With the update to BlackBerry OS 4.6, the Curve 8350i brings more advanced productivity tools and multimedia capabilities. First, the smartphone ships with DataViz Documents To Go Standard Edition, so you can now edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files as well. If you want the ability to create new documents, you will have to upgrade to the Premium Edition. Other PIM applications include a Calendar, a task list, a memo pad, a voice recorder, a calculator, a password keeper, and more. You can always download more applications to the smartphone. There's a link to Sprint's software store from the main menu where you can purchase more applications and utilities over the air; for more information on BlackBerry apps and suggestions, check out Download.com.
Thankfully, the Curve 8350i offers an improved, full HTML Web browser. It's still not as advanced or easy to use as some of the competition, but definitely better than before. You can choose from two views, such as Page View or Column View. In addition to zoom-in and -out functions, there's also an onscreen cursor that you can move in any direction and place on any part of the page where you can click a link. You can get surf the Web over Nextel's network, but there's no 3G support. Fortunately, there's integrated Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), so you can browse with some speed. You can manually add a network or the smartphone can automatically scan for available networks; our review unit had no problem finding and connecting to our wireless network. There are also Wi-Fi tools, such as diagnostics, DNS lookup, and site survey.
As far as multimedia, there's a built-in media player that supports MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files, and MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 video clips. Other features include a search function, playlist creation, shuffle and repeat, and you get a full-screen mode for video playback. The included software CD also contains a copy of Roxio Easy Media Creator, so you can create MP3s from CDs and add audio tags. There's 128MB of flash memory onboard, but we'd load multimedia files on a microSD/SDHC card to conserve storage. The expansion slot can accept up to 16GB cards.
The BlackBerry Curve 8350i also features a 2-megapixel camera with digital zoom and video-recording capabilities. For still images, there are three size options and three quality choices. In addition to the flash, you can tweak the white balance and add color effects. The smartphone's built-in GPS also allows for geotagging photos. To use the video camera, you must first have a microSD card installed; otherwise it won't let you start recording a clip. Video options are pretty limited. You only get two formats (normal or MMS mode) and colors effects--that's it.
Picture quality wasn't particularly inspiring. Though the objects were clear, colors were pretty flat-looking and gray. Recorded videos were also sub-par, as clips were very blurry.
We tested the dual-band (iDEN 800/900) RIM BlackBerry Curve 8350i in San Francisco using Nextel service and call quality was decent. Though audio was clear, calls sounded hollow at times, as if our friends were talking in an empty room. We encountered the same scenario when we activated the speakerphone as well, though there was plenty of volume. We were still able to carry on conversations and interact with an airline's voice-automated response system, however, and we didn't experience any dropped calls during our testing period. Unfortunately, we were not able to test out the PTT services since we didn't know any Direct Connect users. We were able to the pair the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
For the most part, the BlackBerry Curve 8350i is a responsive device, but we did experience some lag with even simple tasks like menu navigation. There was also one instance when we exited out of the video player and got stuck on the main menu page for a few seconds, unable to scroll to other items or launch apps. While we're on the subject of video, let us say the multimedia experience was OK. Like most smartphones, we wouldn't really recommend watching a full-length movie on the Curve 8305i, but playback was smooth, so short clips were fine. We listened to several MP3 files and, as we experienced with the speakerphone, audio quality was hollow. As one would expect, the sound was much better when using headphones. Sadly, the Curve 8350i isn't equipped with a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you will need an audio adapter to use such earbuds or headphones.
We used the BlackBerry Internet Service to hook up our Yahoo e-mail account with the device. The configuration process went off without a hitch and we successfully received messages from our inbox. However, the smartphone had problems sending e-mails. We'd have to resend messages multiple times in order for them to go through to the recipient. On a brighter note, the smartphone had no problems finding and connecting to our Wi-Fi network.
The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8350i comes equipped with a 1,400mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 4 hours. In our battery drain tests, the smartphone provided 8.25 hours of continuous talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the BlackBerry Curve 8350i has a digital-SAR rating of 0.88 watt per kilogram.