BlackBerry Curve 8330 Face-Off: Sprint vs. Verizon Wireless

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All morning we’ve heard nothing but muffled growling from two fresh boxes that just landed in our office. The new BlackBerry 8330 Curves from Sprint ($179 with two-year contract and rebates) and Verizon Wireless ($169 with two-year contract and rebates) are finally here and they are eager to do battle. Each 8330 has its own unique features, and both offer EV-DO connectivity and GPS, but only one will emerge as the winner. We'll be bringing you our full reviews soon, but here are our first hands-on impressions of these eagerly awaited smart phones. Check out how the Curves fare, round by round... Update: The full review of the Sprint Curve has been posted. Design/Interface VZW 8330: The interface of the liquid-silver Curve 8330 is admittedly cleaner. Icons are large and sit atop a fresh white background. The handset also spares you the preinstalled applications, so the desktop is less cluttered. Aside from the basics available on most BlackBerrys, you’ll see VZ Navigator as the only additional icon. If the Verizon version’s theme doesn't suit you, there is always the option to switch out to preloaded RIM themes. Sprint 8330: Sprint’s titanium-gray Curve has a desktop that looks cluttered at first, but that’s only because it’s chock-full with a host of useful folders to application installation shortcuts that most users will be pleased to see at boot-up. Sprint created folders for each set of apps, including: Entertainment, Instant Messaging, and Communities (more on what’s inside each folder below in the Multimedia shoot-out category). Each icon sits atop Sprint’s sun logo splattered on a black background. If you prefer an old-school RIM theme like BB Dimension Zen, you can switch to it by visiting the Options menu. Winner: Tie While we appreciate Sprint’s preloaded application-download shortcuts for chat applications and more, other users may prefer Verizon Wireless’ cleaner interface. However, those customers may also dislike the fact that they’re stuck with the VZW theme. EV-DO Data VZW 8330: Verizon’s Curve doesn’t come with V CAST's video or music, but it does support YouTube streaming from m.youtube.com. Our video started after 23 seconds—13 seconds behind Sprint’s Curve, which had a 1xEV-DO connection in our office. We also loaded some popular Web site home pages: Update: With a 1xEV DO connection on our replacement unit, we loaded the same streaming m.youtube.com video in 5 seconds, three seconds faster than the Sprint Curve. CNN.com: 10 seconds Update: 5 seconds ESPN.com: 9 seconds Update : 6 seconds WSJ.com: 9 seconds Update: remained 9 seconds Laptopmag.com: 14 seconds Update: 11 seconds Average: 10.5 seconds Update: 7.5 seconds Note: Our VZW review unit wasn't displaying the EV1X sign, but we were in a coverage area with EV-DO connectivity. Verizon is looking into the problem and we will report back. Update: Our replacement unit was able to obtain an EV-DO connection and our updates scores are listed above. Sprint 8330: Sprint was able to load a streaming video from m.youtube.com in just 8 seconds—marginally slower than the Verizon Wireless Curve. Sprint’s Curve also supports the Sprint Music Store, and we were able to download Nelly’s Party People in just 19 seconds. The same Web site home pages loaded a bit more quickly: CNN.com: 6 seconds ESPN.com: 8 seconds WSJ.com: 8 seconds Laptopmag.com: 18 seconds Average: 10 seconds Winner: Sprint 8330 Update: Verizon Wireless Our Verizon Wireless unit with an EVDO connection was able to load websites an average of 2.5 seconds faster, and streamed m.youtube.com videos faster, too. Multimedia Extras VZW 8330: The Verizon Wireless Curve doesn’t come with any preloaded multimedia applications or extras. It also doesn’t offer V CAST Music or Video. However, like all BlackBerry Curves, you can load your own music, video, and pictures via a microSD Card behind the battery, and it supports up to 8GB of additional storage. Sprint 8330: Sprint comes packaged with Sprint TV and Sprint Music Store as part of its Entertainment folder preloaded on the device. It also comes preloaded with Facebook under its Communities folder, and AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger preloaded under its Instant Messaging folder. Sprint TV gives you access to a host of