BlackBerry Curve 9300
31st Aug 2011 | 14:59
A quick and clever QWERTY-toting BlackBerry for the budget-conscious
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Overview
The BlackBerry Curve 9300 looks like yet another BlackBerry handset. Its full QWERTY keyboard sits below a 2.4-inch screen, with the 2-megapixel camera on the reverse.
Offering 3G connectivity as well as Wi-Fi, the handset promises fast internet browsing while apps and themes can be easily downloaded from the BlackBerry App World.
There's not much new to see on the BlackBerry Curve 3G. That famous physical QWERTY keyboard sits in a sensible-looking chassis with rounded corners and textured back, while the chrome-effect border panel houses the 480x360 LCD screen and a series of flush buttons alongside the optical track-pad.
The microUSB port nestles alongside the 3.5mm headphone connection and the left-hand convenience key, whose default option is the voice-dialer shortcut.
If you find yourself getting frustrated by repeated orders to "Say a command", you can easily change this in the settings. The camera button is housed on the other side of the handset, just below the volume controls.
The top panel features the BlackBerry Curve 9300's media controls – play/pause, skip forwards and skip back.
With BlackBerry's distinctive QWERTY keyboard and optical trackpad, the Curve 9300 is almost identical to the earlier Curve handsets like the BlackBerry Curve 8900, as well as posing as the younger sibling of the popular BlackBerry Bold 9700.
Connectivity is the name of the game, and the BlackBerry Curve 3G offers Wi-Fi and GPS along with its namesake 3G network (by which it's also known).
It's no secret that RIM is keen on showcasing the media features of its handsets, and the Curve 9300 is no exception.
To this end, it's also reassuring to see a 3.5mm headphone jack giving you the freedom of using whatever headphones you like.
The 2-megapixel camera is nothing to write home about, and lacks the flash and autofocus found on the higher-spec BlackBerry Bold 9700.
As you'd expect from any handset in the BlackBerry family, the Curve 9300 features enviable email capabilities, and BlackBerry Messenger for instant messaging other BlackBerry users for next-to-nothing.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Interface
If you've ever used a BlackBerry OS 5 handset before, then you'll be at home on the BlackBerry Curve 3G. Homescreen icons can be customised to whatever your most-used apps, functions and web shortcuts are, while the full menu is easy to organise into folders.
The interface shares a number of similarities to Windows desktop PC software, but although the menu is made up of rows of icons, there are webs of text-based menus to navigate through within applications.
These contain the options to adjust settings, carry out functions and kill applications. These menus can be intimidating for those lacking in confidence, as it can be confusing to be faced with an endless list of options when all you want to do is write a new text message, for example.
Because of these menu webs, it's not as easy an interface to get to grips with as those of iOS devices like the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3G, but there are comparisons to be drawn with Android handsets like the HTC Wildfire.
The level of customisation is lower, but the basic principle of easy access to your favourite applications is the same.
It's worth noting that the OS will be updated in the near future, so you'll have greater homescreen customisation to play with, while multiple homescreens will give you more space and you'll be able to assign widgets as opposed to app-launching shortcuts.
The BlackBerry App World, which you can launch from within the phone's menu or by finding it in the browser, gives you access to hundreds of downloadable apps.
BlackBerry themes are also available to customise the BlackBerry Curve 3G even further. You can purchase themes from designers or build your own, using different fonts, background images, ringtones and the like.
Most standard functions of the handset are very easy to launch. To make a call you can either hit the call button, or simply start typing a number or name of a contact from the homescreen.
One thing that is a little overly-complicated on most BlackBerry handsets, though, is when you launch a new email or SMS message.
Rather than just going into your inbox and being presented with an obvious option to compose a new message, you have to launch the internal menu by hitting the BlackBerry button, then scroll down through the list of options until you reach 'Compose SMS'.
This just seems like a couple of steps too many, especially for such a straightforward task.
