RIM's (Research In Motion's) BlackBerry Curve, also known as the BlackBerry 8300, is a full-keyboard smartphone that's both delightful and perplexing.

The BlackBerry Curve, available SIM-free for around £300, is delightful because it's the sleekest and most media-savvy full-keyboard smartphone RIM has ever released. It is perplexing because it raises lots of questions, such as why did RIM release the Curve so soon after releasing the similar but more expensive BlackBerry 8800? And why didn't RIM give the Curve what should be basic features, such as support for 3G and Wi-Fi?

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Also why is the rectangular BlackBerry Curve (albeit with somewhat rounded edges) called the Curve?

Despite those questions, if you're looking for a BlackBerry that is sleek and fun and still performs all the usual BlackBerry tricks, most notably email, the BlackBerry Curve is for you.

Out of the box

RIM is positioning the BlackBerry Curve between its diminutive BlackBerry Pearl, which is aimed at a young, tech-savvy audience, and the more business-like BlackBerry 8800. Out of the box, though, the BlackBerry Curve initially looks like a silver, smaller version of the BlackBerry 8800.

That is to say, it would be an overstatement to call the BlackBerry Curve curvaceous.

Nor is the BlackBerry Curve particularly thin, falling somewhere between Palm's Treo line of smartphones (Palm Treo 680 review) and skinnier competitors such as the Motorola Q (Motorola Q9 Windows Mobile 6.0 smartphone review) and Samsung BlackJack (Samsung M260 UpStage review). However, the BlackBerry Curve is shorter and narrower than any of those devices and, with a weight of less than 0.2kg, the BlackBerry Curve fits more comfortably in the hand.

The BlackBerry Curve has a full 35-key qwerty keyboard. While we liked the 8800's keyboard with its beveled keys, many will prefer the BlackBerry Curve's keyboard. The keys aren't beveled, which made it easy to type on the BlackBerry 8800, but there is more space between keys. The result was that thumb-typing was easy and satisfying.

Also present on the BlackBerry Curve is the new trackball, which debuted on the Pearl and is also part of the 8800.

The trackball replaces the side thumbwheel on older BlackBerries and, as with the 8800, we found the BlackBerry Curve's trackball to be easy and intuitive to use. The trackball is located just below the display and is surrounded with buttons for starting and ending calls, displaying menus and reversing your course through the interface.

When you fire up the BlackBerry Curve for the first time, a wizard walks you through the basic setup process as well as setting up email. You can set up the Curve to receive POP or IMAP accounts and mail via the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. The BlackBerry Curve also supports Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise, but those options aren't available via the setup wizard.

All this means that you'll be up and productively using the BlackBerry Curve quickly. In use, the 320x240 pixel display is bright and has built-in technology to automatically dim the screen in bright light conditions and brighten it when it is dim. The main screens are clear and intuitive to use with brief text descriptions appearing when you select a specific icon.

As a smartphone, the BlackBerry Curve has the expected PIM (personal information management) applications for appointments, tasks contacts and your schedule. It also has the ability to view attachments in common office formats, as well as PDF. A bit confusingly, though, the calendar and address book applications are available from the PIM's main menu while two other standard PIM applications, the to-do list and memo pad, are available only from within a submenu listing a variety of other applications.

What's new and different?


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What's new and different?

The BlackBerry Curve has several new or improved features that will appeal to many users. For one thing, unlike the more expensive 8800 the Curve has a built-in camera. In this case, RIM went most smartphones one step better by providing a 2Mp camera.

The BlackBerry Curve is also is far stronger, at least compared to the 8800, in its media features. The 8800's interface for media playback was a mess, with a series of difficult-to-use menus that made it complicated to, for instance, play one track, then skip two tracks on an album.

That's no longer the case with the BlackBerry Curve. This device has clear menus not unlike those found on typical portable media players, in which you can choose music by artist, album or genre. The menu also enables you to shuffle your music. Besides MP3 support, the BlackBerry Curve also supports WMA and AAC audio files and MPEG 4, WMV and AVI video. Video playback was about what you'd expect on a phone with a relatively small screen - a bit jerky but sufficient for limited use. We found stereo sound quality to be solid and satisfying, although not spectacular.

The BlackBerry Curve has two little extras that will make media fans happy. First, it has a 3.5mm jack so you can use most normal corded headphones and earbuds when listening to music. By contrast, most smartphones, including the BlackBerry 8800, use 2.5in. jacks, which means you must buy either a Bluetooth stereo headset or get an adapter for your regular headset.

In addition, the BlackBerry Curve has a miniSD slot for additional storage. However, that slot is annoyingly located behind the battery, which requires you to take off the battery cover, remove the battery and insert the card. If you can afford it, you'll want to insert the memory card and leave it there.

What's missing?

One gripe about the BlackBerry Curve is that it is missing built-in GPS. This might sound like a peculiar complaint since so few mobile devices have such support. But it was built into the BlackBerry 8800. The BlackBerry Curve does have a built-in mapping application, which you can use with Bluetooth-enabled GPS devices to get point-to-point directions.

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BlackBerry Curve 8300: Specs

  • 60x16x107mm, 0.11kg candybar handset
  • RIM OS
  • BlackBerry Maps, Multi-Media Player, Wireless Email, Organiser, Browser
  • Networks: 2G
  • GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900 - 2.5G
  • GPRS, EDGE
  • 64MB onboard memory, MicroSD slot
  • USB 2.0, Bluetooth wireless
  • 2.5in, 320x240-pixel, TFT screen
  • POP3, IMAP4 email
  • MMS, SMS text messaging
  • Li-ion battery, 4 hours talk time, 400 hours standby
  • 2Mp camera with 5x zoom
  • 60x16x107mm, 0.11kg candybar handset
  • RIM OS
  • BlackBerry Maps, Multi-Media Player, Wireless Email, Organiser, Browser
  • Networks: 2G
  • GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900 - 2.5G
  • GPRS, EDGE
  • 64MB onboard memory, MicroSD slot
  • USB 2.0, Bluetooth wireless
  • 2.5in, 320x240-pixel, TFT screen
  • POP3, IMAP4 email
  • MMS, SMS text messaging
  • Li-ion battery, 4 hours talk time, 400 hours standby
  • 2Mp camera with 5x zoom

OUR VERDICT

On balance the BlackBerry Curve's compromises make it more appealing than most similar devices, not less. It isn't quite as sleek and sexy as the BlackBerry Pearl, but it is more attuned to business and is still smaller than most smartphones. The BlackBerry Curve has more media capabilities than the BlackBerry 8800, but it is both less expensive and just as full-featured for business users.

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