The BlackBerry Curve 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. 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.
As for voice features, the Curve is a quad-band world phone and offers a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and support AT&T/Cingular's push-to-talk service. In addition, 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. (See the Performance section below for more on call quality). The BlackBerry 8300's phone book 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 ring tones. The Curve also supports MP3 and MIDI ring tones.
Once again, wireless options on this BlackBerry are pretty disappointing. There's no integrated Wi-Fi nor is there 3G support. You're reduced to surfing the Web at EDGE speeds, which, yes, aren't that slow but also aren't very fast. Also, unlike the BlackBerry 8800, the Curve doesn't include a GPS radio. Instead, you will have take advantage of the device's integrated Bluetooth and add this functionality via a Bluetooth GPS receiver. Other supported profiles include wireless headsets, hands-free kits, dial-up networking, object exchange, and A2DP for stereo Bluetooth headsets.
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. That said, we were pretty disappointed by the quality of the pictures. Though the images had sharp definition, the colors were off and had a gray overtone.
For more entertainment, there's also a media player onboard that supports MP3, AAC, MIDI, and WAV music files and AVI, MP4, MOV, and 3GP video formats. There's 64MB of flash memory, but you should store multimedia files on a microSD card since they tend to be memory hogs. The music player is pretty rudimentary, but it displays some track information such as title, artist, and album art, and you can create playlists as well as shuffle and repeat songs. You can have music play in the background while you use the device's other apps, and if there's an incoming call, the Curve will pause the music, then resume the track after you hang up. One notable improvement to the video player is the support for full-screen mode, so you can take advantage of the entire screen's real estate. The 3.5mm headset jack is also a boost, since it gives you the ability to plug in a better set of headphones or earbuds.
Finally, the BlackBerry Curve includes a number of PIM tools, such as a calendar, a tasks list, a memo pad, an alarm, a calculator, and the BlackBerry maps application. The latter is particularly useful, as it gives you maps of the United States as well as text-based driving directions--great for mobile professionals. Of course, you can always download more applications; check out Download.com for some ideas.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Curve in San Francisco using Cingular service, and call quality was just OK. We had no problems hearing our callers, but there was a slight hollowness to the overall sound. In addition, our friends reported an echo on their end. As we mentioned earlier, the 8300 features an audio technology that's supposed to block background noise and echoes, but we didn't really find that to be the case. We did notice, however, that the call volume automatically increased when we were talking in noisy surroundings, such as a busy street corner. It's a bit alarming at first, since you're not expecting it, but it does help to hear your callers. Speakerphone quality was good, and we were able to connect to the BlackBerry with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
General performance was snappy. Despite the occasional "loading" message when trying to view photos in slide show mode, we didn't run into too many delays when opening or working in various apps. Music playback through the device's speakers was impressive for a cell phone, with fairly full sound and decent balance, but we could have done with a little more bass. Watching video was smooth overall. Audio and video were synchronized, but as expected, there was some pixelation of the picture during action sequences. Web-browsing definitely could have used a boost from 3G speeds, as we got a little impatient waiting for pages to load.
The BlackBerry Curve is rated for 4 hours of talk time and as long as 17 days of standby time. In our battery tests, we were able to get 8.5 hours of talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the BlackBerry 8300 has a digital SAR rating of 1.51 watts per kilogram.