The BlackBerry Curve smartphone is a pretty regular sight in the hands of South African users. For many users, the BlackBerry Curve is almost the first logical jump from the average feature phone into the world of smartphones.
Even though RIM (Research In Motion) might have been in a lot of trouble in recent months, I have always had a healthy respect for the BlackBerry Curve. In fact, the 2 year old BlackBerry Curve 8520 was still Bandwidth Blog’s choice for the “cheap and cheerful” gadget category in our favourite stuff of 2011. And the 9300 has always a good deal as well, and a logical jump up from the 8520.
While much of the smartphone world and technology press is focused on the high end smartphone market, BlackBerry has quietly built a huge following in the developing nations with their BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) service. R60 a month is a mighty good deal for anyone who cannot have regular access to the internet.
The new BlackBerry Curve 9360 replaces the older BlackBerry Curve 9300, and aims to still keep its cheap price. But can it convince users to not jump ship to other brands?
Build and Design
It is quite simple – the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is pretty, if somewhat sombre looking phone. It would definitely not look out of place in a boardroom next to BlackBerry Bold smartphones and iPhones. It continues the BlackBerry Curve 9300 smartphone’s tradition of a silver rim around the edge of the device, but this time RIM took away some of the silver “bling” and gave it a classier matt gunmetal rim. The rest of the phone is built from shiny black plastic, except for the small rubber edging around the back. It is also very thin (11mm), and that combined with its very light weight (99 grams) makes it very nice phone to use every day.
Let’s face it – most of the tech media focuses on high end phones that are built from expensive feeling materials like steel, glass or carbon fibre. In fact, the major criticism to some high end phones is that they are built from plastic. But the BlackBery Curve 9360 is aimed at a different market. The advantage to the plastic construction is that the Curve 9360 has a much lighter weight than most other smartphones. You might want some heft with some higher end phones, but you will not even notice this phone in your pocket.
Part of the reason is that the BlackBerry Curve 9360 has a very smooth design with almost no hard edges. Its shape follows the BlackBerry Curve 8520, with a rounded rear, and beveled sides. The only edges are around the front of the device around the screen and keyboard, which makes it easy to hold when typing. The keyboard is pretty standard BlackBerry fair – it feels more comfortable to type with than the 9300, but it is not as broad as the BlackBerry Bold 9900. Seeing as the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is not a touch screen device, you have to use the little trackpad under the screen. But you can immediately feel that RIM has improved this compared to previous generation BlackBerry devices. The tracking with your thumb is a lot more consistent.
There is a few buttons around the edges, with the volume keys on the right, with a small mute button in the middle, which I found handy. The “convenience key” is also found on the lower right, which I guess most people will use as the camera button. There is no keys on the right – only a small Micro USB port, which serves charge or sync duties. On the top there is a simple unlock button and headphone port, but RIM also did away with those music control buttons on the top. Some people might miss these (maybe joggers?), but personally I never did.
The only issue I have with the build is the battery cover on the rear. While the whole device feels first rate considering its target market, I don’t know why RIM would build the battery cover with shiny plastic. After only a few days of use the battery door had some hairline scratches already. So get a case if you are considering the BlackBerry Curve 9360.
The one disadvantage to the BlackBerry Curve range has always been the poor resolution screens compared to the higher end BlackBerry Bold range. Luckily the BlackBerry Curve 9360 arrives with a healthier 480×360 resolution, compared to 320 x240 in the past. The screen is still relatively small at 2.44 inches, but if your eyesight is OK you should not have any problems. The screen is plenty bright, and despite its size, actually pretty good for looking at photos. The increased resolution also makes web browsing a lot better, and of course interface elements like icons are a lot more legible.
Like I mentioned, the display is not touch screen like the BlackBerry Bold 9900 – but the trackpad button works very well. Keeping the target market in mind, I don’t think it is a bad move by RIM. Overall I was more than happy with the screen – the high pixel per inch count makes it a pretty great display to use. Outside viewing was also impressive.
