RIM continues to expand its offerings with the Curve 8330. Being released through two carriers, Sprint's version supports its high-speed EV-DO network as well as its over-the-air Sprint Music Store and Sprint TV multimedia destinations. Add in GPS support and video recording capability, and you've got a handset that's nearly perfect for business users looking for some fun on the side.
Sprint Curve 8330 Design and Interface
While its physical stats remain mostly unchanged from the original Curve 8300, the titanium-colored Curve 8330 is one of the best looking BlackBerrys we've seen. We love the sleek black keypad's look against its smoky gray surface and black screen accents. Likeits predecessor, the Curve 8330 sports a bright 2.4-inch, 320 x 240-pixel display and an easy-to-use trackball for navigating menus. The device measures 4.2 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches and weighs 4.0 ounces. That's slightly heavier than the Curve 8300, but the difference is nearly impossible to notice.
The Curve 8330's microSD slot remains hidden under the battery, which is frustrating when you want to add songs on the go. Thankfully, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack for listening to tunes and watching videos with your standard headset. The QWERTY keypad remains the same as other Curves, and each key has great pop. The keys are spaced out more than on other BlackBerry lines, making for a near-perfect typing experience. We appreciated the tweaked Return and Berry buttons, which have a slight indentation in them for easier thumb presses.
There's a quick-launch button on the left, which is programmed to launch a voice-command feature, and a microUSB port for charging and data connections as well. Two silver volume buttons are on the right side, along with another quick-launch button for the camera. On the back, you'll find the 2-megapixel camera lens, which has a flash and supports video recording with a microSD Card. The Curve 8330's power button is on top.
The user interface (BlackBerry OS 4.3.0)is the same as on other Curves and remains, for the most part, unchanged. Sprint's custom theme offers a few folders for Communities and Instant Messaging, and the native icons sit atop a black background with Sprint's gold sun logo.
E-mail and Instant Messaging
It's immediately obvious that Sprint had the consumer in mind with its version of the Curve 8330. After booting the device, you'll quickly notice an Instant Messaging folder with shortcuts to install AIM, Google Talk, and Yahoo Messenger. BlackBerry Messenger is also included in this folder and is already installed. A second folder, called Communities, includes a Facebook app. Of course, you can typically sideload these apps onto most BlackBerrys, but we appreciated that the Curve 8330 had them preloaded.
You can load up to ten e-mail accounts on to the 8330, including favorites like Gmail or Yahoo, or corporate software like IBM Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange, or Novell GroupWise. We set up our office account, which is based on Google Apps' Gmail, in about five minutes. While you'll love sending off SMS texts on the oft-praised Curve keyboard, you'll be limited to sending pictures via BlackBerry Messenger or through e-mail.
Speedy EV-DO Web Browsing
While it lacks the Wi-Fi capability we loved on the 8320, the Curve 8330's EV-DO connection on Sprint really stood out while we surfed the Web. We loaded CNN.com in just 6 seconds and ESPN.com in a speedy 8 seconds. Laptopmag.com, which isn't formatted specifically for mobile devices, loaded in 18 seconds. AT&T's Curve 8310, by comparison, loaded CNN.com and ESPN.com in a slower 12 seconds over its EDGE network. However, Verizon Wireless' Curve 8330 boasted better times, loading CNN.com in a speedier 5 seconds and ESPN.com in 6 seconds. Handmark's Pocket Express software is also preloaded on Sprint's Curve 8330. It's free and provides quick access to news, sports, weather, stocks, entertainment, 411 search, travel information, and more.
Sprint Curve 8330 Multimedia Features
Sprint's Curve 8330 is the most multimedia-friendly Curve out there. Not only does it back the always-supported file formats (MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, MIDI, andAMR-NB; plus 32 polyphonic ringtones in the MIDI, SP-MIDI, MP3, and WAV formats) for audio and MPEG-4 P2, H.263, and WMV format for video, but it includes its own Sprint Music Store for over-the-air downloads and Sprint TV for catching a quick glance at The Daily Show and other clips on the go. The 8330 comes with 96MB of flash memory, a solid increase over the 8320's 64MB of storage.
Sprint TV Performance
Sprint TV is part of the Sprint Power Vision plan, which costs $29.99 a month, but we recommend opting for the Simply Everything option, which gives you unlimited voice, data, and access to Sprint TV for $99.99 a month. We were able to access content from stations such as CNN Mobile Live, Comedy Central, the Disney Channel, and Fox Sports. The software even informed us that The Hills would be airing live on the MTV station later in the evening.
