The new Curve is thin and light. It's easy to hold and won't weigh you down. There's not much else to say about the external design: it's a smartphone that looks like a BlackBerry.
Disappointingly, the extremely shiny finish soon ended up covered with greasy fingerprints. The same is true of the shiny screen which clearly hasn't received any kind of protective coating. We much prefer the soft-touch materials used for the new BlackBerry Bold 9790 which we recently reviewed.
The 3.2'', 360 x 480 pixel screen did reasonably well in our tests for contrast and brightness, and is also capable of reproducing colours accurately. The resolution is a little limited for a screen this big, leaving things looking pixellated if you look too closely. It's also a problem when browsing the web, where you'll often have to zoom into pages to read them properly.
Although the new Bold 9790 has separate physical buttons under the screen, the latest edition of the Curve doesn't divide up these four controls for accessing the menu, going back and so on. That means you have to look down at the handset to find the right button, and even then you can't always be sure you've pressed the one you wanted. In short, we have a strong preference for clearly separated controls, which are much easier to use.
We're also sad to see the physical keyboard disappear because it's so much easier than its touchscreen equivalent. Things are (almost) as good when you flip the phone to landscape mode, where the keyboard is much better than in portrait mode. Of course, typing works with a very effective predictive text system.
Interface, navigation and responsiveness
Just like the Bold 9790, the Curve 9380 runs BlackBerry OS 7. The latest version of the OS is better-suited to a touch-based interface, but there is still some work to do. We often found ourselves pressing the wrong button, and ended up launching the wrong app on several occasions. To avoid the vagaries of the over-sensitive touchscreen, we started using the optical trackpad underneath the display. It's also the easiest, most accurate way of honing in on a link in a webpage.
It might not be as nice as the QNX platform that RIM is still working on porting from its PlayBook tablet, but the new interface is better-suited to touchscreen devices. Indeed, although it isn't 100% intuitive just yet, RIM's developers have clearly made an effort by adding a social networking aggregator, bringing together Facebook, Google Talk and MSN alongside the famous proprietary messaging app, BBM.
Even though it's nicer than it was, the look and feel of the user interface is still less rich and intuitive than with Android or Apple. Further, most apps are more expensive in the AppWorld.
Overall, the handset responds well, and the various menus are smooth. The combination of an 800 MHz processor, 512 MB of memory and a well-integrated OS keeps the whole thing ticking over nicely.
Web browsing is a bit of a mixed bag. While pages load up relatively quickly and text scrolls smoothly, pages aren't resized as well as they could be, so it's quite hard to read text without using the zoom. The browser is certainly faster, but it's a far cry from mobile versions of Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
With a 5 Megapixel camera, the Curve 9380 can't really work miracles. Not only are 5 Megapixels just not enough, the non-backlit sensor just doesn't do much with what's it got to work with either. The photos we took suffered from a lot of electronic noise, especially in darker areas, and there's not much point in looking for too many details. Compared to the Bold 9790, which also has a 5 Megapixel sensor, the Curve is less impressive, and has a strong red tinge.
When you're recording video, you'll need to make do with 480p—going somewhat against the current grain for HD video on smartphones.
The audio output is clean, and up to scratch with the current crop of smartphones. On the other hand, be careful with the bass boost, which drives up not just the noise levels but also the distortion.
Finally, although the battery life is acceptable for a smartphone—in that it's longer than a day—the Bold 9790 can go much longer.