The BlackBerry Curve 8310 is the latest consumer smartphone from RIM, boasting email, internet, 3Mp camera and satellite-navigation capabilities. It's also the first RIM BlackBerry with 3G internet.

BlackBerry maker RIM (Research in Motion) is pushing sales on two fronts, continuing to keep business and enterprise users happy with its heavyweight BlackBerry 8800 range while simultaneously pumping out more of its consumer-orientated Curve devices.

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According to a Palm briefing we attended earlier this week, it needs to fight on all fronts, since sales of handsets that run on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform are increasing at twice the rate of RIM's BlackBerry range.

RIM is fairly churning out BlackBerry handsets this year. The BlackBerry Curve 8310 looks and feels the same as the Curve 8300 which came out in June. However, where that handset lacked built-in GPS, this handset has satellite navigation as its distinguishing factor.

PC Advisor had a sneak peek at the BlackBerry Curve 8310 earlier in the week before the all-important satellite navigation element was yet active, so we could do little more than play with Google Maps and some of the other applications that have now become integral to the BlackBerry Curve line-up. We’ve since tried out the Vodafone Sat Nav feature – a useful addition that handset owners will find a real boon.

Vodafone can’t take all the credit for the success of the Sat Nav feature. It’s sensibly bought in a proven third-party application from Telmap. Using this and the BlackBerry Curve 8310’s integrated antenna, we were consistently able to pick up six or seven satellites and get pretty precise location information, right down to the door number.

In the past, we’ve tried out satellite navigation features on mobile phones and found ourselves waiting aeons to current location details to be calculated – not useful if you come out the Tube station and need to thread through the back streets of London for an appointment.

We were therefore pleasantly surprised to find both Google Maps and Vodafone Sat Nav on the BlackBerry Curve 8310 pinpointed our current location within a few seconds, even when we were walking briskly along the South Bank. The Vodafone-branded navigation software has the edge on Google Maps and for those unaccustomed to the way BlackBerry menus work, is easier to get started with.

Click on the red arrow icon to launch Vodafone Sat Nav, then press Yes to allow Telemap to use its satellites to hunt you down. A screen offering Where To, Place/Business, Where am I, My places and Inbox then appears. Choose Where Am I to bring up a 2D map of your current environs and press the BlackBerry’s central navigational ball to display the address and geo-reference. Press again to save your current location, entering details such as the company name and number, if you wish.

For actual navigation, you can enter a town or street name or a postcode. We typed in the name of a London suburb and choose the Drive rather than Walk option for a particular hostelry. The BlackBerry Curve 8310 was ready to set off even before we’d grabbed our coats, almost immediately telling us to turn right out of PC Advisor Towers. Less than six seconds later it announced that it had finished downloading data for the complete route – admittedly less than 10 miles away, but necessitating some tricky one way routes through the City of London.

Directions are provided by a female with a clear voice and who sounds authoritative rather than bossy. Should you misinterpret prompts the BlackBerry Curve 8310 requires, you’re notified by a gentle ping rather than a loud and irritating error sound. As with previous satellite-navigation software we’ve tried on BlackBerry handsets, you move around the map using the numeric keys.

Google Maps takes noticeably longer to pick up a signal in heavily built up areas and defaults to showing relatively large geographical areas, although moving around the screen and zooming in and out is faster and easier. Press 0 to jump to your current location, indicated by a flashing blue ball, then move around the map using the orb (first introduced with the BlackBerry Pearl and common to all subsequent BlackBerry handsets).

The Google Maps app is not designed for use while driving, though – instead, you need to plot a route before you set off and then follow that through to your destination. This aspect alone explains why RIM chose the Vodafone Telemap app as the BlackBerry Curve 8310's main distinguishing feature.

So far, it seems the satellite-navigation feature introduces just one hitherto unheard of criticism to be levelled at a BlackBerry – the battery drains noticeably faster. Other than that, we are hard pushed to fault it.

Other aspects of the BlackBerry Curve 8310 impress, too. It weighs a modest 111g (a mere 12g more than last year’s slimline Pearl handset), yet manages to include a full Qwerty keyboard while being only 10mm wider at 60mm. On the Pearl two letters were assigned to each key.

