BlackBerry Curve 9320 £150
27th Jul 2012 | 15:09
RIM's latest attempt at a cheap-as-chips smartphone
Update: We've now re-reviewed the phone based on the lovely lower price of £99.95 ($240) - does it make it more of a bargain in the face of the incoming BlackBerry 10 smartphones?
With all of this talk about the new OS and the internal politics at RIM, it's easy to forget that the manufacturer is still churning out phones in the hope that punters will buy one.
And until BB10 arrives, we have BB7 smartphones to enjoy - especially on this latest little handset, the BlackBerry Curve 9320, which is pocket friendly in terms of both price and physical size.
While BlackBerry has been busy pumping out impressive touchscreen handsets such as the BlackBerry Bold 9780 and BlackBerry Bold 9900, it's keen to make sure it doesn't alienate those who would be drawn in by its cheaper - yet just as cheerful - Curve range.
And the BlackBerry Curve 9320 - just like the BlackBerry Curve 9360 - fits that mould well.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 looks like a Curve of old. It's sleek, with both black and brushed metal tones and has a curved back, which really fits in the hand well - almost as though it's been moulded with that in mind. It was one of the first things we noticed when we took it out of its packaging.
At 109 x 60 x 12.7mm and 103g, it's a bit thicker than the Curve 9360, and 4g heavier, and certainly feels rounder and more chunky. The precise edges are gone.
It's more Playskool to the Curve 9360's Prada - but that will suit some down to the ground: namely, the younger generation this is clearly aimed at and those who are coming to a smartphone for the first time with little regard for aesthetics.
The front holds the screen, which is a fairly basic 320 x 240 pixel job measuring 2.44 inches. The 164 ppi density won't blind you with its greatness, but it does the job reasonably well. We used to view this as amazing on devices of old. Now, we feel more hard done by.
Also, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 isn't touchscreen but you do get RIM's signature optical trackpad beneath it to navigate. This is surrounded by the four standard BlackBerry buttons (call, menu, back, hang up), and they're all mechanical rather than touch-sensitive.
The actual keyboard is typical Curve fare, with small keys that give a satisfying, tinny click when pushed in.
Round the back, you'll find little of interest other than the 3.2MP camera and LED light. The actual rear of the phone is made of shiny black plastic. We couldn't help feeling it looked a bit cheap, and thankful that the shape of this phone fits the hands so well. If not, this shiny rear would be taking you straight to slipsville.
Up top, you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and an unlock button. There are no dedicated media buttons but there is a dedicated BBM button on the left, which is something we're not used to seeing. That's accompanied by the charge/sync port.
The right-hand side has the volume buttons and convenience key, which is set by default to fire up the camera. Both can be easily changed to open your app of choice.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is one of a number of handsets in the BlackBerry Curve range, including the BlackBerry Curve 9360, BlackBerry Curve 8520 and BlackBerry Curve 3G. It will be competing foremost against them.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is free on contracts from as little as £10.50 per month, and is now priced at around very palatable £99.95 on Pay As You Go in the UK to also target young and first-time smartphone owners. Of course, pricing in the US will differ.
If you've used a BlackBerry smartphone in the last couple of years, then you'll be in familiar territory. The Curve 9320 comes with BlackBerry's latest OS 7.1 preinstalled out of the box.
We've commented on the look of BB7 before and how it appears to take its cues from the BlackBerry PlayBook - RIM's tablet. The icons are of the same design and look like a kind of mishmash. Whereas on some devices (namely the iPhone) icons all have a similar shape and design, there's none of that here, so screens end up looking a bit cluttered.
This could be excused on handsets such as the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and BlackBerry Curve 9360 with higher resolutions that give the icons real clarity, but they're not afforded the same luxury here on the BlackBerry Curve 9320.
Not that that will put off the teenagers or those taking their first foray into the smartphone world - the target audience for this affordable handset.
