.
This operating system is easy to learn and even easier to do things with, such as sending e-mail or organizing your schedule.
Weighing 111 grams and measuring 4.2 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches, the Curve isn't much larger than any other standard smart phone on the market and is certainly a lot easier to carry than the older BlackBerry, which had a wider frame.
The new design, similar to the Treo's, makes the Curve feel more like a phone than previous BlackBerry models. Its rechargeable lithium-ion battery gives the user four hours of talk time or 17 days on standby.
Another great feature is the 2.4-inch QVGA screen capable of producing a sharp, 320-by-240-pixel image, which makes pictures seem as if they are popping out of the handheld.
RIM also corrected some form-factor issues.
Most left-handed people will tell you the worst feature on the old BlackBerry was location of the the navigation track wheel on the right-hand side of the device. RIM ditched the wheel and went with a trackball, located in the center of the front of the device between the LCD and the QWERTY keyboard.
A final positive feature that RIM included in the Curve is the Push to Talk capability. This feature makes the Curve act like a walkie-talkie, or more commonly a Nextel phone. Now you can communicate with any other phone that has the same Push to Talk feature.
Prices vary depending upon carrier, but the feature is nice to have, nevertheless.
Despite some overly rigid chassis features, RIM's new Curve is a great phone for anyone who needs a portable office.
And despite the steep retail price of $449 quoted by our test carrier, AT&T, the advanced e-mail, Internet and media features of the Curve are worth every penny.