The BlackBerry Curve 8900 is RIM's new mid-range Qwerty device, sitting somewhere between the bigger Bold and Storm and the non-Qwerty Pearl and Flip. The previous 8300 series Curves found favour with corporate buyers by providing a well-featured and usable handset in a very pocketable form factor, and the new Curve 8900 is a natural evolution.
Slightly smaller, slimmer design
It's slightly slimmer than its predecessor, but otherwise it maintains the original Curve's size and weight. The design is heavily influenced by its big, Bold brother, so it looks great with its black and metal styling, and is a smartphone you won't feel ashamed to pull from your pocket during a business meeting. The relatively small form factor means that the keypad is narrow, but despite that it's quite usable and accurate.
|Pick your QWERTY: The Nokia E71, the new Blackberry Curve 8900, and the Blackberry Bold side by side. the new Curve is slightly skinnier than the Bold, and therefore a bit more pocket-friendly
The Curve 8900 uses the same OS 4.6 platform as the Bold, meaning that it gets a much improved web browser (with Ajax support), a continuous spell-checker, proper support for Excel documents, and a new "bedside" mode that effectively transforms the BlackBerry into a very expensive digital clock, turning off alerts and vibrations so you're not disturbed when catching up on your beauty sleep.
As with all other BlackBerry handsets, the Curve 8900 can be connected to BIS, which polls existing POP3, IMAP, and other email accounts on a regular basis, or BES, which is a proper enterprise class push-email system connecting directly to your Exchange, GroupWise or Domino mail servers. We tested it with both, and it worked flawlessly. With BES an email will often arrive on your phone before it appears in Outlook. Received emails can be in HTML format, and most attachment formats can be viewed, with Word and Excel files being editable.
We found call sensitivity slightly better than the Curve 8310, which will be a welcome improvement if you live or work in a marginal reception area.
Camera and screen quality
Another improvement is the camera, which has been beefed up to include a 3.2-megapixel sensor, an autofocus lens, and image stabilisation. Our test images were clear, bright and sharp.
The clarity of those photos and the cleanliness of the tweaked user interface are both easily appreciated on the 480 x 360 pixel screen. It's more than twice the resolution of the original Curve, and it even beats the Bold. As well as letting you watch your stock prices fall in tear-inducing clarity, it's a great advantage for web pages, navigation and business applications such as SAP. We found that the increased processor speed (now 512MHz) helps keep the user interface snappy, although at 5mins 25secs our supplied device did seem to take an awfully long time to boot from cold.
The big omission: no 3G
The new 8900 includes both Wi-Fi and GPS, unlike the 8310. Don't make the mistake of thinking that with these toys on board it's simply a Bold in a smaller, neater package though, as there's one very important omission: there's no 3G with the Curve 8900, so data speeds are limited to GPRS or EDGE.
There's an argument that the lack of 3G doesn't matter so much with a BlackBerry, since the very nature of the system is to package up and use data in a very efficient way. But no doubt some people will be put off by the lack of 3G connectivity, especially since the single radio system means that you can't surf the web or receive email while you're making a voice call.
|The Curve on top, and the Blackberry Bold on the bottom.
Others might bemoan the phone's vibrate facility, for which the only appropriate adjective is "pathetic", making it all too easy to miss important calls and emails, even with the device in a shirt or trouser pocket. And, in common with many recent smartphones, the data and charging socket is now micro USB, rather than the traditional BlackBerry mini USB. It's an annoyance if you already have a collection of leads and chargers, but ultimately, micro USB seems to be the way the mobile device world is moving.
But battery life, which has always been one of the BlackBerry key strengths, is good and the 1400mAh cell in the Curve 8900 means that in normal use it will last for several days between charges - it managed a huge 98hrs 22mins in our real-world tests. However, do bear in mind that if you switch either the Wi-Fi or GPS on the battery will drain much faster.
Most existing Curve (and older BlackBerry) users will find the 8900 a worthy and welcome upgrade. The keyboard is good, the screen is great and the battery life extremely impressive. The feeble vibrate may be a problem for some, and the lack of 3G just about keeps it off our A List, but despite these niggles it still deserves a Recommended award.