I used the new BlackBerry Curve 9380 for testing purposes after RIM was so kind as to provide me with a review unit and today, y’all get to read my thoughts on this new little bit of BlackBerry hotness. Before we get into the review, however, I thought I would put a quick bullet point summation right here so if you want everything quick and dirty you get your wish.
- Good battery life
- Great screen.
- Acceptably specs on the camera
- Moved the Mute button from the top to between the volume buttons (side).
- Speakers are LOUD
- Autocorrect did a good job figuring out what keys I meant to hit.
- Bottom buttons (Send, Menu, Escape, & End) are VERY hard to push.
- Screen lock button on top, very hard to push.
- Build quality.
- Onscreen keyboard wasn’t the greatest to use.
- I never figured out HOW the autocorrect was learning so I didn’t know how to train it properly.
This phone is tiny, so tiny it is hard to believe it is a piece of advanced technology and not a toy. It is light to hold in your hands or put in your pocket. It is thin so you barely feel it in your pocket when it is there and sometimes I felt myself checking to make sure it was actually in there. Great job on this front RIM!
To illustrate the thinness of this device I borrowed a friend’s iPhone 4 and held the two together then took a picture of them from the side, check it out below.
The 9380 is the first BlackBerry device of the Curve lineup to not have a physical keyboard and that is where I thought we would start. BlackBerry devices in general (aside from the Storm series and now part of the Torch series) have always been renowned for their awesome physical QWERTY keyboards. I love using my Bold 9900 on a regular basis as its keyboard is just an absolute joy to type on. However, for the Curve 9380 BlackBerry decided to do away with the physical keyboard and go rely on the onscreen keyboard entirely as they did on the Torch 9850 and 9860.
I have not extensively used the aforementioned Torch devices so I cannot compare their onscreen keyboards to the Curve 9380’s but, overall, I was not impressed with my experience on the 9380. The touchscreen was really responsive and the auto-correct did one heck of a job realizing what I meant as I typed but it just wasn’t the same as using a physical keyboard which is part of what I love about my BlackBerry devices. The other thing which irked at me while using it was the way the keyboard had been designed. Case in point, in order to get to the “&” and “$” symbols I’d have to click the Number key to get the device to show numbers and then hit the Symbols key to get it to show the symbols. That was way, way too many steps. Beyond that, I don’t know why RIM didn’t feel the need to give us our “ALT” keys as they have on every other device so we can access numbers and symbols from the main keyboard. I found my typing efficiency dropped significantly and when it came time to attend a conference you best believe I switched right back to my Bold 9900 because I knew I would be tweeting up a storm that day and just couldn’t take having all my attention devoted to trying to type on the Curve 9380 when I could touch type on the physical keyboard of my 9900.
I tested the Curve 9380 with a Fido SIM card on the Rogers network in Toronto, Canada.* I found the earpiece to produce good sound and call quality was great. There were no complaints from my friends and family about the reproduction of my voice by the 9380’s microphone. All in all, a great job by RIM for keeping one of the most important aspects of any cellular phone up to snuff – the actual phone.
*Rogers owns Fido and all Fido subscribers have service provided to them on Rogers’ network as Fido does not operate its own.
I love that RIM has decided, on BlackBerry 7 OS devices, to move the Mute key away from the top of their device and put it between the Volume Up and Volume Down keys on the side. On the Torch 9800 I always found the top placement to be a huge pain as I would constantly put people on Mute by accident when using a headset and putting the phone in my pocket. The side buttons, while they took some getting used to, were quite good and very responsive. These included the “Convenience Key” as well as the Volume Up, Volume Down, and Mute keys.
What I wasn’t a fan of, however, were the bottom line keys around the trackpad – the Send key, the Menu key, the Escape key, and the End key. I found these keys way too difficult to push. In fact, it almost felt as if I was going to flip the phone over and out of my hands when I pressed them. The same went for the Screen Lock key on top of the device. I felt it was just too difficult to push but, reflecting on it further, for that particular key which performs a locking/unlocking function that isn’t such a bad thing.
The battery life of the Curve 9380 was quite sufficient. I judge this based on how I use other devices and have yet to find a device by any manufacturer which I can take off the charger in the morning and use until I go to bed at night.
