BlackBerry Curve 9320 review: BlackBerry Curve 9320

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As with previous Curves, I'm not convinced about the durability of the shiny plastic backplate, which responded with a disconcerting bounce when I prodded it with my chubby digits. I'd also wager that while this phone could easily survive a few tumbles, that doesn't necessarily guarantee the backplate won't click off the moment it arrives too quickly on solid ground.

BlackBerry Curve 9320 back
That plastic backplate's a liability.

In my experience the seven inset silver stickers on the rear of the phone that comprise the BlackBerry logo will also disappear, one by one, over the course of time. I have reason to think this phone will survive general wear and tear, but expect its pristine looks to become tired and scruffy around the edges over time.

The rear of the handest and the silver bezel on the front are separated from each other by a black rubberised strip that runs around the rim of the phone. It protects the speaker grille at the bottom end and the camera and flash at the top. Along the sides are standard shortcut keys, including a volume rocker and a programmable shortcut key on the right and a dedicated BBM button on the left.

Under the screen runs a row of familiar BlackBerry buttons, including two call command keys, a menu and back button, with the familiar optical trackpad sitting square in the middle. The optical trackpad is one common BlackBerry feature that RIM refined a while back. It makes for smooth scrolling, and the sensitivity can be adjusted to suit you.

On the top of the phone is a lock button, which isn't as fiddly as many I've come across, and significantly decreases the chances of making in-pocket phone calls to unsuspecting contacts in your address book -- a feat I've achieved frequently with previous Qwerty-equipped mobiles. To the left of the lock button is a 3.5mm headphone jack, into which, no doubt, will be plugged the latest in headphone fashion. The boxed BlackBerry buds can't offer much in the style stakes.

The only other port on the phone is a micro-USB socket, which is hidden unobtrusively on the left side and handles charging and data transfer.

BlackBerry Curve 9320 camera
Don't expect too much from the camera, but at least it has a flash.

The 9320 feels comfortable to hold and at just over 100g, it's also lovely and light. I do feel on my guard clutching the phone however, as the smooth plastic on the rear makes it feel like the blighter might slip from my grasp to an early death at any moment.

With a thickness of 12.7mm, the 9320 is hardly the thinnest smart phone we've ever seen, and with only basic tech on board compared to most, it does make me wonder exactly how much hot air might be wafting around the inner chambers of this handset. It's by no means a heifer either though, and you should find it perfectly pocketable, no matter how skinny your jeans.

Camera and video

The camera tech on smart phones is getting ever more sophisticated, but as the Curve 9320 is only a budget model, its offering is unsurprisingly quite humble. A 3.15-megapixel camera with 4x digital zoom offers geo-tagging and image stabilisation, and is supported by an LED flash.

There are 11 preset scene modes all of which were along the lines of portrait, party and snow. I found these generally didn't make a whole lot of difference to the shots I was taking. Face detection mode was particularly iffy, especially when subjects weren't directly facing the camera.

The camera doesn't really match up to the 5-megapixel snapper found on the 9360, but it's perfectly decent as long as you don't ask too much of it. Photos were underwhelming, but it provides a good back-up if you're out and about without your favourite compact.

Curve test image
This indoor shot is relatively well-balanced, if a little underexposed and noisy.

Colours were almost always washed out and the camera refused to cope in tricky outdoor conditions.

Curve test image
The camera didn't cope well with this tricky early morning light. Despite the dark patches at the front though, the Shard in the background looks surprisingly clear.

The LED flash did a fairly good job, and managed to avoid excessively overexposing shots. I also noticed there wasn't too much delay between pressing the shutter and the camera taking the shot -- a problem I often find with budget phones.

Curve test image
While there's some overexposure here, the flash has helped created a more well-balanced picture than I'd have expected.

The main problem with the camera is that it lacks auto-focus. This means that close-up shots are problematic, even when using the preset close-up mode, and rules out close-up macro shots.

Curve test image
Professor Flitwick is definitely much more handsome in real life. This camera doesn't do him justice.

Lack of HD video recording doesn't come as a huge surprise on a model this cheap. Considering the specs, which would suggest it isn't up to much, the camera does a pretty reasonable job of capturing video, although don't expect the quality to be particularly high. One particular problem was the optical trackpad, which even when stroked carefully, made zooming while shooting unnecessarily stilted.

Storage and apps

If you intend to exploit the 9320 to its full potential by downloading apps and music, and recording photos and video, you will almost definitely find the measly 512MB of storage tucked away inside the phone will not suffice.

Fortunately a microSD card slot means storage can be expanded exponentially, by up to 32GB. There's no need to remove the battery to access the card slot, so you can easily swap them over while the device is still switched on.

BlackBerry's App World is in a league of its own -- a lower, lesser league that is, approximately equivalent to football's League 2. With serious competition in the app stakes from the likes of Apple's App Store and Android's Google Play, BlackBerry is lagging way behind with around 50,000 apps in total, roughly a tenth of its main rivals.

Don't expect to find all the classics here, and be aware that even the ones you do may not play ball with the 9320's tiny, non-touchscreen display.

Connectivity

The first Curve, the 8520, appeared on the scene without 3G, and suffered for it. Curve users enjoyed all the benefits of great push email and BBM, but had to pay price of shoddy Internet. Gone are those days, thank goodness -- the 9320 supports both 3G and Wi-Fi.

Bluetooth technology can also be found squirreled away inside the 9320's shell, which allows you to exchange smallish files, such as photos, with friends who are in close proximity over the airwaves. You can also use Bluetooth to connect to a range of wireless accessories, such as headphones and hands-free kits for cars.

Unlike the Curve's big brother, the 9360, this model does not pack near field communication technology (NFC), which is fully to be expected with a handset of this price. NFC allows you to turn your phone into a wireless virtual wallet and use it to pay for goodies when you're out and about. It's yet to take off in a big way in the UK, although that's expected to change over the course of the London Olympics, which is seeing NFC contactless terminals being rolled out across the capital.

Conclusion

The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is a budget option for BBM addicts and those who love the feeling of physical keys under their thumbs. Packing all the features I would expect to see on a basic smart phone, including 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, an acceptable camera and social networking options aplenty, the 9320 does the job just fine.

A creaky, plasticky build quality let down this otherwise stylish little phone however, and the screen is no good for those who enjoy watching videos and browsing the web excessively either.

The inclusion of BlackBerry 7.0 makes the 9320 much more enjoyable to use than previous Curve models, but the lack of touchscreen and the fact that the OS in this form is not long for this world mean you might be better casting your eye elsewhere. The Samsung Galaxy Y, Galaxy Mini 2 or the Huawei Ascend G300 are better options, as long as you're not bothered about BBM or a Qwerty keyboard.