BlackBerry Curve 9370 (Verizon Wireless) review:

BlackBerry Curve 9370 (Verizon Wireless)

E-mail alone just doesn't cut it these days on a smartphone, so it's good to see the Curve is preloaded with social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry's own Social Feeds app that acts as a hub for RSS feeds, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of other social media outlets. BBM itself has been upgraded to BBM 6, which features better integration with third-party apps.

The Curve 9370 is otherwise the same BlackBerry as before. It has a maps app with directions, and it has VZ Navigator, which offers turn-by-turn voice directions. There are also the usual productivity features like a calendar, clock, memo pad, tasks list, calculator, voice notes recorder, and file manager. You do get a premium version of Documents To Go, and a backup assistant.

For multimedia apps, in addition to the default music player there's the Slacker app for streaming music. Verizon has also loaded on VZW Tones, V Cast Videos, and V Cast Song ID. You can download more apps from BlackBerry App World.

The Curve 9370's 5-megapixel camera rocked this outdoor shot.

There's support for the usual media formats, including MP3, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, WMA, FLAC, OGG, MPEG4, H.263, H.264, and WMV. Simply drag and drop them onto a USB mass storage device if the phone is plugged into a PC, or you can use BlackBerry Desktop Software. The Curve 9370 bumps up the internal storage to 1GB (the 9350 and 9370 only have 512MB) and it comes with a 2GB card preinstalled. The phone supports microSD cards up to 32GB.

If you look closely, you can see digital noise.

The 5-megapixel camera is a major upgrade over the Curve 9300's 2-megapixel model, delivering pretty good image quality. Photos were sharp and colorful on the whole. There was a bit of an orange hue to some indoor shots, though not all, and low-light photos needed Night mode or flash more often than not.

Applause for the phone's even-keeled representation of this studio shot.

The Curve 9370 supports video in a 640x480-pixel resolution for regular clips, and a lower-res 320x240 pixels for MMS mode. This isn't the 720p HD video promised for higher-end devices like the Bold. You can, however, turn on a recording light and engage image stabilization while you record.

I tested the Curve 9370 on Verizon's network in San Francisco. Here in the U.S., the phone operated on dual bands (CDMA 800/1,900MHz); outside the U.S., you can use a quad-band GSM SIM card (850/900/1,800/1,900MHz).

Call quality was a little disappointing. Volume was fine, but I detected a high-pitched whine whenever anyone else spoke, accompanied by some fuzziness. I also heard some digital interruptions that at times sounded like burps and blips. On the other end of the line, callers also appreciated the high volume, and said my words were intelligible. They described the phone's voice quality as OK, but not beautifully clear.

BlackBerry Curve 9370 call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was also hit or miss. Volume sounded OK on my end, but a little weak even at maximum levels. Voices sounded acceptable, though a little muffled, and were accompanied by some buzzing. That high-pitched whine I heard on regular calls disappeared, however. On their end, callers heard strong volume, but agreed on the muffled voice quality. Despite that, one caller declared it one of the best speakerphone experiences he's has in some time.

The Curve 9370 has an 800MHz processor, which is on the lower end of the range, but still acceptable for an entry-level phone. I never found myself rolling my eyes waiting for apps to load. To get an idea of the Curve's speeds on Verizon's 3G network, I conducted several diagnostic tests using Fancy Speed Test by FancyApps. The app never could pinpoint my location, so please don't take the results as gospel. Nevertheless, during my test period, I was looking at numbers like 0.3Mbps down.

Real-world tests are more reliable indicators. It took 21 seconds for the mobile version of CNET's site to load, and about 35 seconds to completely deliver the full The New York Times' mobile site booted up in a blistering 3.5 seconds, which is only slightly less impressive since it's text-only. (Strangely, there was no link to the full New York Times site from the mobile display, and there were no browser options to change the user agent to desktop viewing.)

The Curve 9370 has a rated talk time of up to 5.5 hours when used on CDMA (Verizon, for instance) and 5 hours on GSM. During our talk-time test with Verizon's network, it lasted 5.87 hours. It has a rated standby time of up to 14.5 days. FCC tests measured a digital SAR of 1.5 watts per kilogram.

BlackBerry 7 OS is certainly an improvement over BlackBerry 6 OS, and the Curve 9370's design, 5-megapixel camera, and NFC support give this year's model some bonus cred. However, it isn't enough to rate a phone compared with where it was before; you have to compare it with its contemporaries. It's there that the Curve 9370 trips up. It isn't a bad smartphone on its own, and it's a great value when weighed against the high-end Bold.

However, if it's a keyboard you're after, you don't feel tied to BlackBerry OS, and you're on a budget, the Motorola Droid Pro is an Android phone specifically designed to compete with RIM's phones like the Curve. Verizon is offering the Droid Pro for free at the time of this review. Without a larger, touch screen, LTE support, and a more flexible OS, a $100 entry-level smartphone just isn't that desirable, especially when its clones cost $80 and $50, respectively, for T-Mobile and Sprint.

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