RIM may have perfected the design and functionality of the BlackBerry with the latest version of the Curve, which finally includes Wi-Fi
The Good: Light, excellent keyboard; Wi-Fi at last
The Bad: Slow EDGE network, but that's not RIM's fault
The Bottom Line: The best BlackBerry yet. Could we have one from Verizon please?
It's nice to have a keyboard again.
That was my first thought as I started typing an e-mail message on the BlackBerry Curve 8900. I have been a rather heavy user of another of Research In Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry devices, the Pearl, for the better part of two years. The Pearl is my fifth BlackBerry device.
If you know BlackBerrys, you know the Pearl is smaller than other models and looks more like a traditional cell phone and less like the iconic BlackBerry handsets. Most of them have full Qwerty keyboards, but to save space the smaller Pearl combines two letters per key. This makes typing more awkward, with the result that I type much less than I used to.
Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the 8900—once known by the code name Javelin—which I've been using for about a month now on T-Mobile's (DT) EDGE network. It sports the same interface as the much bigger, and heavier, BlackBerry Bold and has a lot of the same features.
First, the size is about as optimal for a BlackBerry with a full keyboard as any I've ever used. It's thinner and slightly taller than the original model. And while I struggled with many typos on the first Curve, I don't on this one. The keys on the 8900 have morphed into a rhomboid shape that gives them a little more surface area while taking up only fractionally more space. It helps. With the 8900 I found I typed a lot more.
Wi-Fi: It's About Time!
Wi-Fi is an important new feature. While Apple's (AAPL) iPhone has sported a Wi-Fi connection for a while, it has taken some time for the feature to reach the BlackBerry. It's great to have it. Web browsing is better with Wi-Fi than on the wireless data networks, especially on T-Mobile's relatively pokey EDGE network.
Wi-Fi really shines on an application I never would have expected to see on a BlackBerry—SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry was pre-installed on the device I tested. If you have a Slingbox (SATS), you can use this application to watch programming from your home TV on your handheld. From the comfort of my bedroom, and using my home Wi-Fi network, I watched an entire 30-minute TV program. The screen is bright and crisp and the sound, if not excellent, is pretty good. Slingbox should help RIM broaden its appeal to consumers in the face of competition from the iPhone. Wi-Fi does, however, sap battery life.
An Improved Workhorse
But the BlackBerry is known mostly as a tool for getting serious things done, and this one does so in spades. Another pre-installed application is Documents To Go from DataViz, which is easily the best thing to happen to handheld productivity in a decade. I was able to open Microsoft (MSFT) Word and Excel documents easily, and I was even able to work with them directly on the handheld.
Picture quality from the 3.2-megapixel camera is terrific. And the trackball on the front, used to navigate from one application to the next and to scroll through messages, is finally beginning to feel more precise.
When the trackball first began to replace the side-wheel that was typical on previous BlackBerry models, it always felt sloppy. Finally, RIM has struck the proper balance between sensitivity and accuracy to the point where I rarely miss the side-wheel.
I'm even getting relatively good at BrickBreaker.
I'm almost willing to ditch my Pearl for this latest Curve, but it's not yet available on Verizon Wireless (VZ, VOD). If and when it ever makes it there, I will take a serious look at making the Curve 8900 my sixth consecutive BlackBerry. It's the best BlackBerry yet.