Performance and Battery:
I have always dreaded using BlackBerry Curve smartphones for anything more than simple messaging tasks, because the processor always seems to get bogged down, with even the most simple web browsing.
The BlackBerry Curve 9360 luckily fixes that – it ships with a 800MHz processor which does seem to speed things up a lot. The Curve 9360 ships with the new BlackBerry OS 7, which works a treat. I was skeptical at first, because the other OS 7 devices run at 1.2 GHz. But everything ran fine – there was some slowdowns when updating multiple apps in BlackBerry’s AppWorld, but web browsing and media playback was dealt with smoothly. Overall the Curve 9360 feels snappy, and a major step up from previous phones from the Curve range. There is also 512MB of RAM, and 512MB of built in storage. In the box you will also find a 4GB microSD card, which can be upgraded to 32GB if you want.
When I unpacked the BlackBerry Curve 9360 I noticed a very small battery of 1000mAh, which made me worry about battery life. After all, the Bold 9900 did not exactly have stellar battery life. But I was pleasantly surprised by the 9360 – with constant usage of corporate enterprise mail enabled, and a lot of browsing and WhatsApp usage, and occasional Wi-Fi usage, I got about a day and half of battery life. This also included a few calls that amounted up to about an hour. I asked around what BlackBerry Curve 9300 users get, and it seems that the older BlackBerry Curve smartphone got about the same battery life from a larger 1150mAh battery, so clearly RIM improved the efficiency somewhat, even with a new faster processor.
Still it makes me wonder – if the BlackBerry Curve 9360 can hit almost two days on a battery, and the BlackBerry Bold 9900 can only hit a day, it might have been a good thing to not go with the high end 1.2 GHz processor.
Talking about performance – it is all to easy to forget that this is a phone as well. Voice quality was great, and the built in speakerphone was nice and loud. One aspect I really like about BlackBerry is the smart dial feature – you simply start typing the name of the person you want to call right from the idle screen, and press the call button. Compare that to multiple presses to find a contact on an iPhone or Android device. This is one area where one can never fault a BlackBerry smartphone.
Web browsing was pretty brisk over 3G, which might be because of 7.2 HSDPA support. You are of course at the mercy of your BIS or BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Service) network speeds. I was lucky that during my review period the BIS was pretty fast everywhere I went (I was on Vodacom by the way). The phone also has built in Wi-Fi, which supports 802.11n as well – which I used at home. A2DP Bluetooth support is also there, so you can also use wireless headphones (or stream music to compatible systems). Oh and by the way – the BlackBerry Curve 9360 even has NFC built in – you can see the NFC antenna built right into the rear battery cover. While it might not be worth much right now, it is hopefully only a matter of time before some banks start supporting it.
The BlackBerry Curve 9360 ships with a 5 megapixel Extended Depth of Field fixed focus camera, which is definitely not performance focused. If you are interested in detailed macro shots, you might want to look elsewhere. This time round RIM also includes a flash, which has been absent on previous Curve models. There is also Face Detection, and image stabilization, which should should look to much better, less blurry shots.
Instead RIM is aiming the BlackBerry Curve 9360 towards simple social photos – quickly taking photos of a group of friends and sending it off to Facebook. Which works great by the way – because BlackBerry allows apps to integrate into the menu system. Simply take the photo, and then send to Facebook. Easy as pie.
Image quality was good, especially on outdoor shots, and a massive update from previous BlackBerry Curve devices.
While the camera allows video recording, it is limited to VGA and 30 frame per second. Again, perfect for the occasional video, which can then be loaded up to your favourite social network. Considering the phone’s target market, I cannot complain.
While the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and BlackBerry Torch 9810 was the first BlackBerry smartphones to ship with BlackBerry OS 7, the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is the first Curve smartphone to do so. Thankfully the higher resolution display shows off the new OS pretty well, but the major changes has not gone into the interface. The biggest improvement have gone into the speed of the OS – while it might simply be because of the improved processor, the OS has definitely gotten an efficiency improvement.