In common with other BlackBerrys, launching applications, retrieving email and browsing the web is like riding a bike: once you’ve got used to clicking on the BlackBerry key to switch between apps or to reassign items in its launcher and realise that in open applications that same key brings up useful drop-down menus, you’re all set. We were surprised to find the Vodafone Sat Nav function wasn’t one of the default programs on the BlackBerry Curve 8310's launcher bar though.

The BlackBerry Curve 8310's simple navigation setup lends itself particularly well to email and web browsing – no annoying home page you have to go to and that seems to try its darndest to prevent you entering URLs for websites you want to visit. Select Go To from the drop-down menu with the Browser app active and you can choose whichever site you please.

A 3Mp camera and multimedia card slot are now all-but standard elements on smartphones – particularly ones that aim to appeal to consumers as well as more focused business users. Photos you take can be saved and used as caller ID mugshots and shots can be displayed on an external screen at up to 1,600x1,200. There’s a flash and a 200 percent zoom and colour effects can be added to photos, while MMS is almost a given.

The BlackBerry Curve 8310 is being sold exclusively through Vodafone in the UK and aims to marry up GPS with the solid business credentials of a 'proper' BlackBerry. Users get a full year of the Vodafone satnav service, with quarterly updates, included with their handset contract.

Vodafone, for its part, has jumped in with both feet when it comes to smartphones. On its left foot it’s got an exclusive deal with Palm to sell its Windows Mobile 6.0 Treo while on its right foot it’s wearing a BlackBerry badge.

So far, we’ve had a chance to play with the Palm Treo 600v and are awaiting a review handset to test properly. So far, it seems, RIM isn’t putting a foot wrong with its Curve range and we’ll be intrigued to see whether Palm can compete.

BlackBerry Curve 8310: Specs

  • Quad-band 850/950/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS/Edge smartphone
  • 312MHz processor
  • 64MB ROM
  • 320x240 LCD colour screen
  • SureType Qwerty keyboard
  • Contacts, Address Book, Calender
  • Memo
  • Task Pad
  • attachment viewer
  • SMS, MMS
  • voice recorder
  • Google Maps
  • built-in GPS with one-year Vodafone Sat Nav subscription
  • IM
  • BlackBerry browser
  • Internet Explorer
  • Vodafone Live!
  • push email
  • HTML browser
  • upports up to 10 email addresses
  • 3Mp camera
  • microSD card slot
  • Bluetooth
  • MP3, AAC, Midi, Windows Media Audio, eAAC+ music player
  • Mpeg4, Windows Media Video and H.263 video playback
  • spare rechargeable battery
  • earphones
  • four hour talktime
  • 17 day standby
  • 60x16x107mm
  • 111g
  • Quad-band 850/950/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS/Edge smartphone
  • 312MHz processor
  • 64MB ROM
  • 320x240 LCD colour screen
  • SureType Qwerty keyboard
  • Contacts, Address Book, Calender
  • Memo
  • Task Pad
  • attachment viewer
  • SMS, MMS
  • voice recorder
  • Google Maps
  • built-in GPS with one-year Vodafone Sat Nav subscription
  • IM
  • BlackBerry browser
  • Internet Explorer
  • Vodafone Live!
  • push email
  • HTML browser
  • upports up to 10 email addresses
  • 3Mp camera
  • microSD card slot
  • Bluetooth
  • MP3, AAC, Midi, Windows Media Audio, eAAC+ music player
  • Mpeg4, Windows Media Video and H.263 video playback
  • spare rechargeable battery
  • earphones
  • four hour talktime
  • 17 day standby
  • 60x16x107mm
  • 111g

OUR VERDICT

With the BlackBerry Curve 8310 RIM has added yet another good-looking and feature rich model to its lineup of desirable smartphones. Add in 3G internet and mobile-phone-based satellite navigation that, unusually, actually works (and works well) and you've got a worthy winner of a PC Advisor Gold Award.

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