The BlackBerry Curve series has been incredibly popular in India. Nearly everyone you see, these days, with a BlackBerry has either the 8520 or the 9300. Their low prices are their key features but they are also appreciated for the full QWERTY keypads and the BlackBerry Messenger service, which has become quite the rage among people, even though other cheaper alternatives exist.
To take the Curve series a step further, BlackBerry has launched the new Curve 9360 in India. Priced at Rs. 19,990, the Curve 9360 is a bit on the pricey side but packs in a lot more features that put it at par with the more expensive Bold series phones. It's also one of the first BlackBerry phones to have the new OS 7. Let's find out how good this new Curve is.
BlackBerry phones these days look a lot better than they used to. Gone are the boxy designs of the past. The Curve 9360, true to its name has curved edges that taper towards the top and bottom on the front and on the left and right side at the back. The curves on the back make the phone fit perfectly in your hand and also make it feel a lot thinner than it actually is. And it's already pretty thin!
The Curve 9360 uses a full-plastic body, with materials such as glass and metal left to more expensive phones such as the Bold 9900. And while this does make the phone incredibly light, it also gives it a slightly cheap, toy-like feel. The glossiness of the plastic also makes it look a bit cheap. To make things worse, the build quality is also not particularly great. All of this does detract from the overall quality of the device and makes it feel cheaper than what it actually costs.
The Curve 9360 has a 2.44-inch, 480 x 360 resolution display. The display quality is good, with vibrant colors, good contrast and sharp text. The sunlight visibility is acceptable but under very bright light it can be hard to see. The plastic covering the display is not scratch-resistant, which resulted in fine scratches appearing on it in just a few days of using the phone. These days almost every new smartphone is coming out with scratch-resistant display so its absence here is a cause for concern.
The Curve 9360 has a typical Curve style keyboard, where, unlike on the Bold series, the individual keys have gap between them, which makes them slightly smaller. This results in a keypad that is not as comfortable as what you may find on the Bold series of smartphones but if you're coming from a previous Curve device then you'll be right at home. Those who have not used a BlackBerry before might find the keys a bit stiff and layout not as sensible as on Nokia's E-series phones. The keys are all lit by a strong and even white light.
The optical trackpad is a joy to use as usual. It even allows you to emulate the clicking sound of the traditional scrolling ball on older BlackBerrys. I also liked the keys on the side for the volume and camera. I did not like the lock key on top of the phone, however. It was awkwardly located and requires more force than necessary to operate. Often, you will have to shuffle the phone around in your palm before you can reach it. A more convenient location would have been on the side. But then again, RIM has never produced a Blackberry smartphone with the lock key at the side.
Hardware and Software
The new Curve 9360 comes with a 800MHz processor, that's faster than even the 624MHz processor on the older Bold 9780. It also gets a healthy 512MB of RAM and 512MB of built-in memory. This puts the hardware of the Curve 9360 ahead of all of the older BlackBerry devices. And although the specs of the Curve 9360 may seem insignificant in a world filled with dual-core processors and gigabytes of RAM, in real world, it is more than enough.
The Curve 9360 also comes with the usual connectivity features, such as HSPA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 802.1 b/g/n and A-GPS. There is even NFC built-in this time around, although the actual applications of that technology, right now, are next to zero.
The Curve 9360 runs on the new BlackBerry OS 7. It uses the new Liquid Graphics UI that features a lot of fluid animations. As mentioned before, despite the modest hardware the UI remains smooth most of the time, with only an occasional stutter. And it looks great too, with some gorgeous looking icons and UI elements. Also, even though it is designed with the new touchscreen phones in mind, it works pretty well with the optical trackpad.
BlackBerry OS 7 brings some improvements such as the new web browser, which is now much nicer and faster. There is no Flash support, which means certain sites that rely heavily on Flash for their interface will be unusable. The display on the Curve 9360 is also quite small and although the optical trackpad does a decent job, it cannot replace a touchscreen. This makes browsing not a lot of fun. Looking at a full blown webpage through the small display on the Curve 9360 feels like looking at the outside world through a tiny hole in the wall.