We should note that you could also launch an SMS to a specific contact from within the address book – although this might not come as naturally to anyone making the leap from a dumb-phone to smart.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Contacts and calling
Because the BlackBerry Curve 3G has dedicated call and end buttons, it's very easy to both make and take calls.
It's also easier to hang up a call, as you don't have to wait for the sometimes-slow proximity sensor to kick in and give you the option – something that we have occasionally found on the HTC Hero and Google Nexus One.
We were really impressed with the BlackBerry Curve 3G's sound quality. Voices were clear and easily audible to both parties, even with a grizzling child in the background.
Lower-cost mid-range handsets do tend to suffer on sound quality – the Nokia X6, for example, is atrocious – and even high-end handsets like the iPhone 4 (predictable, we know) can suffer on mobile-to-mobile calls. So it's great to see that RIM hasn't skimped on the BlackBerry Curve 3G.
The reason for the good sound quality might have been down to great reception. For the ultimate signal test, we took our BlackBerry Curve 3G review sample out on a train journey across the British countryside.
It held up pretty well. We had 3G reception and full bars for the majority of the journey, despite being in the middle of nowhere with only fields and their resident cows for company.
Unfortunately in areas where networks were weaker, we had a lot more trouble – reception disappearing where just moments ago it had been super strong, very slow connections and the like.
The phone book is a very serious affair. Although you can assign photos to contacts, these don't show up in the phonebook's list view, so it's very text-heavy.
We couldn't find an easy way to sync our Facebook contacts with our BlackBerry contacts, which is a little remiss in this day and age – particularly for a youth-orientated handset.
To make up for it, you have approximately a thousand contact options when setting up new contacts, from nicknames, job titles and home and work addresses, to birthdays and relevant webpages.
This might be information overkill for the casual user, but if you're syncing the handset with your Outlook account, then much of this data may be automatically saved by the BlackBerry Curve 3G
Grouping contacts into relevant groups is easy enough, one of which can be your favourite contacts if you like. It doesn't make them any easier to access, but if you regularly email or text the same group of people, it could save you a bit of messing about.
There's no need to enter the contact book at all if you don't fancy it. Simply typing in a name or number from the homescreen will bring up the relevant contacts or numbers, and then it's simply a case of selecting the one you're after and hitting 'Call' or the BlackBerry button to bring up the menu of options including SMS, MMS and email.
The other handy option for the time-strapped super-caller is to assign speed-dial keys. With a full QWERTY keyboard at your disposal you have over 26 buttons to play with, although A, Q and W are already assigned to essential handset functions (lock keys, change profile to vibrate and call voicemail respectively).
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Messaging
When it comes to messaging, the BlackBerry Curve 3G has its bases covered. As well as the traditional SMS and MMS options, email is very easy to set up and is integrated into the handset at every opportunity (you can set the default option for each contact to be email rather than calling, if you wish).
BlackBerry handsets have always excelled at email. Setting up a webmail account is as easy as inputting your address and password (we used a Gmail address, but options include Yahoo! and Windows Live addresses).
As you set up your email addresses, you can opt to have your contacts for each synced with your BlackBerry address book.
As with other BlackBerry handsets, including the BlackBerry Bold 9700, you can have your SMS and MMS messages routed to a universal inbox that also receives emails from each of your accounts. This makes it easy to check all your accounts at once, although it can be a little annoying if you're not sure which account has received which messages.
The other killer messaging function that all BlackBerry handsets offer is BlackBerry Messenger or, as the kids call it, BBM.
It's a real boon, especially for the cash-strapped user – you can save your text messaging pennies for non-BlackBerry owning mates and BBM other BlackBerry users for no charge if you're on a BlackBerry plan.
If you're moving to the BlackBerry Curve 3G from another BlackBerry handset using the same SIM, the Curve 3G will set up your existing account and disable the one on the old handset.
The BlackBerry Curve 3G's physical QWERTY keyboard is good, but it's not the best.
