Editor's note: This review has been updated to include the results of our battery drain testing.
Back in May, we fell in love with the original RIM BlackBerry Curve, but a recent refresh of the smartphone has our hearts pitter pattering all over again. The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310 keeps the same sleek design and robust messaging capabilities of its predecessor, but then adds GPS capabilities. The ability to use your smartphone as a navigation device is particularly useful for mobile professionals who are constantly on the road, running to meetings or traveling for business trips. And we found it to be quite the capable navigator during our road tests using the TeleNav GPS Navigator service. The tradeoff is that for the GPS, you give up integrated Wi-Fi, which is what T-Mobile opted for in the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8320 (we know--we want both, too) and there's no 3G support yet. For this review, we chose to concentrate on the features and performance of the device; for more details on the phone's design, please check our review of the original Curve. The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310 is available now from AT&T for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates, in either red or titanium.
The biggest difference between the original Curve and the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310 is the addition of GPS. With this feature, you can use Curve as a handheld navigation device with the addition of a location-based service (LBS) or navigation software, such as Google Maps for Mobile. AT&T offers its own LBS called TeleNav GPS Navigator, which includes color maps and text- and voice-guided driving directions, and local search. You can find out more about the add-on service in our full review of TeleNav, and be aware that the service costs $9.99 per month for unlimited trips or $5.99 for up to 10 trips. Check out the Performance section to see how the Curve fared as a navigator.
Other wireless radios on the Curve 8310 include Bluetooth and EDGE. Bluetooth allows you to connect to wireless headsets, Bluetooth stereo headsets, and hands-free kits. In addition, there's support for object exchange and dial-up networking so you can use the device as a wireless modem for your laptop. Unlike T-Mobile's Curve, however, this version doesn't have integrated Wi-Fi, so you'll have to surf the Web via AT&T's EDGE network. As we've said many times before, we know EDGE isn't that slow, but after using other 3G-enabled phones, the EDGE data transfer speeds tested our patience a bit.
As for voice features, the Curve is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, and speed dial. The phone features advanced audio technology that's supposed to cancel out background noise and echoes and will automatically increase the volume when you're in a noisy environment. In addition, the smartphone supports AT&T's push-to-talk service, allowing you to instantly see the availability of your contacts before calling them and make individual or group PTT calls. PTT plans start at $9.99 per month. The BlackBerry 8310's phonebook is limited only by the available memory--the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts--with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well a group category--business or personal--or one of 45 polyphonic ringtones. The Curve also supports MP3 and MIDI ringtones.
And what's a BlackBerry without e-mail? Like other models, the Curve 8310 is compatible with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. In total, the device can support as many as 10 accounts, including POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts, and there is an e-mail wizard on the device to guide you through the setup process. The recently added spell-check feature will look for any spelling errors in your messages before they're sent and offer alternatives to misspelled words. And while it's available for e-mails and memos, unfortunately it's not available for text messages. An attachment viewer is also onboard to open popular file formats such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDFs, JPEG, GIF, and more, and we were able to receive and open all files. Other messaging options include text, multimedia, and instant messaging, although the latter is limited to the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger client.
One-upping the BlackBerry Pearl, the Curve boasts a 2-megapixel camera (vs. 1.3 megapixels) with a 5x zoom and a built-in flash, but unfortunately, still no video-recording capabilities. You do get three picture sizes (1,600x1,200; 1,024x768; and 640x480) and three quality options (superfine, fine, and normal). You can also tweak the white balance and add color effects. Picture quality was decent. Images were sharp, and though we wish the colors were a bit brighter, the quality was better than a number of other camera-equipped smartphones we've tested recently.