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RIM launched its next-generation BlackBerry 7 OS with a refreshed Bold 9900/9930, the Torch 9810, and the Torch 9850/9860. Conspicuously absent was the Curve, RIM's entry-level brand. That has changed, however, with the release of the RIM BlackBerry Curve 9360 (the Curve 9350 is the CDMA version). It doesn't have a touch screen or the sleek industrial design of a BlackBerry Bold, but it does offer a number of improvements under the hood like the introduction of NFC support. Furthermore, the Curve 9360 for T-Mobile offers UMA-based Wi-Fi calling, a feature that even the higher-end Bolds lack. At only $79.99 with a two-year contract, the Curve 9360 is a great buy for BlackBerry enthusiasts who want to save some money.
At first glance, the Curve 9360 doesn't look dramatically different from its predecessor, the Curve 3G 9300. They are similar in shape and size, with curved corners and a compact design. If you take a closer look, however, the Curve 9360 is a little sleeker. The glossy black front surface now flows from the top all the way to the bottom, giving the Curve 9360 a much more streamlined appearance. At 4.3 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Curve 9360 is also noticeably slimmer and lighter. A minor complaint is that the smooth plastic feel goes all the way to the back as well, which makes it feel a little slipperier in the hand.
Another change from the old Curve is that the Curve 9360 has a 2.5-inch, 480x360-pixel-resolution display. It's not the gorgeous VGA touch screen on the Bold 9900, but it's certainly better than the Curve 9300's 320x240-pixel display. BlackBerry 7 OS brings Liquid Graphics technology to the Curve 9360 as well, which boosts the vibrancy and responsiveness of the display. Indeed, graphics and text proved to be colorful, vibrant, and sharp. We did think the font size on the home screen was a little on the small side, which might not be great for those with poor eyesight. As for the Curve's lack of a touch screen, we're not disappointed by that. The display is small enough that it might have been frustrating to use, and we're fine with just using the optical touch pad for navigation.
The Curve 9360 has the same flat navigation array we saw on the previous Curve. It consists of the Send, Menu, Back, and End/Power keys with the aforementioned optical touch pad in the middle. The keys are not touch-sensitive, and they do require a bit of pressure to push them. The optical touch pad is the same as on the other QWERTY BlackBerrys--we found it easy to use, and we managed to navigate and select items with precision.
Beneath the array is the famous Curve keyboard, but slightly tweaked. The keys are a hair bigger and rounder than on previous models, but the overall keyboard is still quite small compared with the one on the Bold. Yet, because the keys are separated and raised, we had no problem typing out messages.
On the left spine is the Micro-USB port, while the right spine is home to a very skinny volume rocker along with a similarly slim customizable shortcut key. In fact, we think the right spine buttons are a little too skinny. Gone are the media keys at the top--now there are a 3.5mm headset jack and a screen lock key, which is very similar to the Bold. The camera lens and LED flash are on the back.
Another nice feature addition courtesy of BlackBerry 7 OS is that NFC (near-field communication) is now supported on the Curve. Theoretically, NFC allows you to purchase goods or services by swiping your phone over a compatible payment system, or to transfer files by touching phones thanks to apps like BlackBerry Tag. We weren't able to fully test NFC with our Curve, but we're happy to see RIM embrace newer technology like this. For more about BlackBerry 7 OS, read our review of the BlackBerry Torch 9810.
A key feature that sets the Curve 9360 apart from the recent BlackBerry releases is its support for T-Mobile's UMA-based Wi-Fi calling. Just hook up your phone to the local wireless network, and you can make and answer calls without them being deducted from your plan's monthly allotment of minutes. We were surprised at how well it worked--we were able to hand off calls between Wi-Fi and regular cellular airwaves seamlessly. The Curve 9360 also supports GPS and Bluetooth.
BlackBerry continues to beat the corporate e-mail drum with support for all sorts of systems and services, including BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, and Novell GroupWise. You can also use a free but limited version of BES with which you can sync your Exchange calendar, contacts, and tasks. For consumers not tied to the corporate network, you can sync up to 10 different POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts via BlackBerry Internet Service. Popular Web services like Gmail and Yahoo should already have those settings preloaded. However, the default setting for Gmail and Yahoo is not IMAP, so deleted e-mails are not synced, and you'll have to do it manually.
E-mail alone just doesn't cut it these days with smartphones, so we're happy 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, 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 9360 is otherwise the same BlackBerry as before. It has 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, BlackBerry Balance (which helps you balance your work and personal calendars), BlackBerry Protect, and a password keeper. Other apps include two games--Brick Breaker and Mole--and a couple of T-Mobile apps like Web2Go and T-Mobile Mall. There's a Slacker app for streaming music as well. You can download more apps from BlackBerry App World.
The Curve 9360 supports a variety of media formats that include 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's Desktop software. The Curve 9360 only has 512MB of internal storage, though, so you should make use of the fact that the phone supports up to 32GB microSD cards.
The 5-megapixel camera is definitely a major upgrade over the Curve 9300's 2-megapixel model, giving pretty good image quality. Photos were sharp and colorful on the whole. We did detect a bit of an orange hue in indoor shots, and low-light photos needed Night mode or flash more often than not. The Curve 9360 does not support 720p HD video.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz) RIM BlackBerry Curve 9360 in San Francisco using T-Mobile. Call quality was good. We enjoyed great clarity and volume on our end. There wasn't much distortion or background noise as well.
On their end, callers too reported loud and clear call quality. However, they did say our voice sounded a little lower than usual. Still, there wasn't a lot of crackling or static, so that was a minor nitpick. Speakerphone calls sounded great too.
RIM BlackBerry Curve 9360 call quality sample Listen now:
Unfortunately, the Curve 9360 does not support T-Mobile's superfast HSPA+ network, but we still managed to surf the Web at typical 3G speeds. We loaded the mobile CNET page in 15 seconds and the full CNET home page loaded in around 51 seconds.
The Curve 9360 has an 800MHz processor, which is an improvement over the Curve 9300's 600MHz processor. We had no problems navigating through the phone's multiple directories and apps launched with little to no delay.
While the RIM BlackBerry Curve 9360 is a decidedly lower-end phone than RIM's Bolds and Torches, we think it's a great option for those still loyal to the BlackBerry brand. It comes with the company's latest mobile operating system, BlackBerry 7 OS; it has a decent physical keyboard; and it's definitely an improvement over the previous Curves with its faster processor and improved feature set. It even has support for NFC and for T-Mobile's UMA-based Wi-Fi calling service. For only $79.99 after a new two-year service agreement, the Curve 9360 is good entry-level smartphone for those wanting to give BlackBerry 7 OS a shot.