The BlackBerry OS 7 implementation of “drawers” or panels on the screen works remarkably well, and before I knew it, most of my daily use was simply using the frequent menu. You get the feeling that RIM cleaned up a lot in the OS. While the almost legacy looking screens still exist in many deeper menus, the typical BlackBerry-of-old cryptic menu options are not there anymore. First time setup is especially easy, with the phone quickly guiding you through mail, social media and other accounts setup. BlackBerry Protect is also pre-installed, with which you can track your phone, and remotely wipe it should it get in the wrong hands. But it can also be used to easily transfer data from your old BlackBerry to this one very quickly.
Seeing as this is a BlackBerry smartphone, the major focus is still on messaging. Using the hardware keyboard means that seasoned BlackBerry users can still crank out mails a lot faster than most touchscreen smartphone users. BlackBerry is also of course user-friendly when it comes to corporate mail integration – registering with my company BES servers was quick and easy, and 5 minutes later I was using my corporate email address. Gmail access was easy, and the two mailboxes lived side by side without any problems.
The browser has also gotten a major upgrade from previous Curve models. BlackBerry OS 7 ships with a WebKit browser, which really does seem to speed things up a lot. Also, page rendering is a lot better – with elements of the page staying where they should. This was not always the case with the previous Curves.
All new BlackBerry phones now ship with AppWorld pre-installed. I was especially harsh when reviewing the BlackBerry Bold 9900 due to the lack of apps, but once again I have to remind myself who the target market for the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is. While the AppWorld is nowhere close to the volume of the Android and iOS appstores, the essentials are there (apparently developers make more money out of BlackBerry apps compared to other platforms, and there are already 57,000 apps in there). I quickly loaded up my must have apps – News24, Dropbox, Shazam, Google Talk and WhatsApp, and it’s all installed without a hitch. And because of BIS, I had no worries about data charges wherever I went. Great.
Reviewing a BlackBerry smarpthone is always fun – while other phones might sport massive screens or massive processors, RIM seems to stick to few key principles to make a decent smartphone. In the case of their Curve smartphones, price is of course a concern. And the BlackBerry Curve 9360 looks, feels, and performs great considering the price. The build is decent, and it feels like it could easily last a good few years. Seeing the number of older BlackBerry Curve smartphones still in people’s hands I bet the BlackBerry Curve 9360 will continue that tradition.
The BlackBerry Curve 9360 is also a very decent phone. Call sound quality was first rate, and dare I say it, better than some high end phones I have tried. Messaging and E-Mail is handled without any problems, and the OS has a great Inbox system which can throw all your messages, regardless of source, into one inbox (old news for BlackBerry users, I know. But I still appreciate it.).
But the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is very much focused on one market – the type of user who needs constant online access, be it web or email, without needing to break the bank on an expensive phone, or a high end phone contract. In fact, a large portion of the users stick to prepaid for BlackBerry usage. And this is where the BlackBerry Curve 9360 still shines considering its lower price.
No other smartphone allows you to simply just use it day in, and day out without worrying about data costs. Sure, you might be a high end user who might have uncapped data and Wi-Fi networks at home and work – great for you. But this phone is not meant for you – this is for the out and about user who just does not want to care about data usage. No need to find Wi-Fi networks, or curb your web browsing. Just use the phone.
Seeing as the BlackBerry Curve 9360 comes in at a low price, it is very easy to recommend to the BlackBerry fans out there, and also to many of the people still using feature phones. But the big question is whether users will choose this above new lower cost Android smartphones. My bet is yes – while the Android phones might sport fancy interfaces, the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is great to use, and BIS still holds a great value proposition.
Scratchtastic rear, fingerprint magnet.
Current Price: From R3276 on all networks.