Although its raised buttons are preferable to the flat slide-out QWERTYs found on the likes of the Motorola Milestone and Samsung Genio Slide, and it's more spacious than the slider on the new BlackBerry Torch 9800, the Curve 3G lacks the sharply angled keys of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and is a little easier to fudge.
We found we had to be quite careful to hit the right keys, although in time this will become easier as you get accustomed to it.
Automatic text correction was generally intuitive, saving us the frustration garnered by the iPhone, for example, which militantly corrects intentional mistakes and doesn't allow for context when correcting punctuation.
Potty mouths will be glad to hear you can swear away to your heart's content on the BlackBerry Curve 3G. All you'll have to contend with is the disapproving underlining of the more offensive curses rather than automatic corrections.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Internet
The internet browser on BlackBerry OS 5, which will be running on the BlackBerry Curve 3G at launch, is notoriously rubbish. It's slow to open web pages, even slower to render images, only offers one tab at a time and is generally a bit of a pest to use.
Although the screen puts in a valiant effort to display as much of the webpage as possible on non-mobile sites, it ends up offering you a birds' eye view. By which we mean a view of a load of coloured blobs on a screen.
You really have to make good use of the zoom function in order to see smaller images and read any text. Zooming in to get a better view of text tends to be quite smooth, although we were often left with extremely jaggedy pixellated images after a zoom-in.
In fact, some websites rendered very pixellated, and even dedicated mobile sites suffered this same fate.
The optical track pad gives you more freedom to move the cursor around the web page than a D-pad would, although it did tend to be overly responsive, making selecting that tiny little link a real hassle.
It also comes in handy when you want to select text to copy and paste on the BlackBerry Curve 3G, as you can grab massive chunks of text in one quick swipe.
Sharing links is very easy, and is given as an option in the browser's menu. You have the option to send the link in an email, via SMS, MMS or BlackBerry Messenger. The other standard feature is the inclusion of bookmarks, and you can organise these by named folders to keep things tidy.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Camera
The camera on the BlackBerry Curve 3G is a pretty poor affair. When you launch the camera app, the only options you're offered onscreen are to zoom in or out, and take the picture.
To fiddle around with the (admittedly limited) options requires you to click the BlackBerry button and enter another of those text-heavy menus. Here you can play around with the white balance, picture size and picture quality, as well as opt for monochrome or sepia options if you're feeling a bit old school.
It's nice to have the sepia and monochrome options, we suppose, but they do smack of being token options, and almost highlight the limited amount of features the camera offers.
To zoom in and out, you simply roll a finger across the optical trackpad – easy enough, but a mixed blessing.
If you want to take an image using the handset in a landscape position, then you can use the shutter button on the side of the handset, but if you're after a portrait shot then you must click the optical trackpad to take the picture.
Unless you're really quite firm with the button, you'll find yourself zooming when you already had the shot nicely framed up – something we found to be a real annoyance on several occasions.
Zoomed in images lose a lot of quality. Here you can see the same flower from three different zooms; the first is zoomed completely out, the second 3x and the third is zoomed in the full 5x.
As you can see in the zoom images, the camera isn't too bad at handling colours when there's a big difference between them. But the red of the flower still comes out a little glassy, despite being taken in average daylight – bright but a little overcast.
Where the camera struggles with close-up shots (in the image below we hadn't even zoomed in – the fuzziness comes from a lack of autofocus) it handles long-shots much better.
The images aren't massively crisp, either, which is no more than we'd expect from a 2-megapixel camera. Suffice to say, this isn't the ideal handset for shutterbugs.
The BlackBerry Curve 3G doesn't do too badly handling a lot of light. As you'd expect, it seeps into the whole image, but the dark areas do retain a suitable amount of contrast.
It's also worth noting that the 2-megapixel camera lacks the flash of the BlackBerry Bold 9700, so low-light photography is very much miss and not a whole lot of hit.
