BlackBerry 7.1 OS comes with a few new features and updates. These include an FM radio, Wi-Fi calling, mobile hot-spot capabilities, autosuggest in the universal search function, and BlackBerry Tag for NFC-enabled devices. Unfortunately, I was only able to access the FM radio on the Curve 9310. Though it worked reliably and was simple and easy to use -- the only downside is that it only plays if you have a headset plugged in -- some features of the new operating system weren't available on the Curve 9310, either because the phone doesn't have the capability (mobile hot spot) or Boost Mobile doesn't support it (Wi-Fi calling).
You'll still get plenty of applications, like a Web browser, Slacker Radio, BBM 6.1, BlackBerry Maps, YouTube, BlackBerry Conference Calls, a data protection and backup assistant, the BlackBerry App World store, and a handful of social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Social Feeds, which consolidates all your feeds into one location.
Other basic apps include a calendar, e-mail, an alarm clock, two games (BrickBreaker and World Mole), a memo pad, a task list, a calculator, Documents To Go, a voice dialer and note recorder, and a password keeper.
Camera and video
Photo options for the 3.2-megapixel camera include flash, a 4x digital zoom, geotagging, 11 scene modes (auto, face detection, portrait, sports, landscape, party, close-up, snow, beach, night, and even text for taking pictures of, well, text). It also has image stabilization, and you can save photos in three picture sizes. Video recording options include 1.8x digital zoom, continuous flash, five scene modes, and two video formats (normal and MMS mode).
Photo quality was mediocre. Colors were overly saturated and objects were blurred. Edges were not well-defined, and dark hues were hard to distinguish from each other. Pictures taken against a white background showed a lot of digital noise and graininess.
Video fared a little better. There was a bit of a lag time between my moving of the camera and the recorded feedback, but objects for the most part were in focus and crisp (though there was slight aliasing on the edges). However, because there's no autofocus, lighting was all over the place. White light coming from windows would be washed out, and dark objects weren't well-defined.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800, 1900) BlackBerry Curve 9310 in San Francisco using Boost Mobile's network. Call quality was solid. There was no extraneous buzzing or noise, none of my calls were dropped, and audio didn't clip in and out. Voices were audible, but a bit muffled. Turning up the volume helped a lot, and on its maximum level, my friends' voices came in loud and clear. I was told that I too sounded a bit muted. Speakerphone was impressive, however. In addition to calls with my friends, I was surprised that audio from music and YouTube videos packed a big punch from such a small device.
BlackBerry Curve 9310 call quality sample
Though the 9310 is able to connect to Boost's 3G network, it's heavily promoted under the carrier's shrinking $45-a-month BBM plan, which gives users access to the Web only through a Wi-Fi connection. An unlimited plan that includes data starts out at $60 a month. Boost's network isn't the fastest, but it does the job. The device took an average of 9 and 14 seconds to load CNET and ESPN's mobile sites, respectively. (Desktop versions of both sites weren't available.) It took 56 seconds to load The New York Times' desktop site, and 14 seconds for its mobile site, on average.
During our battery drain test, the phone lasted 9.48 hours. Anecdotally, it has a great battery life. Only about 30 percent of the battery's charge was drained after I spent the day browsing the Internet, talking on the phone, and watching videos. I didn't even have to charge it after that and there was plenty of life in it for the next day. According to FCC radiation tests, the phone has a digital SAR rating of 1.58W/kg.
Though it's certainly no game changer, the Curve 9310 is a reliable device that sticks to what BlackBerry devotees (however few and far between) have come to love. Its familiar portrait keyboard, complete with touch-pad navigation, is still easy to use and makes texting a walk in the park. Call quality was perfectly satisfactory and audio from the speaker was impressive. And if you're not too keen on high specs, the phone's 3.2-megapixel camera is enough to get by with.