BlackBerry Curve 8310 Handheld Mobile Phone - Review

BlackBerry Curve 8310 Handheld Mobile Phone - Review

Earlier this year, we fell in love with the original RIM BlackBerry Curve, but a recent refresh of the handheld has our hearts pitter pattering all over again. The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310 keeps the same sleek design and robust messaging capabilities of its predecessor, but then adds GPS capabilities. The ability to use your handheld as a navigation device is particularly useful for mobile professionals who are constantly on the road, running to meetings or traveling for business trips. And we found it to be quite the capable navigator during our road tests using the TeleNav GPS Navigator service. The tradeoff is that for the GPS, you give up integrated Wi-Fi, which is what is offered in the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8320 (we know--we want both, too) and there's no 3G support yet. For this review, we chose to concentrate on the features and performance of the device; for more details on the phone's design, please check our review of the original Curve.

Features of the BlackBerry Curve 8310

The biggest difference between the original Curve and the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310 is the addition of GPS. With this feature, you can use the Curve as a handheld navigation device with the addition of a location-based service (LBS) or navigation software, such as Google Maps for Mobile. Check out the Performance section to see how the Curve fared as a navigator.

Other wireless radios on the Curve 8310 include Bluetooth and EDGE. Bluetooth allows you to connect to wireless headsets, Bluetooth stereo headsets, and hands-free kits. In addition, there's support for object exchange and dial-up networking so you can use the device as a wireless modem for your laptop. Unlike the Curve 8320, however, this version doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi, so you'll have to surf the Web using an EDGE or GPRS network. As we've said many times before, we know EDGE isn't that slow, but after using other 3G-enabled phones, the EDGE data transfer speeds tested our patience a bit.

As for voice features, the Curve is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, and speed dial. The phone features advanced audio technology that's supposed to cancel out background noise and echoes and will automatically increase the volume when you're in a noisy environment. In addition, the handheld supports AT&T's push-to-talk service, allowing you to instantly see the availability of your contacts before calling them and make individual or group PTT calls. The BlackBerry 8310's phonebook is limited only by the available memory--the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts--with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, email addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well a group category--business or personal--or one of 45 polyphonic ringtones. The Curve also supports MP3 and MIDI ringtones.

And what's a BlackBerry without email? Like other models, the Curve 8310 is compatible with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise to deliver corporate email in real time. In total, the device can support as many as 10 accounts, including POP3 or IMAP4 email accounts, and there is an email wizard on the device to guide you through the setup process. The recently added spell-check feature will look for any spelling errors in your messages before they're sent and offer alternatives to misspelled words. And while it's available for emails and memos, unfortunately it's not available for text messages. An attachment viewer is also onboard to open popular file formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDFs, JPEG, GIF, and more, and we were able to receive and open all files. Other messaging options include text, multimedia, and instant messaging, although the latter is limited to the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger client.

One-upping the BlackBerry Pearl, the Curve boasts a 2-megapixel camera (vs. 1.3 megapixels) with a 5x zoom and a built-in flash, but unfortunately, still no video-recording capabilities. You do get three picture sizes (1,600 x 1,200, 1,024 x 768 and 640 x 480) and three quality options (superfine, fine and normal). You can also tweak the white balance and add color effects. Picture quality was decent. Images were sharp, and though we wish the colors were a bit brighter, the quality was better than a number of other camera-equipped handhelds we've tested recently.

For more entertainment, there's also a media player onboard that supports MP3, AAC, MIDI, and WAV music files and AVI, MP4, MOV, and 3GP video formats. There's 64MB of flash memory, but you should store multimedia files on a microSD card since they tend to be memory hogs. The music player is pretty rudimentary, but it displays some track information such as title, artist, and album art, and you can create playlists as well as shuffle and repeat songs. You can have music play in the background as you use the device's other apps, and if there's an incoming call, the Curve will pause the music, then pick up where you left off after you hang up. One notable improvement to the video player is the support for full-screen mode, so you can take advantage of the entire screen's real estate. The 3.5mm headset jack is also a boost, since it gives you the ability to plug in a better set of headphones or earbuds.

Performance of the BlackBerry Curve 8310

We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Curve in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was just OK. We had no problems hearing our callers or interacting with our bank's automated voice response system, but we did notice a slight background hiss. Speakerphone quality was good, and we were able to connect to the BlackBerry with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.

General performance was fairly responsive. Occasionally, we had to watch the hourglass twirl but we didn't run into too many delays when opening or working in various apps. Web-browsing definitely could have used a speed boost, and the BlackBerry Web browser isn't the sleekest, so the Curve isn't exactly a standout in this category. Music playback through the device's speakers was good for a cell phone, with plenty of volume and good balance. Video clips were smooth with synchronized audio and images, but as expected, there was some pixelation of the picture during action sequences.

As for the GPS capabilities, it took the Curve about 10 minutes to acquire the necessary satellites to get a fix on our position and we also noticed that it took a while for the maps images to fully load. However, once locked on, the Curve did a good job of tracking our location and providing us with directions. We entered a trip from the Marina district of San Francisco to CNET's downtown headquarters, and the TeleNav service quickly returned with accurate directions. We were also impressed that the app offers text-to-speech functionality, so it speaks actual street names, allowing you to pay more attention to the road rather than looking at the phone's screen. That said, maps looked sharp and vibrant on the Curve's display.

The BlackBerry Curve is rated for 4 hours of talktime and as long as 17 days of standby time. According to FCC radiation tests, the BlackBerry Curve 8310 has a digital SAR rating of 1.51 watts per kilogram.