Review: Blackberry Curve

Blackberry devices have earned a devoted following from workaholics known to seal deals and issue commands to subordinates incessantly via e-mail during dinner, while reading bedtime stories to kids, and even in the bathroom: but the Curve offers enough new features to move the device out of the working stiff category and into the eyeshot of today's mobile student.

Once known as an "e-mail machine," the new consumer-oriented Blackberry Curve (RIM 8300) from AT&T will turn a lot of Blackberry critics' frowns upside down. The Curve introduces a clean new stylized design and a low entry level price point (as low as $150 depending on your contract terms).

The Curve fits nicely into an average sized hand and is equally comfy to use when typing or talking. Despite the small device body the Curve brings along a nicely sized keyboard where each letter has its own designated key which feels solid when pressed. No sharing necessary on the QWERTY layout (unlike the earlier consumer-geared model dubbed the Perl), and it fits nicely when held to the ear as well.

The centered miniature track ball, now standard on new Blackberrys, is surprisingly powerful as a multi-directional navigator. Users upgrading from the old school click-and-scroll wheel will learn to appreciate the glowing orb after just a few days.

The Curve is shockingly the first Blackberry to offer spellcheck (business users have been excusing their mistakes as typos for years) and introduces a decent camera that rivals other camera phones. (Courthouses and the military don't allow camera phones in, so Blackberry has previously left the camera option off).

One of the most overlooked features of the Curve may be its multimedia capabilities. There is a slot to add storage in the form of a mini-sd card (I purchased a 2GB card for $25) and the device can easily play unprotected music and video. There is a jack to plug in headphones, the speakerphone allows you to play your music out loud, and the phone has the latest Bluetooth version with stereo capabilities for wireless listening.

Before you trade in your iPod, you should know the bundled software is very cumbersome and you will not be able to play any media purchased from an online store like Urge or iTunes.

For the high-tech student who needs to stay in touch, the Curve will be a sweet solution. The fabulous automatic push e-mail technology that made the Blackberry popular is still part of the package, and for the demanding user who wants it all, Push to Talk, Text Messaging, Multimedia, Organization, and style too, there is finally a solution in the Curve.

For business users, there is a comparable model called the 8800. The casing is a deep blue compared to the Curve's silver, and the keys are more polished than plastic and not raised as much as the Curve. The 8800 is missing the camera and spellcheck, but adds the ability of GPS navigation without any extra hardware (requires activation and a $10 monthly charge).