The processor is 806MHz, which we were fairly surprised at. We wouldn't have expected a quad-core chip in here or even a dual-core, come to think of it. But the 806MHz puts in a stellar effort. Maybe it's the extra 6MHz in there, but we were impressed to see very little lag even when multitasking.
Maybe, just maybe, that spinning clock of death we used to dread on RIM's devices has all but been laid to rest. We certainly didn't see it very often except when browsing the web, which we'll go into later.
This could also be down to how BB7 (actually, BB 7.1 out of the box) works compared to previous operating systems BB5 and BB6.
A signature feature of BlackBerry handsets is the fact that you get numerous app drawers to swipe through (favourites, recent, downloaded and so on), although you can now manage which ones you want to see via the menu. We find them a bit pointless and distracting, so are glad we can do this, since there's no option to rename or customise them in any way.
As before, you can search anywhere within the phone using the keyboard, which is kind of like smart dialling, but searches through more than just your phone book.
There's also the Nuance-powered voice search, but it's not the best thing since sliced bread, or even mouldy bread. In fact, it's rubbish when you compare it to offerings such as Vlingo, Siri or Samsung's new S-Voice.
Partly because you have to actually use your fingers to select it and again to tell it you've finished searching, partly because it's just not that well integrated into the full experience of the phone and partly because it's just an add-on that RIM has licensed.
We imagine few will be buying the BlackBerry Curve 9320 solely for the voice features, and if you are, we suggest a radical rethink and perhaps a trip to the doctor.
Contacts and calling
If there's one thing you can rely on BlackBerry smartphones to give you, it's good contacts integration. RIM obviously believes the mantra: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Contacts is part of the operating system that hasn't been changed on BlackBerry handsets for yonks. In fact, it's identical to that offered in BB6.
But it's a belter - and even if it is a little dull on the surface, it's an extremely functional solution.
Getting names and numbers on there is simple. You're spoilt for choice - with BES/BIS, Google Contacts integration or just plan old-fashioned PC/Mac syncing. It all works, and thousands of contacts will take seconds to populate.
For the stalker or OCD-sufferers, you can put any bit of information you require inside a contact, ranging from date of birth to anniversaries, address, phone, email details plus custom information if you want to keep a note of their cat's name.
Contacts are listed with thumbnails. It's very thorough - and, dare we say it, a little too thorough, since hardly anyone will have the time or the patience to sit and fill in every last field. Still, nice to have the option.
Calling a person is as easy as it gets - just type their name in from the home screen and smart dialling kicks in, or find them via the contacts app. You can also add shortcuts to people to dial on your home screen, a feature that our iOS-loving friends still miss out on, unless they want to go around the houses using third-party apps and web shortcuts. In your face, Apple!
When in a call, you get the usual options, such as hold, add participant and so on. There's nothing new here. Keep in mind, the only calls you can make are voice-related, since there is no camera up front for video calling, despite this being a 3G device.
Call quality was great. The sound from the ringtone could have been better and sounded a bit tinny (we're very fussy) but at least it meant that the speaker was able to blast out calls loud when we placed the BlackBerry Curve 9320 on a desk.
Against the ear, we had nothing to complain about, and the BlackBerry Curve 9320 managed to hold onto a signal as well as any other RIM handset we've ever used.
This is really the BlackBerry Curve 9320's bread and butter. RIM established its reputation with fantastic email delivery, and even though it's under relentless attack from Apple, Google and Windows competitors, it's fiercely defending itself in this quarter.
Push email is the name of the game here. Be it BES (which you'll have if this is a corporate smartphone) or BIS (which you'll have if it's a personal handset you bought from a retailer), setting up email couldn't be easier, thanks to the wizard that pops up when you first use the BlackBerry Curve 9320.
You can customise how you want it to look and have your emails separate from BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), or from your SMS, or throw the whole lot together into a consolidated inbox. Twitter and Facebook messages will join in the party too if you invite them!
