If you're looking for innovation and the next big thing in phones, the BlackBerry Curve 3G 9330 on Verizon isn't it. But if you're looking for a device that can handle e-mail, messaging, and run a decent amount of apps, this smart phone will get the job done. Plus, at $29.99 with a 2-year contract, the Curve 3G is one of the most affordable BlackBerrys ever. Is this handset right for you?
Design and Keyboard
If you've seen a BlackBerry released in the past two years, then you've essentially seen the Curve 3G. Almost identical to last year's Curve 8530, the Curve 3G measures 4.3 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches and weighs 3.7 ounces. It feels light next to other smart phones, but the textured plastic shell it has doesn't feel cheap. The phone comes in charcoal and fuchsia red colors. The charcoal unit we tested had black soft-touch sides and black plastic over the buttons.
The front of the phone uses an optical trackpad--which was mostly precise--for navigation. The top of the phone has media controls so you can easily play, pause, fast forward, rewind, or change tracks. The left side of the Curve 3G has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microUSB/charging port, and a voice dialing button. The right side has two volume buttons and a camera button. A microSD card slot is found just behind the back cover, next to the battery.
The Curve 3G's keyboard sits on the front of the device and looks identical to the keyboard on the Curve 8530. It's a comfortable QWERTY layout that has just the right amount of spacing between keys. It's a little loud when typing, but we suspect that will soften over time.
Click to enlarge
Display and User Interface
The Curve 3G's 2.4-inch screen has a resolution of 320 x 240, which is low for a current-generation smart phone. The still-new BlackBerry Bold 9650 on Verizon has 480 x 360 resolution, but that device sells for a steep $149. Generally, pictures looked decent but text looked a little fuzzy.
Unfortunately, the Curve 3G runs BlackBerry 5 OS. It has a customizable home screen with five icons you can choose, but the menu is full of inscrutable icons. It's perplexing why RIM doesn't have the much-better BlackBerry 6 OS already running on it. Verizon says the device is BlackBerry 6 ready, and the company says an update will occur in "the coming months." Hopefully that means sooner rather than later.
Specs and Performance
The Curve 3G has a faster 624-MHz processor compared to the Curve 8530's 528-MHz processor, and consequently, offers slightly faster performance. The Curve 3G also has 512MB of RAM, up from the 256MB on the previous model. Changing between apps, writing messages, and navigating never felt slow or sluggish. Browsing the Web sometimes felt slow, but we blame the browser more for that. (More on that later.)
E-mail and Messaging
The standard and reliable push e-mail that RIM is known for is still in full swing on the Curve 3G. We were able to set up a primary Gmail account in only a few minutes. The device also imported all our Google contacts without hassle, so we had the phone numbers and e-mail contacts we use the most on the phone straight away. The BlackBerry 5 OS supports threaded e-mails and text messages. This unit supports up to 11 e-mail addresses when using the BlackBerry Internet service, with 10 Web mail accounts and one BlackBerry account. For instant messaging, the Curve 3G supports Google Talk, Yahoo, Windows Live, AIM, and BlackBerry Messenger.
Click to enlargeExpectedly, the Curve 3G does not provide a great web surfing experience. Because the screen is 2.4 inches and at 240 x 320 resolution, text was a little blurry and pictures looked pixilated. On top of that, the browser itself was sluggish. Over 3G, it took 69 seconds to load LAPTOP's full home page, 77 seconds to load ESPN's home page, and 20 seconds to load the NY Times mobile site. The Droid X and the Droid Incredible both take a third of the time to load those sites. We would recommend installing Bolt or Opera Mini on the Curve 3G because they both run the Web faster and offer a few extra features.
There are a number of pre-loaded apps on the Curve 3G, and not all are work-related. Productivity apps include Word to Go, Sheets to Go, and Slideshows to Go, which can open Microsoft Office files. Social networking hounds can stay connected with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Flickr apps. The standard Verizon media apps are here too, including VCast Music, VCast Video streaming, VZW Ringtones, Song ID, City ID, Visual Voicemail, and Bing. The City ID app crashed the phone twice and made us restart, so we'd stay away from that one. Also keep in mind that most of Verion's add-ons cost extra to use.
To download more apps onto the phone, we had to download BlackBerry App World by going to RIM's Web site and entering the phone's attached e-mail address. We felt the app store should have been pre-loaded, or at least with an easy-to-find link to download it. Regardless, BlackBerry App World's 10,000+ apps still significantly trail the Android Market's 70,000+ apps and the Apple App Store's more than 250,000 apps.
Multimedia and Camera
Click to enlargeThe Curve line hasn't been known for multimedia prowess, but thanks to the Curve 3G's 624-MHz processor, it doesn't have much problem playing music and videos. The music player is same standard one we've seen on other BB 5 devices, and album art work shows next to song information. The Curve 3G supports most music formats including MP3, AAC, and WMA, and files played off our 16GB microSD card without an issue. While the Curve 3G's low-res screen is less than ideal for watching videos, it can play MP4, H.263/264, and WMV9 formats.
The Curve 3G contains a decent 2-megapixel camera on the back, but it lacks a flash. Outdoor photos looked good, with nice color and sharpness. But when you move indoors or low-light settings, the photos got too blurry for our liking. Video capture was not so great, with the ability to only take movies at 320 x 240 pixels at 15 frames per second.
Maps and GPS
Like almost every other Verizon phone, the Curve 3G comes pre-loaded with VZ Navigator for turn-by-turn spoken directions, and that costs $9.99 a month. We tested the GPS's accuracy by using the location-based social service Foursquare, and nearby locations came up quickly and accurately. The included BlackBerry Maps is a slow-moving disaster that renders at a glacial pace, and the GPS did not lock in quickly. We'd recommend downloading Google Maps for a much faster and better experience.
Click to enlargeCall quality over Verizon's highly rated voice network was good. People on the other end of the line said we sounded great, but those folks sounded computer-y with a slight hiss in the earpiece. The speakerphone is disappointingly quiet, and the phone couldn't be used outside surrounded by a decent amount of noise. Reception was above average, and we were able to get bars in basements of restaurants and other places that aren't conducive to coverage.
The Curve 3G's included 1150mAh battery is rated for 4.5 hours or 10.5 days of standby time with a full charge. We were able to get 5 hours and 40 minutes of talk time over 3G with the device, which is about average for a smart phone. With moderate usage between talking, using the Web over Wi-Fi, and streaming music and videos, we saw about a day and a half of use, which is very good. If you charge up the phone each evening, you'll more than likely get through an entire day of use unless you gab often.
The Curve 3G comes in a $29.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a new 2-year contract. That's a spectacular up-front price for this smart phone. But it's important to note that you will paying about the same price per month for any other smart phone on Verizon. If you must have a BlackBerry, the Bold 9650 ($149) is a better overall device, and if you can have your pick of any smart phone, the Droid X retains our Editors' Choice for a smart phone on Verizon for its massive 4.3-inch screen, blazing 1-GHz processor, and Android 2.2 software.
For 30 bucks, the Curve 3G has some things going for it, including a very comfortable keyboard that you can type fast on, quick access to e-mail, and long battery life. None of these benefits are particularly exciting, especially compared to supercharged smart phones like the Droid 2, which combines a physical keyboard with a much better browsing and app experience. However, if you want to keep things simple and don't have a lot of money to spend up front, the Curve 3G is a pretty good value.