Touted as the thinnest and smallest full QWERTY BlackBerry available, the BlackBerry Curve 8900 is a svelte and attractive smart phone, and it’s certainly more pocket-friendly than the larger (but more luxurious) BlackBerry Bold. For $199 with a two-year T-Mobile contract, you won’t get 3G data speeds, but you will get a premium device that offers first-rate e-mail and messaging capabilities, a spectacular design, comfortable keyboard, and an excellent user interface.
Design and Features
The Curve 8900 recalls the comfortable smaller form factor of the original 8300 series Curve. At 4.3 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches, this device is both taller and thinner than its predecessors, though not by much. (The original 8300 series device measured 4.2 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches.)
The 8900 echoes the style of the premium BlackBerry Bold and has silver accents reminiscent of the Nokia E71. We love its glossy black keyboard with red accents, its 2.4-inch display (with a high resolution of 480 x 360 pixels) and overall elegant design. By comparison, the BlackBerry Bold has a 2.8-inch display but with a lesser 480 x 320-pixel resolution.
Under the hood, enhancements include a zippy 512-MHz processor, 802.11b/g wireless, and 256MB of onboard memory. That’s a large improvement over the 8300 series Curve, which had just a 312-MHz processor and 64MB of onboard memory.
Buttons and Keyboard
The new trackball on the Curve 8900 is recessed, much like those found on the Pearl Flip and Bold, and we love its chrome-colored border, which matches the left quick-launch key; the volume controls and second quick-launch button are on the right side. The lock button, on the top left corner of the device, is a useful design piece taken from the BlackBerry Storm (and absent on the Bold). A mute button on the top right of the Curve 8900 makes for quick phone silencing.
As is typical, the Berry key and call button are to the left of the trackball, while the Return key and End button are to the right. The gray plastic rear of the device is home to a 3.2-MP camera with flash. Finally, the Curve 8900 has a 3.5mm headphone jack and comes with its own headset.
The separated keyboard on the Curve 8900 is similar to that on the original Curve, which we liked, but this one feels a bit cushier. We found it very easy to type on and had no complaints throughout our review period.
The Curve 8900 runs RIM’s new OS Version 4.6, which means it has the same new look as the BlackBerry Bold, Pearl Flip, and Storm (the Storm runs Version 4.7). Icons are black with white or colored accents depending on the application, and each was bright and easy to read on the high-resolution display. You can turn the T-Mobile myFaves carousel on or off by clicking the icon in your main menu. When it’s on, your five favorite friends will be presented on the home screen for quick calling.
E-mail and Messaging
The Curve 8900, like its predecessors, supports the BlackBerry Internet Service, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, IBM Lotus Domino, Novell GroupWise, and your own POP or IMAP accounts. The new e-mail setup experience lets you easily add your own AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Windows Live, or Yahoo accounts; just enter in your e-mail address and password, and OS 4.6 will automatically select the appropriate mail servers. You can add up to ten e-mail accounts; we set up two of our personal accounts in less than 30 seconds each and were receiving e-mails almost immediately afterward. The Curve 8900 supports HTML e-mails, so you can view images and pages the way the e-mail’s sender meant for them to be viewed.
The Curve 8900 also comes with AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, Windows Live messenger, and Yahoo Messenger preinstalled. We quickly signed into our AIM account and liked how we could leave it running in the background.
For business users, the Curve 8900 includes the new DataViz’s Documents To Go software, which includes DOC, XLS, and PPT applications for viewing and making light edits to Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents on the go. We were able to open a three-page Word document in just 2 seconds from our e-mail account. If you want to use features such as spell check, word count, font changing, or even creating a new document, you’ll need to upgrade to the Premium version of Documents To Go ($69.99 after a 30-day free trial).
The 8900 doesn’t come with TeleNav Navigator preinstalled, but there’s a bookmark for installing it in the browser. However, when we clicked the bookmark we were brought to a page alerting us that we weren’t able to install the application. We are working with T-Mobile to resolve this issue, and will update this review accordingly.
Update: The 8900 doesn't come with TeleNav preloaded, but it can be downloaded through T-Mobile's web2go portal in the Downloads tab under Applications > Maps & Travel. When you download it, you're automatically signed up for a $9.99 monthly subscription, added on to your T-Mobile bill. We were not able to get a GPS signal inside Manhattan but we successfully navigated from Bryant Park back to our offices using its voice-guided navigation. You can also use it to search among 10 million points of interest or to find traffic along your route.When we launched TeleNav in Long Beach, New York, it pin-pointed our exact location and provided accurate directions from the train station home. When we turned down a different path than it suggested, it adjusted itself in just under 30 seconds.
As with most other BlackBerry phones, the Curve 8900 also comes with the BlackBerry Maps application. It accurately pinpointed our location in Long Beach, Long Island, but it had a tougher time in New York City, where it’s more difficult to grab a satellite signal. You can also use BlackBerry Maps to find and get directions to a specific address.