It's not any different to what we've seen before, but once again everything just seems to work. And you can add as many third-party solutions as you want: from Windows Live Messenger to WhatsApp and Google Talk.
With all of these third-party clients, it's hard to know which one to use as your primary messaging method. Which is why RIM has been rather helpful and included a dedicated BBM shortcut key to the side of the BlackBerry Curve 9320.
Maybe it's feeling rattled by the increased take up of WhatsApp since it became cross-platform, but this is one of RIM's big selling points to the youth market. Not only is BBM popular with them, it's also highly encrypted (just ask the Met Police, who came up against said encryption during last year's London riots) and RIM is keen to keep pushing this as hard as it humanly can.
BBM's had a couple of tweaks in the BlackBerry Curve 9320 that deserve a special mention. For example, avatars are now animated (that'll keep the kids happy) and you can also send voice files over the service. But perhaps the most exciting aspect is just how it now links to other social media services.
Yep, Facebook and Twitter: we're looking at you. Although they're three separate services, it's nice to see that they can now work together with BBM - for example, updating one's Twitter status to also cover their BBM status.
In fact, the Social Feeds app enables you to update multiple statuses in one go, which is really helpful. And BBM is integrated with everything from BB Music to Foursquare, and even the Bible app. In fact, when you log into BBM, it gives you a list of all the apps currently in the App World that will work with it. Good work.
As for tapping out those status updates, well typing on the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is passable, but we can't say we were thrilled. We compare the keyboard to the likes of the BlackBerry Bold range, which are perfect, but the small tinny keys don't give you the same satisfying feeling.
It's not that the keyboard on the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is bad, because it isn't at all, but it's not the best out there. For occasional emailers and small hands, though, it shouldn't pose too much of an issue.
If you're coming to a smartphone for the first time and are doing it because you want to use the internet heavily, we can't say we recommend the BlackBerry Curve 9320 as a major browsing device. Don't get us wrong - it's not bad for surfing. It's just very pedestrian.
Yes, it is a lot better when we compare it to the Curve range of BB4 and BB5, but that's not saying much, because they were truly awful. The experience you get on the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is what you would have expected on a top-end phone maybe four years ago.
Firstly, it's a little slow at loading pages. Not so much that you'll fall asleep, but maybe enough to encourage a little yawn. Remember, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 has a single-core 806MHz processor, and loading webpages is one of the most taxing things you can throw at it.
Many sites, including the ones we checked (Media Guardian, TechRadar and so on) load the mobile versions by default. But when you try to load the desktop versions, it starts to struggle. One page on the Guardian desktop site took 25 seconds to load over Wi-Fi. The text was ready after 15 seconds, but scrolling around made it lag because the browser was still loading up other processor-hogging elements on the pages.
As for 3G, add at least another 10 per cent onto those times. We did this not to be unfair on the BlackBerry Curve 9320 and show it up, but to demonstrate how poor it is at loading big web pages. It's important, since not every site has a mobile-friendly alternative.
The other issue is the resolution. We know it's a budget smartphone, but the BlackBerry Curve 9320's low pixel density just makes pages look a little cheap and nasty. In terms of browsing, it's exactly the same experience as the Curve 9360, except with an inferior screen, which means it is not as pleasurable to use.
RIM has updated how bookmarks work - so instead of getting them in a list format, you get little thumbnails of all of your sites. The same goes for your history.
But don't go looking for Flash. It's missing here. Not that that's a big deal these days, and it's actually just as well given how long the BlackBerry Curve 9320 takes to load non-flash pages. You'd be there all day.
Don't read too much into our criticisms, since this is clearly a phone aimed at those who are new to the smartphone arena or are just going to be doing a bit of light, occasional browsing. And for checking train times or browsing new mobile sites, you really won't have any problems.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320's camera does what it says on the tin. It's cheap and cheerful at 3.2MP - which was a great resolution to have back in 2007, but is not the best on the market these days by any stretch of the imagination.
