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.
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 as you use the device's other apps, and if there's an incoming call, the Curve will pause the music, then pick up where you left off 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.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Curve in San Francisco using AT&T service, and call quality was just OK. We had no problems hearing our callers or interacting with our bank's automated voice response system, but we did notice a slight background hiss. Speakerphone quality was good, and we were able to connect to the BlackBerry with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset.
General performance was fairly responsive. Occasionally, we had to watch the hourglass twirl but we didn't run into too many delays when opening or working in various apps. Web-browsing definitely could have used a speed boost, and the BlackBerry Web browser isn't the sleekest, so the Curve isn't exactly a standout in this category. Music playback through the device's speakers was good for a cell phone, with plenty of volume and good balance. Video clips were smooth with synchronized audio and images, but as expected, there was some pixelation of the picture during action sequences.
As for the GPS capabilities, it took the Curve about 10 minutes to acquire the necessary satellites to get a fix on our position and we also noticed that it took a while for the maps images to fully load. However, once locked on, the Curve did a good job of tracking our location and providing us with directions. We entered a trip from the Marina district of San Francisco to CNET's downtown headquarters, and the TeleNav service quickly returned with accurate directions. We were also impressed that the app offers text-to-speech functionality, so it speaks actual street names, allowing you to pay more attention to the road rather than looking at the phone's screen. That said, maps looked sharp and vibrant on the Curve's display.
The BlackBerry Curve is rated for 4 hours of talk time and as long as 17 days of standby time. In our battery drain tests, we were able to beat the rated talk time by an hour with 5 hours on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the BlackBerry Curve 8310 has a digital SAR rating of 1.51 watts per kilogram.
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