Despite its tenuous future, Research In Motion is sticking to its guns and pumping out handsets.
This includes models from RIM's lower-end series, the BlackBerry Curve. Designed for users with smaller hands and fewer demands, the Curve 9310 sports the familiar portrait QWERTY keyboard, a 3.2-megapixel camera, and BlackBerry 7.1 OS.
The device is available on two carriers, Boost Mobile and Verizon. At just $50, the latter's model is cheaper off the shelf. Boost Mobile's costs $100, but for $45 a month, you can get unlimited texting, calling, and BlackBerry Messenger. And if you pay your phone bill on time, your plan will shrink down to $30 a month. Verizon's unlimited plan, on the other hand, costs a steady $80 a month.
Compact and straightforward, the 9310 doesn't stray too far from the canon. Because of that, you can expect a solid BlackBerry handset -- despite its manufacturer being anything but.
Editors' note: CNET has not yet reviewed the Verizon Wireless version of the BlackBerry Curve 9310. The following is a review of the Boost Mobile version. Please keep in mind that the two phones may differ by carrier in terms of features and performance.
The BlackBerry Curve 9310 doesn't have any design surprises hidden anywhere. It still sports the same black, plastic, and professional aesthetic as most RIM devices. It stands 4.29 inches tall, 2.36 inches wide, and half an inch thick. Weighing 3.67 ounces, it's a featherweight compared with other modern smartphones.
It's a cinch to maneuver with just one hand and I had no problem reaching across the keyboard with my thumb to press buttons. The handset fit easily into the front or back pockets of my jeans and walking around with it was comfortable. It wasn't bulky when carried on my person, and I could easily toss it in a small bag or clutch.
On the left is a subtle bump that is tucked underneath the rubber accent that runs along the Curve 9310's edges. This bump is a BBM shortcut key for instant messaging. Above that is a Micro-USB port. Up top are a 3.5mm headphone jack and the lock/unlock button for the keyboard. To the right are a volume rocker and a convenience key, meant to quickly open whatever application you choose (though the camera is set as the default). Both the volume and convenience buttons also look like bumps underneath the phone's surface.
The back hosts the 3.2-megapixel camera lens, which is on the left side. Way on the right side resides the LED flash. Unlike many phones, which have a small indentation on the black plate for removing the backing, you need to push the plate downward to detach it from the rest of the 9310. When you get it off, you can see the 1,450mAh lithium ion battery and microSD card slot.
The device has a 2.44-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 320x240 pixels. The display shows 164ppi and is impressively bright. Colors came off vivid and rich, even though the images themselves didn't look so crisp. Default wallpaper and photos looked grainy and color gradients showed noticeable streaking. Text and menu icons also had aliasing along the edges.
Above the display are a speakerphone and LED flash indicator. Directly below are a send key for making and answering calls, a menu key, the signature touch-pad key, a back/escape key, and an end/power key. The touch-pad key was responsive and worked well. It sensitively picked up the slightest of my finger strokes and registered quickly with the screen.
Underneath these sets of buttons is the four-row portrait keyboard. Though the handset itself is small, the keyboard didn't feel cramped. True, the keys aren't as graciously sized as I've seen in other QWERTY phones, but they were all effortless to press with little to no resistance. Their protruding bubble shape made each key easy to locate, and I had enough space that I could press just one button at a time. The curve layout is as attractive as it is standard, and typing out messages was a breeze.
BlackBerry 7.1 OS comes with a few new features and updates. These include an FM radio, Wi-Fi calling, mobile hot-spot capabilities, autosuggest in the universal search function, and BlackBerry Tag for NFC-enabled devices. Unfortunately, I was only able to access the FM radio on the Curve 9310. Though it worked reliably and was simple and easy to use -- the only downside is that it only plays if you have a headset plugged in -- some features of the new operating system weren't available on the Curve 9310, either because the phone doesn't have the capability (mobile hot spot) or Boost Mobile doesn't support it (Wi-Fi calling).