BlackBerry phones are usually known for their reliable call quality but I had some issues with the Curve 9360. The issue was related to the earpiece, which distorted heavily when the volume was increased. It's fine till about 70% of the volume but after that distortion sets in and the sound becomes unpleasant. It could just be a problem with our review unit and a Google search did not reveal anyone else with this problem. But considering how only few people are using this phone, the Google search might not reveal the real picture.
The Curve 9360 has a 5 megapixel camera with fixed-focus and LED flash. Why RIM chose to drop auto-focus in their latest batch of phones is beyond me. The lack of auto-focus means that the subject has to be at least a couple of feet away from the lens, so you can forget about macro shots.
Actual image quality is also not quite impressive. The colors look decent and there is a fair amount of detail in the images but there is also a huge amount of noise in pictures taken during the day. In low-light, the image quality goes even further down. The heavy-handed image compression algorithm steps in and smears any semblance of detail from the images. The flash is quite powerful, which helps in low light.
Another disappointment is the video recording. At this price point, we expected at least 720p video recording but all we get is the same old VGA. This results in videos that are viewable only on the phone.
The audio/video performance on the Curve 9360 is much better in comparison. First of all, the loudspeaker is really loud, with nice bass, despite there being just one of them. The audio quality through the earphones is also pretty good.
The video player managed to play all my AVI and MP4 files, all the way to 720p resolution. It failed to recognize MKV files, however. Also, if the video used the AC3 audio codec, then there will be no sound. The video playback itself is pretty smooth. Even Android smartphones with much faster hardware at times struggle to play HD video files smoothly due to poor software optimization. Having said that, watching a video on the 2.44-inch display of the Curve 9360 is no fun. It may be fine for short videos but anything beyond half an hour causes fatigue.
The BlackBerry services are a major part of the BlackBerry user experience. The BlackBerry Messenger allows BlackBerry users to send each other messages over the Internet and the BlackBerry Internet Service is what allows BlackBerry devices to connect to the Internet. Without the latter, the former is useless. In fact, without BIS, the entire device gets reduced to a basic phone with multimedia ability.
What makes it worse is that none of these services do anything that other phones cannot. You can use other IM services like Google Talk on other devices for free. Other phones don't require you to use specific plans to connect to the Internet. Of course, you can still use Wi-Fi but then you get limited to areas that have a usable Wi-Fi network.
The battery life on the Curve 9360 is satisfactory. With regular usage, the phone managed to get around one and a half day of battery life on a single charge. Having said that, the battery life is not as good as it used to be on older BlackBerry phones. Perhaps the faster processor is to blame.
The BlackBerry Curve 9360 is priced at Rs. 19,990. It is definitely a big upgrade compared to the 9300 and more in line with the Bold series phones such as the 9780. But this is only when you limit your comparisons within BlackBerry devices. The Curve 9360 is a great BlackBerry, but if you're not just looking at BlackBerry phones, then you have a lot more options to choose from, and this is where it gets tough for the Curve 9360.
If you're a fan of QWERTY keypads, then you have options like the Nokia E6, HTC ChaCha and Sony Ericsson mini pro, all of which cost less than the Curve 9360.
And if you're just looking at phones under Rs. 20,000 then you have a ton of great options, such as the Google Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy S-LCD, LG Optimus Black, Sony Ericsson Xperia neo V and Samsung Omnia W.
The Curve 9360 has a thin and light design, a smooth UI and decent battery life but it lacks when it comes to display size, camera performance and application support. Add to this the high cost of BlackBerry services and a slightly tacky looking body and the Curve 9360 no longer seems worth the price of admission.
So although I think that the BlackBerry Curve 9360 is a decent smartphone, it needs to see a significant reduction in price. If priced at Rs. 15,000, I think the Curve 9360 would be a good buy.