The Curve 9380’s battery is the same JM1 model which gives you 1230mAh and is the same as almost all the other new BlackBerry 7 OS devices – the Bold 9930/9900, Torch 9860/9850, and Bold 9790 (the only exception being the Torch 9810). This will be great for anyone who wants to replace their battery in a year or so as it means there will be plenty of them on the market. However, if you’re a user of BlackBerry devices who is used to going days without plugging in your phone, I am sorry to say but the advent of touchscreens has killed this expectation and charging our phones nightly or more is now the reality.
One thing to be aware of is the way that RIM had to engineer the battery door. In order to open the door you have to get your nail under a little indentation on the left side of the device below the charging port. RIM did a great job illustrating this when you first get the device by including a white circle on the phone’s protective plastic covering around this little indentation to indicate its importance to a new user. Great way to think ahead for the average user RIM! (See photo above to illustrate what I mean by this.)
It was also interesting to note that the Curve 9380’s charging port is flipped upside down relative to every other BlackBerry’s micro USB charging port. What I mean by this is that the wider part of the Micro USB is towards the top of the device so don’t try and shove it in if it doesn’t seem to fit when you first get the device, try flipping the USB plug over. I assume they did this for size purposes.
IN THE BOX
My review device came with a stereo headset, a Micro USB cable, and an international travel charger with 3 charging clips. I am told the providers will be selling the Curve 9380 across the board with a MicroSD card in the box but I did not receive one with my review unit.
At the end of the day this is a Curve device and not a flagship Bold. The 9380’s processor is a relatively low 800 MHz for those of us coming to expect higher speed processors but given its placement in the marketplace is more than sufficient. I found the 512MB of memory to also be fine but required supplement of a memory card if you want to really use that camera. At times I found the device to be a little bit slow but I also realized that I was using an engineering/pre-release build of the BlackBerry 7 OS for this device so can’t really pass any serious judgments.
To get a sense of just how new the OS/device was check this out: During testing my up-to-date version of BlackBerry Desktop Software for Windows didn’t recognize my device as a Curve 9380 until well into the testing phase.
The 3.2” HVGA+ touch screen on the Curve 9380 was a joy to use. In contrast with my Bold 9900 which I sometimes have a hard time using with my polarized sunglasses on I found the 9380’s screen to have no trouble penetrating my sunglasses polarization even on a bright, sunny day. The touchscreen is smooth and responsive and I have absolutely no complaints about it. Everything about it just worked well.
For all you tech spec lovers, the screen is a 480×360 Transmissive (TFT) LCD display. The screen has a pixel resolution of 188 dpi (dots per inch).
The 5MP EDOF (Extended Depth of Field) camera which includes a flash and is capable of VGA video recording does a good job of capturing your memories. I have included comparison pictures of it with the photos taken on the camera of the Bold 9900’s 5MP camera. I will say, however, that I found the 9900’s camera to do a better job but, then again, the Bold is the flagship line and the Curve is not. For the money I think the 9380 does a great job capturing your precious moments.
For the purposes of the pictures below I took them seconds apart and as close to exactly the same as I could without using a tripod.
Toronto Police Court Services van taken with Curve 9380
Same van as above, photo taken with Bold 9900.
Building in Toronto, taken with Curve 9380.
Same building in Toronto, taken with Bold 9900.
RATING & FINAL THOUGHTS
As an all around smartphone for someone new to the world of BlackBerry I give this device a 7/10.
But, as a BlackBerry device I give it a 6/10 as I found so much of the BlackBerry experience relied upon a great keyboard and well-made keys.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find well-made physical keys to be the case on this device. For someone new to the BlackBerry world this may be a great device providing BBM and PIM services as only a BlackBerry can but, at the same time, sticking with the touchscreen-only wave which has been sweeping the market. For someone used to their beloved BlackBerry keyboard though, this device isn’t the greatest replacement unless you have a lot of time on your hands for the learning ‘curve.’
For its placement in the market I think this will be a great holiday gift for a young adult just getting their first smartphone but for the serious business user and someone already addicted to the RIMethamphetamine from Waterloo, Ontario I don’t think this will satisfy your desires. I could see this being a superb vacation/weekend device when you want to remain connected but not too connected. Without the physical keyboard I saw it more as a consumption device than a productivity device.
The device is currently available in Canada by Bell ($49.95 on a 3 year contract and $374.95 outright), TELUS ($49.99 on a 3 year contract and $369.99 outright), and Mobilicity ($299.99 outright). Be aware, however, that the Mobilicity incarnation uses AWS 3G on the 1700/2100 MHz bands (like T-Mobile USA and Cincinnati Bell) while the Bell and TELUS versions use the 3G signal that AT&T uses on the 850/1900 MHz bands.