streaming television channels, including E!, Comedy Central, the Weather Channel, NFL network, CBS Mobile, MTV, and more. Some stations, such as Spike TV, offer only clips of certain shows. Sprint TV also includes Sprint Radio, which provides 10 radio stations in a variety of genres. Video quality when we streamed Fox News at full screen was decent with only some initial artifacts, and we were able to make out the news crawler. If you use the Sprint Music Store, you can download copies of songs to your computer and your handset for 99 cents each, but you have to play the songs in Sprint’s Music Store software, so you can’t minimize the application while you listen to music in the background. Your tracks also aren’t available in the BlackBerry multimedia player. Lame. Sprint, it's time to offer MP3s like Amazon. Winner: Sprint 8330 Simply put, the Sprint Curve 8330 goes the extra mile in this category and the Verizon version doesn't. TV and over-the-air music sweeten the deal. We just wish it had MMS capabilities, too. GPS VZW 8330: Verizon Wireless packs in its own VZ Navigator software for GPS navigation on the Curve. Unfortunately, the carrier looks like it ported the typical version found on other Verizon Wireless phones to the BlackBerry, so the application doesn’t take up the whole screen in some parts of the software. You can use VZ Navigator for directions, local search, and for finding your current location on a map. The great thing about VZ Navigator is that you can pay by the day ($2.99) or month ($9.99), which is perfect for those that don’t want to pay a monthly GPS-enablement fee. The real bummer? Verizon Wireless turns off the device's native GPS support in BlackBerry Maps; that means you can't use the software provided by RIM to find your location for free. Instead, you're forced to use Verizon's VZ Navigator software. Price: $9.99 per month or $2.99 for 24 hours Sprint 8330: Sprint’s Curve 8330 comes with Sprint Navigation software, which is powered by TeleNav. Sprint Navigation is cleaner and better than VZ Navigator. It provides directions, location, traffic information, and a directory for reaching local businesses. It also has a 3D Maps option. The tools and extras menu lets you record your location or view a compass. If you don't want to use TeleNav, you can use the GPS built into BlackBerry maps. Too bad there's not a daily use option for Sprint Navigation. Price: $9.99 per month, Free with Sprint Ultimate Pack Winner: Sprint 8330 Verizon Wireless’ VZ Navigator Version 4 offers traffic, but Verizon Wireless doesn’t have info on when the update will be available on the Curve. Until then, it doesn’t compete as well, and although we appreciate the $2.99 daily pricing plan, we think it's absurd that native GPS support is disabled in BlackBerry Maps. We'll be doing a full test drive with each Curve to find out which is the better overall navigator, but for now Sprint takes this round. Call Quality VZW 8330: Making a call from inside our offices to a landline sounded clear with a slight echo. In our outdoor tests, a call from a New York City corner on a rainy day picked up some background noise, but callers were still able to make out our voices loud and clear. In a connection test, it took 6 seconds before we heard the first ring. Sprint 8330: Similar to the Verizon Curve, a call made from our office to a landline was very clear. A call from the same New York City corner picked up similar street noise but callers were able to make our our voice clearly. In a connection test, it took the 8 seconds before we heard the first ring. Winner: Verizon Wireless 8330 Although audio quality was about equal in our early test, calls from the Sprint Curve 8330 took longer to connect, a complaint we've had about several other Sprint phones. This round narrowly goes to Verizon Wireless. Verdict Of course, choosing a Curve 8330 is going to depend most on what carrier you are with, but, if that contract is up, we recommend the Sprint Curve over the Verizon version. For just $10 more, the Sprint Curve 8330 is chock full of extra goodies, including SprintTV and the Sprint Music store, as well as several IM apps, offering a better work-and-play balance. The Verizon 8330 has a lot going for it, and we especially liked its speedy data connection. You'll just have to work a little harder to trick it out. [flv:/flvs/curvefaceoff.flv 480 360]