The black plastic sheep of the Blackberry family.
Blackberry has certainly come a long way from the boardroom executive to the eleven year old text-happy kid. In a bid to keep users interested in their devices, Blackberry have come out with the Curve 9380, the latest revision in their more affordable line. Touting OS 7 and a range of improvements, does this device warrant an upgrade from your existing Curve?
Build quality & design
The Curve 9380 is the first in the series to have a touchscreen interface, and does away with the familiar physical keyboard. The omission of the keyboard and the build materials are what makes the Curve 9380 feel so light, weighing in at a mere 98g. The missing keyboard also means the phone has a slimmer profile, and is easy to slip into your pocket unnoticed. On the front is the 3.2” TFT capacitive touchscreen, with a resolution of 360×480 pixels. It isn’t the sharpest screen I’ve seen, but it does respond fairly quickly. Below the screen are four buttons for answer / reject calls, the BB menu key, and a back button. Unfortunately all of these buttons are part of one large plastic button, and pressing them can be a bit challenging at times. At the top is the screen lock button which is one massive button, but with this one it’s nearly impossible to tell if you’ve pressed it or not as it provides no button feedback. To the left of the device is the micro-USB port for charging and connecting to your PC, and to the right are the volume rocker, a tiny play/pause/mute button, and a dedicated shortcut button which by default launches the camera app. At the back is the 5MP camera and LED flash, and under the battery cover is an angled slot for your microSD card. I have to say that the battery cover was not the easiest to open – I spent a good few minutes trying to pry it open near the loudspeaker grill only to find that it would only snap open if pried from the sides.
Specs, Interface and Apps
As the Curve is part of the lower end of Blackberry’s devices, the specs are enough for an average user. A 806MHz processor and 512MB RAM are enough to power the OS 7 interface, but as you run more apps or open several tabs in the browser, things tend to go slightly downhill.
The Curve 9380 runs Blackberry OS 7.0, and while it does bring a few new features and improvements, most of them are purely cosmetic. The interface is quick to navigate around, and scrolling through apps is for the most part quite responsive, except for those occasions where the device accidentally launched an app instead of scrolling because it wasn’t able to recognize my gestures properly. The icons in the app drawer have had a more polished look and show off a bit of shading and shadow effects, but apart from that most of the core apps such as BBM, Camera, Browser, and Pictures are unchanged. The phone does bundle with Blackberry Protect, which lets you track your device and remotely wipe it if it gets lost or stolen. You also get voice search available from the main screen search box, and for the most part it’s able to correctly make out what you’re saying.
With the absence of the physical keyboard, I had to try and adjust to using an on-screen keyboard with a Blackberry, which was certainly a learning experience for me. While the on-screen keyboard was generally quite good at predicting my text correctly, I found that in portrait mode it wasn’t as comfortable to use as a physical keyboard, in part thanks to the small screen. There was also an occasional delay in text appearing on screen if I typed too fast, which was annoying. Things did improve when in landscape mode however, so I found myself rotating the phone often in order to avoid constantly making mistakes. The web browser is the same as we’ve seen in other models, and doesn’t support flash on account of the single-core processor. While pages rendered relatively quickly, panning or zooming in proved to be a problem on some sites, with the phone stuttering and often having to re-render the entire page again. The more windows you open the worse the experience gets, so you have to keep closing windows that you aren’t using.
Screen and Camera
The 3.2” screen isn’t going to blow you away, but does a fairly decent job of displaying text and pictures. It was bright enough to be useable outdoors which was a relief compared to the plethora of high-gloss displays seen on other devices. The 5MP fixed-focus camera and flash don’t provide the best photos – the shots that I took had quite a bit of interference in them even in good lighting, so apart from sharing photos on your social networks, don’t look to be using this phone’s camera for taking a lot of photos.
Sound Quality and Battery Life
For me there is one thing that really can make or break a phone for me, and that is how long the battery lasts. I don’t want to constantly be plugging my phone in to recharge or frantically running around to see who has a spare charger. Unfortunately, the Curve 9380 clocked in at just over 5 and a half hours of constant usage over 3G with a bare minimum of apps in the background. Which means that if you make a lot of phone calls, you’re best switching the 3G off if you don’t really need it. The sound quality was also a mixed bag – the loudspeaker at times wasn’t loud enough for conference calls, and even when using the phone normally my callers had occasional problems hearing me properly. Plugging in headphones to listen to music or video playback produced average audio quality, unless you use in-ear headphones.
The Blackberry Curve 9380 might not be for everyone, and certainly won’t be for business users who are used to rattling away long emails using a physical keyboard. For an end-user who wants a touchscreen Blackberry, you could play it safe with the Curve 9380 but even with a spiffy new OS upgrade the device doesn’t do much to make you want to spend more time with it. Add to that the disappointing battery life and you might as well stay with your current phone.