BlackBerry Curve 3G review: Video sample
Like the still camera mode, video recording on the BlackBerry Curve 3G offers the most basic customisation. The only options here are between two sizes (normal or a smaller MMS size) and colour effects (normal, black and white or sepia).
One feature we did appreciate, however, was the ability to pause recording then continue. Rather than leaving us with a bunch of little video files needing editing together on a PC, we had one handy video file with several shots in (like the video clip below).
Like the still camera, the video camera's ability to handle bright colours is not bad, but you do still get that unreal gloss over objects like flowers.
Differentiating between similar colours is a bit of a struggle for the BlackBerry Curve 3G. In real life, the greens of the leaves in the video above were noticeably different, but here they merge into one Kermit-like mass.
You'll notice that the wind fluttering through the leaves looks a little jaggedy and jumpy, and we can assure you it was the handset not nature that was at fault here.
It's a shame that you can't zoom while filming. You have to decide on your zoom before hitting record, otherwise you'll have to manually move closer to your subject.
Emailing videos works fine as long as the file size isn't too big. Any video clip over about 30s will need to be transferred by USB instead.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Media
BlackBerry OS 5 is not known for its brilliance in the media arena. While the BlackBerry Curve 3G does display track information and album artwork, the music player is very basic. It does offer you the option to shuffle or continuously play albums, artists and tracks, however.
The other notable features is the ability to either build your own playlists or command the BlackBerry Curve 3G to create an automatic playlist featuring artists of your choosing. There's no FM radio on board, so you'll want to make sure you have plenty of music tracks to listen to.
Sound quality is average – even through quite high-quality Sennheiser in-ear headphones – but at least it's better than the BlackBerry Curve 3G's built-in speaker, which is tinny and awful.
Of course you can also control the media player by using the buttons on the top of the handset. This controls both the audio and video players.
The following audio files are supported: MP3, AMR-NB, AAC-LC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, Flac, Ogg Vorbis.
Video playback isn't particularly brilliant quality on that 320x240 pixel screen, but the video player is quite nippy, and it skips happily between clips.
If you don't have much stored on the handset, you can visit YouTube within the mobile browser – we'd recommend sticking to the Wi-Fi to do this.
MPEG4, H.263, H.264, WMV9 video formats are all supported on the BlackBerry Curve 3G.
The image gallery displays all your photos in a pleasing thumbnail layout, but viewing them on such a small, low-quality screen is not exactly satisfying.
Uploading images to Facebook and other social networking apps is easy – you just do it through an option in the internal menu. There's no such option for sending videos to social networks though, although you can share them via email or Bluetooth.
Suffice to say, this isn't the best handset for anyone looking to video-blog on the go – we'd point you in the direction of the iPhone 4 for its front-facing camera, or the Sony Ericsson Vivaz which records in HD and makes sharing videos super easy.
The headphone jack is located on the side of the handset, just above the USB connector. It's often a little easier on the headphone connection if it's located on the top or bottom of the handset – particularly if you're going to be storing the handset in a pocket.
You'd think, given the location of the media playback controls on the top pane of the BlackBerry Curve 3G that this might have been a sensible place for the headphone jack too. It's a 3.5mm connector, so you'll have the freedom to use a wide range of headphones.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Battery life and maps
We managed to get the BlackBerry Curve 3G to last two full days on one full battery charge, although it was getting very touch-and-go towards the end of day two.
During this time, we were taking photos, using email, web browsing and downloading apps, as well as making several calls.
This is just about in line with what RIM has stated for the handset's battery life – it offers 4.5 hours of talk time, 29 hours of music playback or 19 days of standby time.
Physically speaking, the battery is tiny – which no doubt helps the BlackBerry Curve 3G retain its low weight.
The native Google Maps app on board the BlackBerry Curve 3G is not the worst we've seen – the Sony Ericsson Vivaz's poor efforts could well take that prize.
