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Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion has made a slimline addition to its Curve series of handsets, powered by its recently released BlackBerry 7 OS.
The mid-range handset, introduced on Tuesday, comes in three models with connectivity for different regions. The Curve 9360 is set for launch in the UK in September, while the 9350 and 9370 will appear in other markets within the same time frame.
The phones all have the curved mini-Qwerty keypad that marks them out from higher-end RIM handsets such as the Bold. As with earlier Curve models, they are aimed at people looking to progress from a feature phone onto their first fully-fledged smartphone, according to RIM.
"The new BlackBerry Curve smartphones... offer a significant performance upgrade with [a] mobile social experience for the millions of feature phone users in the market, as well as [for] our existing Curve customers," Mike Lazaridis, co-chief executive of RIM, said in a statement.
The 9360 handset is RIM's slimmest smartphone to date, measuring just 11mm thick. It comes with a 2.4-inch non-touch display, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HSPA connectivity, GPS and a 800MHz processor. It has 512MB of storage on board, with support for microSD cards up to 32GB.
The OS provides support for near-field communications (NFC) technology. This means the smartphone can be used with a NFC reader to make contactless mobile payments, for example, or to act as a secure entry card for a building.
The inclusion of NFC in a mid-range handset such as the 9360 could prove an "alluring package for those who find price as important as cutting-edge features", Ernest Doku, technology expert at uSwitch, said in a statement.
Along with the BlackBerry 7 OS, the 9360 comes pre-loaded with a number of apps. These include the premium version of Documents To Go, BlackBerry Protect and BlackBerry Balance, for people who use the phone for work. It also has the recently updated BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) instant-messaging client, which comes with social-networking features.
"BlackBerry phones have made the transition from the boardroom to the classroom in recent years, with a younger generation of customers attracted to social features like the BlackBerry Messenger service," Doku said. "Integrating Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook into BBM sends a clear message that RIM are flying ahead of the pack when it comes to making social media more accessible."
BlackBerry 7 also brings an updated version of the BlackBerry WebKit browser, which RIM said brings a "significantly faster, more fluid browsing experience" to the Curve range. However, unlike the browser on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, it does not support Flash content.
"Right now, we're focused on HTML 5," a RIM spokesman told ZDNet UK. "If you look at what you'd access from a Flash perspective on a screen like this, things like YouTube, that side is fully supporting HTML 5 and is able to run videos independent of Flash on mobilised sites. For the PlayBook, you get Flash because it's a larger display."
The curved rear of the device houses a five-megapixel flash-enabled camera, which is also capable of capturing VGA-quality video.
During a launch event in London, RIM executives focused heavily on the design of the handset, talking about its "soft-touch paint finish" and how the frame "adds to the design language but also gives integrity and strength".
In a departure from its predecessors, this Curve moves the headphone socket from the side to the top of the phone, making it easier to access when in a pocket.
The Curve 9360 will launch first in Canada, arriving sometime in August. It will then head to the UK in September, RIM said. Pricing and precise release timings were not disclosed, though Three and Vodafone have already announced they will stock the device once it arrives.
"If these phones are pitched at the right cost by the networks, BlackBerry could well have a strong line-up against Android and the iPhone this winter," Doku predicted.
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