There's only one snapper, and that's round the back. And while we're all too aware that it's not always about the number of megapixels but so much other stuff too, there's no way of disguising that the camera on the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is average, at best.
We are pleased to report at least that that it also comes with an LED flash, which is something all too often left off cheaper phones. Thanks RIM.
Pictures taken come out just as you would expect. If you're going to take the odd snap of the dog chasing its ball or the kids at school sports day then you'll be fine. If you're looking for something that will replace your DSLR, you'll be disappointed, but we don't imagine you'll be considering the BlackBerry Curve 9320 if that's the case.
Pictures are more suited to viewing on the phone's screen and sending via MMS than printing onto a canvas and sticking above the mantelpiece.
Once again, RIM appears to have gone all out to give us a plethora of scene modes to cover any eventuality. But in doing so, it's forgotten the most basic element - autofocus. Presumably, RIM assumes that anybody who buys a cheaper BlackBerry smartphone will be taking lots of photos in snow, beach and sports scenes but isn't too bothered about them being focused properly. Come on RIM - sort it out.
For the shaky handed among you: the good news is that the BlackBerry Curve 9320 comes with image stabilisation in the options (turned off by default.) The bad news is that it's pretty hopeless, and you're best ignoring it.
Basically, what you are getting here is the same camera software that you got on the BlackBerry Curve 9360, but with an inferior lens. There is absolutely nothing here to boast about, unless you're an occasional snapper.
The flash illuminates photos well, but pictures can end up looking very washed out.
Due to the lack of autofocus, getting a lock on any form of text is impossible.
Using the beach scene mode, colours can appear vibrant in good light, but you can still see jagged lines around some edges.
Fast moving objects such as cars demonstrate a slight blur on photos, but it's passable. Unfortunately, in cloudy conditions, even in daylight, images can look very grey and dull.
If you think we were slightly negative about the BlackBerry Curve 9320's camera, hold that face. We're the same about the video recording facility too.
As before, you will encounter absolutely no problem if you're just planning on using the phone to shoot the occasional mini-movie for MMS or email. Anything more and you will be disappointed.
The video isn't bad - it looks OK on the screen but, again, the resolution just makes the experience look a little more shoddy. It's good old fashioned VGA quality, at 640 x 480. Again, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in 2007. An MMS-friendly size is also on offer, at the expense of quality.
There are various scene modes included just like in the camera app (although fewer of them) and image stabilisation rears its head here again but, also again, we couldn't really see what it offered.
There is a video light, but annoyingly you have to decide if you want to have it on or off before you start shooting your video, which is irritating - especially if you're moving around between light and dark or maybe shooting in twilight. You have to stop recording to toggle it on and off, which can ruin videos.
Annoyingly, there is what looks like an icon at the bottom of the screen for you to turn the light on and off. But unfortunately, it's just a notifier, letting you know if your light is on or off (like you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at the back of the phone) and is just a waste of screen real estate. It's annoying and shows that RIM hasn't really thought this whole bit of the OS through.
Most people won't notice or mind, but we did, and it irked us.
Another issue is that you have to put a memory card into the BlackBerry Curve 9320 to be able to shoot video. That's because you only get 512MB of storage. Retail units may come with a memory card included but our review device didn't, so it may be worth checking before you buy.
Keep in mind what we said about needing a memory card - because you'll soon regret it if you're planning on using the BlackBerry Curve 9320 for media-related fun. The 512MB of storage will not go far at all.
Once you've got one though (and you can expand by up to 32GB officially), you'll be in a better place, because media is really one of the BlackBerry Curve 9320's saving graces.
RIM has slowly been building up BlackBerry phones' media capabilities over the last few iterations of its operating system, and it's reached a level now that makes it better than many other alternatives. It keeps the BlackBerry relevant to a younger audience who love nothing more than blasting out some tunes on their way to and from school.
