We first saw RIM’s BlackBerry Curve a little less than a year ago. It has proved a popular device, not least because of its stylish appearance and compact format compared to its QWERTY keypad-equipped predecessors.
The Curve isn't as tiny as the Pearl, but that device uses a smaller keypad with two letters per key and the SureType predictive text system.
The Curve 8320 is small for a device with a full QWERTY keypad. It measures 107mm tall by 60mm wide by 15.5mm thick and weighs 111g — ideal for the mobile professional.
The keyboard is remarkably ergonomic thanks to two design features: the keys are well separated from each other and are nicely raised from their surroundings. This makes it relatively easy to hit them accurately with even the stubbiest of fingertips.
Above the keypad is the now-familiar mini-trackball that allows for directional movement within and between applications. This centrally positioned navigation device is more ergonomic for left- and right-handed users than a side-mounted scroll button. To its left and right are menu and back keys, and, outside them, Call and End keys.
The Curve 8320 incorporates a camera. There was a time when RIM eschewed such things, focusing purely on business-orientated features like mobile email. Now the BlackBerry range caters for a wider market.
The 2-megapixel camera, which captures stills but not video, has a small LED flash and a self-portrait mirror. The supplied media application will display pictures and downloaded video, and play back music.
The music player is not particularly sophisticated, but does help to broaden the device's appeal. The Curve supports microSD cards, so you can store plenty of image, video and other data. Annoyingly, the card slot is located underneath the battery, so swapping cards means powering the device down completely.
The location of the memory card slot may be irritating, but music fans will be pleased to note that there is a 3.5mm headphone slot rather than the 2.5mm slot so often used in mobile phones.
This makes it easy to substitute your own headphones for those supplied with the device. This may rule out wired handsfree operation, but the Curve 8320 has Bluetooth built in, so wireless handsfree is perfectly feasible.
The edge that houses the headphone slot also contains the mini-USB power connector and one of two 'convenience keys'. These are a BlackBerry staple and can be programmed to access any frequently used feature. Out of the box, this key activates the built-in voice control.
The other 'convenience key' is on the right edge and by default launches the camera (again, this can be programmed to your preference).
The GPS receiver, present in the 8310 model but not the 8320, is the updated range's main new feature. With it, you can use the built-in BlackBerry Maps service, which offers location-based services such as navigation and finding a restaurant.
The Curve is an ergonomic device, and probably the most user-friendly of the BlackBerry range. However, there's no 3G support — both 83x0 models are quad-band GSM phones with GPRS/EDGE. This leaves them some way behind their leading-edge smartphone competition — particularly the 8310 model, which includes GPS but omits Wi-Fi (the 8320 includes Wi-Fi but lacks GPS). Perhaps we'll eventually get a Curve with Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G too. Let's hope it's not too long a wait.