A recent update has vastly improved matters. Getting directions between locations has suddenly become much easier – a matter of simply filling in clearly marked boxes with your destination and locations.
Although accurate and much nicer to use post-update, the maps could still be a little slow to load when you're out and about and relying on the 3G network. The compass, however, is brilliant – quick, accurate and easy to navigate by.
It's just as well that Google Maps comes pre-loaded, given the monstrousness of BlackBerry's own native maps app, which is clunky, confusing, slow and generally makes life difficult for the user.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Connectivity and apps
Gone are the days when you couldn't use BlackBerry Desktop Manager with Apple Mac computers – now you can quite happily back-up, restore and sync your BlackBerry Curve 3G, even if you're completely PC-less.
The software is pretty straightforward to use – much easier than the complicated, non-intuitive efforts from the likes of LG and Samsung. You can pick what playlists to sync to your BlackBerry Curve 3G in an iTunes-like interface – likewise with calendar events, contacts, notes and tasks.
Creating a backup file is a two-click process, and if you're in the secret service or just a bit paranoid, then you can encrypt your essential data from within the Manager.
It's a shame that the Desktop Manager doesn't include a quick and easy way to import your images and videos, though, and there's no overview of your applications already stored on the handset.
Using the 3G in areas of good reception is a breeze – we tested ours using a T-Mobile SIM and found that most of the time we were pretty happy with the level of reception we were getting.
These were the glory days, when downloading was a quick and easy matter, browsing the web was not too painful, social networking apps updated quickly and emails were in and out of our inboxes like hipsters to a Starbucks.
Too bad then that as soon as signal dropped a notch, the handset became a little unstable. We'd find ourselves spending frustrating minutes watching a blue progress bar cross the screen at slower than snail's pace, and often lost signal altogether where moments before there had been plenty. Very frustrating and unreliable.
Luckily the Wi-Fi fared better. We had no problems maintaining a signal, and web-based services were notably quicker.
The Bluetooth connection was also fine, and the BlackBerry Curve 3G does offer A2DP connectivity, so you should be able to use wireless headphones with no problems.
BlackBerry's App World is not as well-stocked as the Android Market or Apple's App Store, but there is a range of useful, good quality applications. You may find these a little more expensive than on other platforms, however, and there are a lot of rubbish apps.
Downloading applications and themes is very straightforward. Once you've found an app you like the look of, just simply select it in the App World and hit download.
You'd be wise to do so over Wi-Fi rather than relying on the 3G network, which can be a little slow and unreliable, particularly when downloading large files.
The BlackBerry Curve 3G does come well-stocked with onboard apps though. As well as the traditional calendar, notebook, clock and calculator apps, you'll be able to get going with Windows Live Messenger straight away.
There's also a suite of office-based apps – Word To Go for reading and editing word processed documents, Sheet To Go for spreadsheets and Slide To Go which, unsurprisingly deals in slideshows.
If you're sentimental about your text messages, then you may appreciate a handy little app called ''Saved Messages" to which you can, er, save messages that matter to you separately from your inbox.
Of course, you'll also get an array of BlackBerry games on board the BlackBerry Curve 3G. From the illustrious BrickBreaker to the frustrating WordMole, they'll keep you busy on the commute if you forget your book.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: BlackBerry comparison
Like its fellow Curve handsets, the BlackBerry Curve 3G is one of RIM's highly capable handsets aimed at a more youthful, fun-loving consumer than the traditional business customer.
It's pretty similar to the rest of the Curve range, including the BlackBerry Curve 8500 with which it shares its external media controls. The design is slightly updated, though, and the 3G connectivity gives it an edge.
The BlackBerry OS 6 update, on its way to the handset in the coming months, will set it apart from older models like the rest of the BlackBerry Curve range.
What it shares in looks with the BlackBerry Bold 9700, it sadly lacks in specs – the screen is a lower resolution, the QWERTY less well-angled for speed-typing and the connectivity and processing powers leave a little to be desired.