Podcasts are provided via a separate application to music but, unlike the BlackBerry Curve 9360, we couldn't seem to find a way to search and subscribe to them directly from the handset. All we could search were ones already loaded on.
RIM has included the excellent Amazon MP3 store in the BlackBerry Curve 9320, which provides a credible alternative to iTunes (and is often cheaper). But be warned, if you use it, your purchases aren't backed up by Amazon like they are with Apple, so if you lose them, you'll have to pay to download again. We learned this the hard way.
However, music can be synced straight back to your PC or Mac using the excellent sync software provided, so pain should be avoided easily. Speaking of the software, it also syncs iTunes playlists perfectly. This shouldn't be undervalued, since lots of other non-Apple handsets struggle.
There is also an option to enable you to download music apps, which takes you to the relevant section in the App World.
Funnily enough, BlackBerry Music is not included by default in the OS, and you have to go out of your way to download and install it, which is bizarre. Seems a very strange way to promote what is a new service.
Playing music is a pleasure, with tracks sorted by a variety of means within the player. Sound quality was not bad at all, and we were fairly happy.
Videos are kept in their own sections, as are music and photos, and you're even given options to search BlackBerry AppWorld for apps that will work with them. It's all really well integrated and we are sold on this. We can confidently say that, media-wise at least, we think the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is a worthy (and cheaper) competitor to the iPhone, even if it falls down in certain other comparable aspects.
Like the screen. And lack of memory. Have we mentioned those two before?
Watching video is adequate. It'll do for viewing your own short clips back or showing someone a YouTube video of a cat doing Jedi mind tricks. Don't expect it to replace a PMP though, unless you want to end up with a migraine.
One great new addition is the FM radio. We're pretty sure this is the first time RIM has included an FM radio. Nokia's been doing it since the days of the 8310, but RIM never bothered.
Seems odd to start now but we're not complaining - this is one of the elements we love having on a phone and saves having to worry about the signal dropping out if using TuneIn or a similar app to stream.
Battery life and connectivity
RIM proudly boasts that the BlackBerry Curve 9320 has the "longest lasting battery yet in a 3G Curve model." That's a pretty bold claim to make, but we think there is a valid point here.
It's almost as though it read our BlackBerry Curve 9360 review, where we expressed utter disbelief at the 1000mAh capacity.
Here, RIM has fitted the BlackBerry Curve 9320 with a stonking 1450mAh power pack. That's even 220mAh bigger than the company's flagship device, the BlackBerry Bold 9900. And more than an iPhone. Wow.
We have to take our hat off to the Canadians here. This is one of the best batteries we have ever used on a smartphone. Nothing will come close to the monochrome BlackBerry phones of old that lasted a week per charge with medium use, but this is the nearest you'll get with a 3G device.
We took our BlackBerry Curve 9320 off charge on Friday evening at 6pm. We left Bluetooth on, used email a fair bit, did a bit of internet browsing (20 mins max), took a few photos and made a couple of calls. We also browsed Facebook and Twitter using the dedicated apps.
We weren't consciously trying to save the battery, and we didn't need to. The BlackBerry Curve 9320 kept on going until Sunday evening before we got the low battery warning. With very heavy use, you'll still get a full day, which is pretty good going.
Connectivity-wise, GPS, Bluetooth (with A2DP), HSDPA/HSUPA and Wi-Fi (up to 'n') are all there.
One omission we are surprised about is NFC. BlackBerry seems to have bought into Near Field Communications more than any other manufacturer. Although this is a cheaper handset, NFC was included on the Curve 9360, leading us to believe RIM is aggressively pushing the technology. Seems a bit strange, but since NFC hasn't really taken off yet, we're not too disheartened.
As previously mentioned, media can be transferred between the phone and your PC or Mac via some excellent sync software.