The Curve 8900 has two identical Web browsers, but one defaults to T-Mobile’s web2go Web site, which offers links to news feeds from CBS, ESPN, ABC, Reuters, Weather.com, and others (you can customize web2go feeds by clicking Customize). More important, the Curve 8900 supports full HTML browsing, and you can set pages to be presented in Firefox, Internet Explorer, or BlackBerry browser format. If you choose Firefox or IE, the pages will be full HTML sites not typically designed for mobile devices. The T-Mobile and BlackBerry browser options default to mobile-site viewing.
NYTimes.com looked beautiful in full HTML view, and you can zoom in on specific areas of the page by clicking on it. These larger pages take longer to load over T-Mobile’s EDGE network, however, so you’ll want to save viewing them for when you can use the 8900’s Wi-Fi connection. Flash isn’t supported in the browser, so the full YouTube site would not load correctly. Selecting videos from the mobile m.youtube.com site launched the Curve 8900’s media player, and videos streamed flawlessly over a Wi-Fi network, although they were a bit pixelated.
Using T-Mobile’s EDGE network with a full signal, we loaded mobile versions of CNN.com in 19 seconds, ESPN.com in 55 seconds, and NYT.com in 31 seconds. That’s slow compared with faster 3G smart phones. Over Wi-Fi, those same pages loaded in 20, 24, and 8 seconds, respectively. With the browser set to view full HTML pages, NYTimes.com loaded in 23 seconds and CNN.com in 32 seconds; ESPN.com remained the mobile version even with the browser set to render as Internet Explorer and Firefox.
The Curve 8900 features an excellent 3.2-MP camera with flash and autofocus. Shots take about 3 seconds to fire off with autofocus turned on, but the phone cam kept the image in focus. Compared to the Bold, which has a 2-MP camera, images from the 8900 had much better color saturation and focus—skin tones were more accurate as well. Surprisingly, the 8900 rendered the colors of a bowl of Skittles more accurately than the 5-MP camera on the Samsung Behold; even shots of a stone lion statue outside the New York Public Library were comparable. Recorded video was clear, albeit a bit pixelated. A car driving down the road moved fluidly without skipping and audio was accurate.
Music and Video
The Curve 8900’s display is perfect for viewing videos, and thanks to its 3.5mm headphone jack and included earbuds, it’s a great music device as well. In addition to its 256MB of onboard storage, the phone comes with a somewhat paltry 256MB microSD Card, but can support memory cards up to 16GB. We played a video of John Mayer and colors were bright and crisp. The 8900’s screen had wide viewing angles, perfect for watching videos with a friend. Audio was loud and clean, even when we used the phone’s loud speakerphone to play music in the kitchen. We streamed the free Slacker radio application as well, and over a Wi-Fi network the audio sounded just as good as our MP3s did.
Overall, we were pleased with the call quality offered by the Curve 8900. While talking with a friend (also using a cell phone), we had to ask them to speak up twice but didn’t notice any missed words or interference during our call. A message left on a landline from a busy street in Manhattan sounded excellent, even though we could hear some taxis honking in the background. However, an idling truck that was present could not be heard on the message.
The Curve 8900 also supports T-Mobile’s Unlimited HotSpot Calling (formerly HotSpot @Home), which costs $9.99 per month and allows for unlimited calls over Wi-Fi networks for one flat rate. Calls over our unlicensed mobile access connection (UMA) sounded very clear in our office using a Wi-Fi signal. We didn’t miss any words or notice any static on the line.
T-Mobile rates the 8900’s talk time at 5.5 hours and standby up to 14.8 days. We spoke on the phone for an hour, browsed the Web for 2 hours, and played Slacker Internet radio over Wi-Fi for another hour before we saw the battery life cut in half. You could likely get through 2 days of moderate usage before having to charge the 8900 again.
BlackBerry Curve 8900 Verdict
At $199, the Curve 8900 is a gorgeous and powerful device that’s packed to the brim with excellent features and hardware. It has a beautiful display, a solid camera, a beefy 512-MHz processor, and it’s excellent for e-mail, messaging, and playing multimedia. If this smart phone didn’t ride on T-Mobile’s last-generation EDGE network as opposed to its new 3G one, it would easily be an Editors’ Choice pick. Nevertheless, we prefer the Curve 8900 to the T-Mobile G1; although the latter device offers a better browsing experience and touch capabilities, we prefer the 8900 for its sleeker design, better keyboard, and superior e-mail experience.
If speed is essential to you, the BlackBerry Bold on AT&T runs on a faster 3G network—but it is bulkier and costs $100 more. If you can live with EDGE data speeds when you’re out of hotspot range, you’ll find that everything else about the Curve 8900 is nearly perfect, both in terms of design and functionality.