Review: Nextel BlackBerry Curve 8350i Smartphone
Cost: ~$150 w/contract
Sprint recently released their new Nextel BlackBerry Curve 8350i which is the latest iDen BlackBerry after the 7100i. The 8350i is the one in the slick Nextel commercial you might have seen lately, with a bunch of package delivery people running at high school and using the BlackBerry Direct Connect feature to find a missing kid and send him to detention.
Everything in this review is strictly based on the single unit I have and the service available in Manhattan. With that said, here we go…
Hardware: The BlackBerry retains the similar fun, soft and rounded edge feel of the normal BlackBerry Curve. But you quickly notice a few differences: it is a bit thicker, although it doesn’t feel heavier; it has some yellow paint, signifying the Nextel colors (I just don’t think yellow blends in well); and shortcut buttons on both sides (one is a programmable shortcut and the other for the Direct Connect feature). The shell is made out of shiny plastic and soft rubber, giving it a funny feeling, but making it feel like it could handle a few falls and dings. The QWERTY keyboard buttons are soft and rounded, unlike the 8800 keys that are kind of hard and hurt my thumbs. The device comes with a slick hard plastic ratcheting belt holster unlike the useless leather sleeve that comes with other carriers’ Curves. Other than that, seems standard.
NOTE: I did notice that the 8350i from Sprint does not have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack like other recent BlackBerrys. That means that regular headphones will not work. It has a 2.5mm headphone jack and comes with a headset that fits into it. Supposedly, the TELUS version does have a standard headphone jack.
Internal hardware: Unlike most other BlackBerrys, the 8350i is equipped with an extra radio for the Nextel Direct Connect feature. The Direct Connect feature itself is probably helpful to people who work in exclusive small groups and need to communicate en masse. Using it between friends is pretty fun if you like walkie-talkies. Basic push-talk, let go-listen idea. It took me time to remember how to use it, I did some talking to myself by forgetting to push or let go of the button. Plus, another cool aspect is that it works on different radio spectrums so it can work in places without reception (rumor is it works in the subway). However, I am not sure I see average people using it when out and about. When in public, it would probably kind of annoy other people around because the phone makes a loud pitched beep and then you carry on a loud speakerphone conversation, but that’s just me; a GPS chip to provide location and GPS navigational services; 2 Megapixel digital camera and flash for photography; and a wireless card built in so you can connect to the Internet quickly over WiFi when available. Other than that, standard BlackBerry.
Software: The 8350i comes loaded with the new BlackBerry OS 4.6.1. Other newer devices have it, but for an older BlackBerry base model (the Curve), it can be surprising that it comes with the newest OS. The new operating system has most of the features of the previous version and a few nice bonuses. The media manager system has been upgraded to a nicer, slicker interface. It even remembers the last place you were at when you exit. However, at times you just wish it would start over so you didn’t have to listen to the same thing you were in the mood for yesterday before manually reverting back to the main menu and to something else.
The Web browser displays full webpages now in a pretty readable way, giving you a full picture of the real webpage and then allowing you to zoom in and read what interests you. Though often, when a mobile version of the website exists, you are automatically directed to it. But it’s nice to know you can get the full page if a mobile version isn’t available. The “Go To” page has tailored search pages for some common search engines and predictive text at times based on previous searches.
I thought it was great that they are finally bundling messaging application with the operating system. The device ships with Google Talk.
GPS and maps software: The bundled Maps software is nowhere near as good as the Google Maps program you can download. With that said, the “start GPS navigation” feature only really works with the built-in map program, so you have to use it. But the big problem lies in the functionality of the GPS unit itself. It is well known that GPS does not work indoors, but I tried to use the GPS feature outside on the sidewalk numerous times in numerous places (uptown and downtown) and only once did it actually locate me. Every other time, it just looked for satellites forever until I had to give up. The GPS feature would have been really helpful… if it worked.
To be honest, there is a separate Navigation application that is bundled, but I could only access it if I paid a monthly service fee and got a user name and password (which I don’t have), so I don’t know if there is any better GPS functionality when using that, but seeing how a GPS chip should be able to work independently and without any specified service, there shouldn’t be much difference. Or maybe it’s just a big city thing?
General Nextel data connection speed: Nextel uses its own data network and that is REALLY slow. For email and internet messaging, the connection speed is fine, typical BlackBerry use. When trying to load a mobile version of a Web page, it is also pretty decent. But when trying to load a full desktop layout Web page, it can be unbearable, sometimes around 15-20 seconds. This is obviously slower than typical 3G speeds and even noticeably slower than AT&T’s old slow EDGE
Camera: The 2-Megapixel camera is pretty decent at picture taking. It has a flash that works well, but sometimes takes blurry pictures. The pictures are printable when taken well, and easily good enough for sharing with friends via whatever service you choose.
All in all, if you are already with Nextel, this is typical BlackBerry goodness. It has great email connectivity, great messaging software and it has a sturdy and fun feeling construction. Plus, it has the Nextel Direct Connect feature built in. All good things that make this a pretty decent and reliable phone. However, the GPS is so dysfunctional that it is a waste of space. If you aren’t locked in with Nextel, the data service is really pretty slow. But it does have WiFi, so surfing at home or the office when using your Internet connection there should help a bit. Depending on your situation, this could be the right phone for you, BUT there is definitely room for improvement.