Review: BlackBerry Curve 8330

Rejoice o ye CDMAites! The Curve is come! Praise the lord and pass the PDAs!

Customers of Verizon and other North American CDMA-based cellular providers can finally lay their hands on one of the hottest PDA phones, Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry Curve, the smallest, lightest cell phone with a full QWERTY keyboard.

The original Curve 8300, which we reviewed here, is a GSM device. It took almost six months for a CDMA version to become readily available. Telus and Bell in Canada introduced the Curve 8330 earlier this year and Verizon launched it in May. Sprint and Alltel now have it as well.

Verizon sells the 8330 for $200 with a two-year contract, $300 with a one-year contract. Bell and Telus in Canada sell it with one-, two- or three-year contracts, or no contract, for $200, $400, $500 or $550 (Bell), $200, $450, $500 or $550 (Telus). Voice, e-mail and data packages are, needless to say, extra.

The Curve 8330 is not significantly different from the original 8300 model. It's not a quad-band world phone, of course, but it is a dual-band 800/1900 MHz device. Best of all, it works on super-fast CDMA-based EV-DO networks.

Like most Curve models, the 8330 includes an on-board GPS receiver, and the carriers are offering turn-by-turn navigation services. Verizon has VZ Navigator, which is based on the AtlasBook platform from Networks in Motion (NIM). Telus is also using NIM. Bell uses technology from TeleNav Inc.

Unlike the Curve 8320, a GSM model available from T-Mobile and Wirefly in the U.S. and directly from RIM in Canada, the 8330 does not include Wi-Fi, which is a great pity.

Though it's not a lot different from the original Curve, we wanted to try out the 8330's GPS navigation features and test network connectivity over EV-DO - and generally take a second look at a product that has had a lot of hype, and some criticism.

We originally reviewed the Curve as a better - if not as sleek - version of the BlackBerry Pearl, RIM's first foray into the consumer/business market.

The Pearl had a crummy 1.3-megapixel camera, you couldn't plug in standard stereo headphones to take full advantage of its music playing ability and its 20-key SureType keyboard, while impressive technology, was slower to type on than a QWERTY keyboard. With the Curve, RIM appeared to be trying to correct these problems.

The video-capable camera is 2 megapixels, which is an improvement, but it's a long way from the best in phone cameras. The Curve also lets you use standard headphones, although listening on the 8330 confirms our belief that all-in-one devices are not the way to go if you care at all about music. The 8330 sounds tinny and digital. That said, it's fine for spoken-word recordings.

The QWERTY keyboard is good, a definite improvement over the Pearl's Sure-Type keyboard, although the keyboard on the Motorola Q 9h is marginally better if only because bigger.

The Q 9h, a Windows Mobile device often compared to the Curve, is bigger all over, although slightly thinner. The Curve, in fact, is nothing if not a marvel of miniaturization: 4.2 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches (107x15.5mm) and about 3.9 ounces (111g).

We still like the screen, a backlit TFT LCD (240 x 320 pixels, 65,000 colors). And we like the fact that the Curve includes a microSD card slot (in the battery compartment). But my goodness! Could they not have included at least a 1GB card? Two-gigabyte microSDs sell for as little as $15 online, so how much would RIM (or Verizon) have to pay for bulk purchase 1GB cards?

For more about the generally excellent Curve interface and RIM-provided bundled software - about which there is little new to add - see our original review.

We had heard complaints recently about voice quality on BlackBerries in general, so wanted to pay closer attention when making calls on the 8330. The trouble is, there are a few variables involved. At the simplest level, is it the network or is it the device?

We tested the 8330 on the Telus network in Canada. Yes, it did sound a bit tinny and digital - hmmm, didn't we just say that about music playback? - but all the calls were perfectly clear and audible. The Curve, as noted in the original review, also has a pretty decent, relatively distortion-free speaker phone. And it works well with Bluetooth hands-free headsets.

One of the things we particularly wanted to test on the 8330 was its performance as a tethered modem on the EV-DO network, providing - or so RIM and operators claim - broadband wireless connectivity for laptops. After all, who needs a PC card modem, or even a Boingo Wi-Fi subscription, if they have a phone that can do the job?

TAGS:

Blackberry, RIM, BlackBerry Curve, Research In Motion
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