Playback from Sprint TV was a little sluggish at first; the clip took about 5 to 10 seconds to fully load on our Curve 8330's display. The picture had some artifacts but was clear enough for casual watching, and we could make out the news ticker on Fox News Live along the bottom of the screen. Voices and video remained in sync for the most part, but there were instances where they were off, too.
Fast Music Downloads, Buggy Player
Most of the songs we purchased on the Curve 8330 through the Sprint Music Store downloaded in a blazing 35 seconds. Individual tracks, such as Sublime's "Santeria," cost 99 cents, or you can purchase a six pack for the $5.94, which doesn't save you any money but is a little more convenient. You can download each song to your PC as well by visiting www.sprint.com/digitallounge, logging into your Sprint Account, and downloading the WMA file. WMA files can only be played in Windows Media Player.
Sprint's Music Store player was sluggish on the Curve 8330, though, and froze three times during our weekend of testing. We couldn't change the song or hit the Berry button to view the menu until we restarted our phone. Worse, the downloaded songs are locked down by DRM and can't be played on your microSD Card through RIM's more stable media player. That means Sprint Music Store songs can't be played in the background while you do other tasks, like surf the Web or check your e-mail. The store is best for grabbing songs on the go.
We listened to six songs we downloaded on the bus through our iPod headphones, which were more comfortable than the included BlackBerry headphones. The music sounded crisp and was definitely good enough to provide entertainment for our hour-and-a-half ride. Eddie Vedder's voice in "Setting Forth" was crisp over the loud guitar strums throughout the song, and we could hear the drums beating away in the background just as clearly. Music played over our Bluetooth Stereo headset sounded just as good, but like on the Pearl, audio from video does not stream over Bluetooth on the Curve 8330.
Sprint Curve 8330 GPS Performance
Sprint packs the Curve 8330 with Sprint Navigation, which is powered by TeleNav. The software is good and accurately pinned us on Sixth Avenue between 39th and 38th Streets in New York City. It was able to track us as we walked down Sixth Avenue and took a turn onto 38th Street. You can get turn-by-turn directions and local search for $9.99 a month, or you can opt for 24 hours of service for $2.99. You can also use BlackBerry Maps to figure out your location. Note that if you're signed up for Sprint's Simply Everything, Navigation, or Business plans, the TeleNav subscription is included.
Same 2-Megapixel Camera, But Where's MMS?
The 8330's 2-megapixelcamera snapped decent pictures (1600 x 240 pixels)that were on a par with other Curves, which means the photos are good enough for attaching to e-mails and taking quick shots. Unfortunately, for some reason the "Send MMS" is disabled on the Sprint Curve 8330, which is a bit upsetting. Unlike the 8300, 8310, and 8320, the Curve 8330 supports video recording at 240 x 176 pixels and in a tempting "MMS Mode" at 176 x 144. This is odd, considering that MMS isn't supported. To test the video quality, we recorded a group of people walking along the street in New York City. The audio was muffled, and the colors were washed out, but the content was generally good enough for uploading to YouTube.
Sprint Curve 8330 Call Quality
We have no complaints with the call quality on the 8330, as it was clear and free of background noise and static. When compared with Verizon Wireless' new Curve 8330, we heard no difference in the audio quality in voicemails left on our answering machine from either phone. However, we noticed that it took the Sprint Curve 8330 an average of 6 seconds to make a call before we heard ringing, whereas Verizon Wireless' model started to connect within 4 seconds.
RIM rates the Curve standby time at 11 days and talk time at 4 hours and 30 minutes. We listened to music for 2 hours while downloading other tunes, then browsed the Web and made phone calls--all during a 48-hour period--and didn't have to charge until the end of the second day. We did notice that battery life drained much quicker while we streamed live TV, however.
Sprint BlackBerry Curve 8330 Verdict
Sprint's Curve 8330 is no doubt a powerhouse in terms of multimedia, although Sprint TV is more stable and compelling than the Sprint Music Store on this device. Add in the high-speed Web surfing over EV-DO and the Curve's always great keyboard, and you have a very solid messaging and Internet device. We wish calls connected a bit faster and that MMS capability was enabled. But if you're a Sprint customer and you're looking for a BlackBerry, this is the one to get.