Other inclusions are BlackBerry Media Server, which is RIM's DLNA solution. For the uninitiated, it means you can basically stream media from your phone to a compatible TV or machine. For example, we played our music stored on the BlackBerry Curve 9320 to our PS3, which then pumped it out via the TV speakers. It was really easy to set it up, and if you have Wi-Fi you should have no problems at all.
Speaking of Wi-Fi, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 also comes with the wireless hotspot option included. It means that as well as receiving a Wi-Fi signal, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 can also transmit one, using your 3G connection to turn your phone into a hotspot.
The upside is that you can share your connection with one or more machines when you're out and about. The downside is that your network may see dollar signs when you do so, so be cautious.
Maps and apps
Can we get a 'Hallelujah?' We think we deserve one! Because after several reviews moaning about the same old apps being included with BlackBerry handsets, we finally have some new ones. OK, so the old ones are there too (the likes of BrickBreaker and WordMole) but there are a few additions. We were thrilled to see Tetris and Uno included for whiling away the morning commute, although they are only trial versions.
There's a really good smattering of other apps too to serve a variety of tastes. From OK! Celeb News to Sky Sports Football, ESPN Goals, eBay, NatWest and a London Tube Map. These are all bits you'd be able to download from the App World anyway, but it's nice that RIM has included them out of the box to get you started.
For social junkies, as we mentioned earlier, there is some Twitter and Facebook love, as well as stalkers' favourite, FourSquare.
Unfortunately, the App World is still hideously overpriced and under populated compared to offerings from Apple and Android.
However, don't forget there are alternative app markets such as Handmark and GetJar, which have been around for years and have some titles at better prices. The common misconception of lots of phone users is that they're locked into one store. But you can shop around. And you probably should.
GPS lovers will be thrilled to know that BlackBerry Maps is on board (note the sarcasm) and we heartily recommend you just download Google Maps instead.
Quite why RIM continues to ship this useless piece of mapping code is beyond us, but we imagine in these times of austerity, it is at least keeping somebody in a job.
If you've detected a little negativity in our review, you'll not be surprised to learn that we are not overwhelmed by the BlackBerry Curve 9320.
Yes, it has some nifty little features such as the Media Server capability, the Wi-Fi hotspot and FM radio, but it lets itself down in other areas with a not-so-brilliant screen, poor memory allocation and pants video recording.
That's not to say it's rubbish, because it's not - some bits, such as the messaging capabilities and battery life, really are fantastic. It's just you get the feeling the BlackBerry Curve 9320 has tried to spread itself too thinly, but it's now down in the very lowest BB price bracket that can almost be forgiven.
It's great to see RIM thinking ahead and including new elements such as an FM Radio, wireless hotspot connectivity and even DNLA. It shows these things can be done and aren't exclusive to top-end handsets. And if they're two things you'll be using the BlackBerry Curve 9320 for, it'll pay for itself in the long run.
But the phone lets itself down in so many other ways. Why can't RIM create a browser that works as well as other smartphones? Why does it spend so much time including pointless scene modes but omitting something as obvious as autofocus in the camera?
Once again you just get the feeling that RIM got 90 per cent of the way to developing a great phone, then the workers clocked off for the day and management marked the handset as 'ready to ship.'
What we like about the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is that it's honest. It's not trying to be better than it is and is quite happy to portray itself as a budget smartphone with a few little extras.
And for the people it's aimed at, those who want a phone that makes calls, sends texts/emails and has a good battery, it comes up trumps. Web browsers and cameras are nice to have, but won't swing a sale here. So on that basis, it gets a thumbs up.
And now we have the powerful sub-£100 price bracket. It's very impressive for a phone of this capability, and willl surely see it fly off the shelves - meaning it matches up to the likes of the Huawei Ascend G300.
We would recommend you buy the BlackBerry Curve 9320 now it's got the lower price point - but don't forget about the sumptious BlackBerry Curve 9360.