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RIM concludes its three-pronged march toward updating its entry-level BlackBerry Curve series with the BlackBerry Curve 9370 for Verizon, a petite candy bar device with one major advantage over the 9360/9350 models: a GSM SIM slot for taking the handset overseas.
In addition to that, the Curve 9370 runs on BlackBerry 7 OS and has NFC (near-field communication) support for pairing accessories or reading SmartPoster tags, and a 5-megapixel camera. It isn't anywhere near as advanced as the refreshed Bold 9900/9930, or the Torch 9810 and 9850/9860, but if you're a BlackBerry enthusiast looking to upgrade your Curve, you can get it for $99.99 after a two-year contract and a $50 mail-in (or online) rebate.
Note: This review borrows from our BlackBerry Curve 9360 review where the devices' features overlap.
Any way you look at it, the Curve 9370 is a pixie of a phone. It's stylish enough, with a glossy black face that does indeed curve smoothly from the top and bottom to meet the back in two points. Unfortunately, the entry-level Curve lacks some of the finish needed to make a premium-looking device.
There are some dark-gray metallic-looking accents around the narrow rim and back, as well as around the optical touch pad and the RIM logo on the slightly textured back cover--which also has a faintly rubbery finish.
I mentioned that the Curve 9370 is small. At 4.3 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, it's also noticeably slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, the Curve 3G 9330. Weighing in at 3.5 ounces, no one can accuse it of being heavy, but I wouldn't call it a toy either.
The Curve 9370's display is also better and brighter on the 2.4-inch, HVGA screen (a 480x360-pixel resolution.) It isn't the gorgeous VGA touch screen on the Bold 9930, but it's certainly better than the earlier Curve's 320x240-pixel display.
BlackBerry 7 OS brings Liquid Graphics technology to the Curve 9370 to boost the display's vibrancy and responsiveness. Indeed, graphics and text proved to be colorful, vibrant, and sharp. The font size on the home screen was a little on the small side, however, which could cause some squinting, especially if you aren't blessed with a pilot's eagle eyes.
I'm on the fence when it comes to the Curve's non-touch-sensitive screen. On one hand, the display is small enough that using a touch screen would frustrate, and besides, the optical touch pad does just fine for navigation. On the other hand, the Curve 9370 and its nearly identical siblings are among the only smartphones today that actually lack touch-screen capabilities. In that sense, it feels behind the times. Surely, at this point in the smartphone game, phone owners deserve a choice as to whether they want to punch a screen or a button.
The button in question is the optical touch pad that sits directly below the Curve's display. It's essentially the same navigation array we saw on the previous Curve, consisting of the Send, Menu, Back, and End/Power keys, with that optical touch pad smack-dab in the middle. The keys are not touch-sensitive, and it takes a bit of pressure to push them. The optical touch pad is the same as on the other QWERTY BlackBerrys--easy to use, and you can navigate and select items with precision.
Beneath the array is the famous Curve keyboard, but a little different than you might remember it. The keys are a hair larger and rounder than on previous models, though the overall keyboard is still quite small compared with the Bold's. Yet, because the keys are separated and raised, typing posed no problem. I will say that the keys are a little plasticky and toylike, and less distinctive than on other BlackBerry models. While I didn't mind it, my own hands being fairly small, to me the Curve 9370's keyboard has lost its edge.
It's high time you met the phone's other externals. On the left spine is the Micro-USB charging port, while the right spine is home to a very skinny volume rocker and a similarly slim customizable shortcut key. Both are molded from the same strip of plastic and protrude from the phone in sharp, overly narrow mounds that dig into your fingers when you press them. Gone are the media keys at the top--now there is a 3.5mm headset jack, with a screen-lock key right beside it. The camera lens and LED flash are on the back.
Another nice feature added courtesy of BlackBerry 7 OS is NFC, or near-field communication. Theoretically, NFC allows you to purchase goods or services by swiping your phone over a compatible payment system device, or to transfer files by touching phones thanks to applications like BlackBerry Tag. You can also use NFC to pair accessories and read SmartPoster tags.
I wasn't able to test NFC with this review device, but now that NFC is beginning to permeate stores thanks to Google Wallet, it's good to see RIM ready. For more details on BlackBerry 7 OS, read CNET's BlackBerry Torch 9810 review. The Curve 9360 also supports GPS and Bluetooth, and uses Microsoft's Bing search service by default.
The Curve 9730 does offer one feature unique to RIM's updated Curve series, and that's an extra SIM card slot that makes the phone global-ready. Sure, the T-Mobile version of the device (the 9360) doesn't need it, since it already rides the GSM SIM card technology, but the slot is something that the Sprint version (the 9350) lacks. Just keep in mind that the Curve 9370 is locked into Verizon's network while in the U.S., and you will not be able to use the phone with a GSM SIM card until you cross national borders.
BlackBerry continues to beat the corporate e-mail drum with support for all sorts of systems and services, including BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), 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 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.
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.
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.
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 CNET.com. 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.