T-Mobile teased us at CES 2009 by introducing the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 but denying us any details on availability date and pricing. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait too long as the carrier has released the final details and has given us our own review unit.
In short, the BlackBerry Curve 8900 is a solid addition to T-Mobile's smartphone lineup and one of the company's top offerings, in our opinion. It replaces the Curve 8300 series, and brings several notable improvements, including a sleeker design that's bolstered by a more solid construction and an amazingly sharp display, a faster processor, a full HTML Web browser, and a 3.2-megapixel camera. It also has integrated Wi-Fi with UMA support so you can make unlimited calls over a Wi-Fi network. However, our one big disappointment is the lack of 3G support. It's a feature that could really have given the 8900 an edge over its competition.
Despite this omission and some other minor issues, we would absolutely recommend the BlackBerry Curve 8900. It's a solid device that will appeal to both consumers and mobile professionals, offering a nice balance between work and play and all wrapped up in a sweet little package. The BlackBerry Curve 8900 is available now through B2B sales and will be in retail stores nationwide starting February 11 for $199 with a two-year contract.
The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 holds the distinction (though who knows for how long) as being the thinnest full QWERTY BlackBerry to date. The smartphone measures 4.2 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 3.8 ounces compared with the BlackBerry Curve 8320, which comes it at 4.2 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick and 3.9 ounces. It feels comfortable to use a both a phone and messaging device and fit into a pants pocket. We do appreciate the Curve 8900's sleek profile but even more than that, we're fans of the phone's more solid construction. Though the phone's body is still made of plastic, RIM used different finishes and paint applications to make the handset more durable and you can notice the difference as soon as you pick it up. Our only complaint would be that the battery cover can sometimes shift a little.
Also, while style is subjective, we have to say we dig the look of the Curve 8900 over the previous Curve 8300 series. It has tapered edges like the BlackBerry Storm and the metallic paint gives the 8900 a fresh, modern. It's a lot less corporate and masculine looking than the BlackBerry Bold, so it should appeal to a wide variety of users.
The Curve 8900 features a 2.4-inch TFT LCD that supports 65,536 colors at a 480x360-pixel resolution. It's a better screen than the BlackBerry Bold, which isn't too shabby itself with a 480x320-pixel resolution, but there is an extra level of sharpness and brightness to the Curve's screen that's quite impressive. The Curve 8900 also runs the latest version of the BlackBerry operating system so you get an updated user interface. There's no doubt the UI is more aesthetically pleasing, but we do have one minor complaint: a lot of icons look the same, so it's a bit hard to distinguish different folders and applications onscreen just at a glance.
Below the display, you have your standard navigation array that includes Talk and End keys, a menu shortcut, a back button, and the trackball navigator. The layout is simple and spacious, so there were no problems using the controls or navigating the phone. The side controls, which are outlined below, also allows for easy one-handed operation.
The BlackBerry Curve 8900's keyboard is similar to the one found on the BlackBerry Bold. Since the phone is smaller, the keys aren't as big or roomy but we still found it easy to compose e-mails and text with minimal errors. The buttons provide a nice tactile feedback and the keyboard is adequately backlit, with the number keys highlighted in red instead of white.
On the left side, there's a single user-programmable shortcut key (launches voice dialer by default), while there's a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker, a MicroUSB port, and another customizable side button (assigned to the camera out of the box). The camera and flash are located on the back, and behind the battery cover are the SIM card and microSD expansion slots. We would have preferred that the expansion slot be on the outside for easier access, and we also weren't huge fans of the little plastic piece that held the card in place. It felt flimsy, so we worry if it'll hold up over time. Finally, while not immediately visible, there's a mute button and a lock key on top the unit.
T-Mobile ships the Curve 8900 with a travel charger, a USB cable, a 256MB MicroSD card, a wired headset, a protective case, a software CD, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900 runs BlackBerry OS 126.96.36.199 so aside from the aforementioned updated user interface, you also get new functionality and improved applications. For example, unlike the Curve 8300 series, you can now edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, thanks to the inclusion of DataViz's Documents to Go Suite. Like the Bold and the Storm, only the Standard Edition is preloaded on the smartphone so if you want the ability to create new documents, you will have to upgrade to the Premium Edition.
The BlackBerry Curve 8900 also ships with a number of personal information management tools, such as a Calendar, a task list, a memo pad, a voice recorder, a calculator, a password keeper, and more. There's quite a catalog of applications available for BlackBerrys, whether you're looking for new games or software for your job. Be aware, however, that if you have third-party applications on an older BlackBerry model, they may not be compatible with the Curve 8900. T-Mobile includes some suggestions and direct download links on its mobile site, or you can check out Download.com for more ideas.
One of the most-needed improvements was in the area of Web browsing, and the Curve 8900 delivers. You now get a full HTML Web browser with support for RSS feeds and streaming media, including YouTube clips. Browsing and navigating sites is made better by the Page and Column view options and onscreen cursor. There are also zoom in/out functions. The experience hardly matches the Web experience on the iPhone, but it's a definite improvement from previous versions of the BlackBerry browser, which was pretty much atrocious. Baby steps, right?
To get connected, you have two options: Wi-Fi or T-Mobile's EDGE network, which is all well and good but what's more newsworthy to us, is what's missing: 3G support. We realize that the addition of a 3G radio affects battery life and size, but still, T-Mobile has finally rolled out its 3G network and could use more 3G smartphones (currently, the T-Mobile G1 is the carrier's only smartphone to offer 3G). Admittedly, we found that surfing the Web on the Curve 8900 over EDGE wasn't that bad but even so, we still would have liked to see the inclusion of 3G.