The optical trackpad is a little more skittish than that of the BlackBerry Bold 9700, however. We found it a bit unwilling to make small movements, which meant we often had a difficult time selecting the options we wanted.
The Curve 3G doesn't purport to be all things to all people, unlike it's newest BlackBerry cohort, the BlackBerry Torch.
That said, the BlackBerry Curve 3G is definitely a step up from the candy-bar stylings of the BlackBerry Pearl 3G, and despite the similar functions and connectivity, that full QWERTY keyboard really sets it apart for serious emailers.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Rivals
Having forgone the touchscreen route, the BlackBerry Curve 3G shares little in common with many mid-range Android phones like the HTC Wildfire and Sony Ericsson X10 Mini – at least in terms of hardware.
In terms of apps, the BlackBerry Curve 3G can't really compete with the likes of the iPhone and Android handsets like the HTC Legend. Quite aside from the issues of stock, the hardware lacks the additional functionality – like a gyroscope, a high-res screen or a touchscreen – that often make or break a good app.
However, it's at least on a par with the Nokia E72 that features a similar hardware layout and uses the Ovi Store's stock of applications.
Because of the BlackBerry Curve 3G's looks, it's all too easy to compare it to the BlackBerry Bold 9700. But these comparisons are unfair, as the lower-spec BlackBerry Curve 3G will always come off worse.
There's no camera flash, a lower-res screen, less powerful processing power and a lower-quality keyboard.
Still, the Curve 3G retains many of the great features we loved on the BlackBerry Bold 9700. Its design is svelte and attractive, the optical trackpad is incredibly (sometimes a little too) responsive and both handsets will enjoy the benefits of BlackBerry OS 6 when it's released in a few months.
But forget looks – the BlackBerry Curve 3G is very much a Curve handset. Low-cost materials and build place it squarely in the Curve range, even though we prefer the more grown up, slimmer looks of the Curve 3G, compared to earlier iterations like the BlackBerry Curve 8900.
To be honest, there's not a great deal between the Curve 3G and its range-mates – the main difference is its connectivity, and the 3G is a real boon.
Having said that, if you've used a touchscreen in the past, you may find yourself missing the additional app functionality and multi-touch web-browsing that's present on most higher-end Android smartphones like the HTC Wildfire and HTC Legend, as well as the iPhone 3G and all its more recent iterations.
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Hands on gallery
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Official photography
BlackBerry Curve 3G: Verdict
It's been difficult to judge the BlackBerry Curve 3G as a handset in its own right, so similar is it to the other members of the Curve family. But it has held its own, and despite a spec sheet not necessarily as chocablock as most smartphones, the Curve 3G isn't a handset we'd be completely ashamed to own.
During our time with the BlackBerry Curve 3G we grew to love that QWERTY keyboard, even though it's not quite as good as the BlackBerry Bold 9700's effort.
As usual, BlackBerry's email and messaging tools are top notch, and we were impressed with the call quality and great reception that was generally offered by the handset.
With the BlackBerry OS 6 upgrade imminent, the interface can only get better, and we're looking forward to advanced media features, meaning we can take full advantage of the physical media buttons atop the Curve 3G.
We didn't like
As people who've spent a lot of time with more powerful handsets, it was impossible to stop ourselves getting frustrated with the elements of the Curve 3G we wanted more from.
The screen's comparatively low resolution is one of the ways that RIM is able to keep the cost of the handset down, but for media fanatics it just won't cut it. The 2-megapixel camera is woefully restrictive. Similarly, the clunkiness of the menu system and the onboard browser will frustrate until you can upgrade the software.
For a mid-range handset, the BlackBerry Curve 3G stands up well. If you're after an email-machine with occasional web browsing and a spot of media playback, then it'll suit you down to the ground without costing you a fortune – and with BlackBerry OS 6 just around the corner, things can only get better.