The place -- a dark bar, somewhere in Waterloo, Ontario. A somewhat dejected BlackBerry Pearl downs its fifth drink (a BlackBerry Schnapps, naturally) and glances across the bar. A chubby BlackBerry 8800 starts giving it the eye. It too was intended to be a consumer model, but its rather thick and plain design meant it never pulled at the bar too early. A drunken haze, a hotel room and not quite nine months later, and we have the BlackBerry 8300, AKA the BlackBerry Curve.
OK, well, that's probably not how it happened exactly, but it's a damn sight more interesting than a bunch of R&D documents, a marketing schema, or for that matter the incredibly annoying background music that permeates RIM's BlackBerry Curve website. And it's also an apt way to outline the Curve's basic design. It shares the "Pearl" trackball of both units, but has a full QWERTY keyboard, a la the 8800. Its physical dimensions (107 by 60 by 15.5mm) mean that the keyboard is marginally smaller than that of the 8800. The rear of the Curve sports a 2-megapixel camera and the seemingly requisite tiny mirror for the purposes of self portraiture.
First, the good news. The Curve is a quad-band GSM phone (800/850/1800/1900MHz), meaning you could take it pretty much anywhere in the world where they've heard of mobile phones, and several places where they haven't -- yep, even Bundarra -- and it should work as a basic phone and email client. The bad news, however, comes in what the Curve doesn't offer. There's no HSDPA. There's no GPS -- which the 8800 offered, albeit sans maps. There's no Wi-Fi. There is Bluetooth, including Bluetooth audio. The Curve offers microSD card compatibility, but annoyingly the slot is underneath the battery, which means you'll have to power it down each time you want to remove the card.
Naturally enough, being a BlackBerry, there's support for BlackBerry and POP3 email, along with some less business-centric applications such as media playback and the strangely hypnotic and yet still awful BrickBreaker game.
We don't often comment on voice quality in reviews, as it's such a variable thing depending on so many factors, but the one thing that we've struck with other BlackBerry units also irked us with the Curve; they don't come with particularly good internal speakers, and working out where on your ear to place the phone for best audio quality can be tricky; this is of course exacerbated if you're in a poor reception area.
The Curve's keyboard may be smaller than that of the 8800, but it had little to no effect on our usage of it; in many ways the slightly smoothed keys of the Curve were preferable to the 8800's chunky buttons. The display screen was clear and easy to view in all lighting situations; RIM claims that the Curve automatically adjusts screen brightness depending on ambient lighting, and although we were hard put to spot this happening in action, we never had a problem reading messages. As with most smartphones, web browsing is a necessarily cramped affair, and it's a pity the Curve doesn't offer HSDPA to speed up its data churning abilities.
The 2-megapixel camera on the Curve gave us some very good pictures, and it's a definite boon being able to swiftly shift them off the phone by the simple adjunct of emailing them out as soon as they're taken.
One area where we really felt the difference moving from the 8800 to the Curve was in the area of battery life. RIM estimates battery life for the Curve at 17 days standby time and 4 hours talk time. With much the same usage as the 8800, we found the Curve running dry after around three days of moderate usage, including regular email checking. Critically, that was about a day less than we'd typically managed with the 8800. As it will charge via USB, it was trivial enough for us to recharge it, but it still irked.
That illicit liaison between the Pearl and 8800 we spoke of in the opening paragraph has yielded an attractive consumer-level BlackBerry phone. It's hard not to feel, however, that it's the older sibling to a BlackBerry yet to come that could include those technologies we feel are lacking -- critically HSDPA and Wi-Fi connectivity.