Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the BlackBerry Curve 9360.
RIM improves upon its entry-level offerings on Sprint with the BlackBerry Curve 9350. It's the first Curve to ship with BlackBerry 7 OS, and with that comes a number of improvements such as the introduction of NFC support. The overall look and feel should be familiar to BlackBerry fans, albeit with a more refined design. The BlackBerry Curve 9350 is essentially the CDMA version of the BlackBerry Curve 9360, which we first reviewed for T-Mobile. The Curve 9350 doesn't have the Wi-Fi calling that's available on the T-Mobile version, but it still has a decent number of features for BlackBerry fans. At only $49.99 after a new two-year service agreement, the Curve 9360 makes for a great beginner smartphone.
The BlackBerry Curve 9360 doesn't look dramatically different from its predecessor, the Curve 3G 9330 with its curved corners and compact design. However, the Curve 9360 appears to be much sleeker and slimmer. At 4.3 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.4 inch thick, the Curve 9360 has a glossy black front surface that flows from top to bottom. It does have a somewhat cheap feel due to its all-plastic build, though.
Luckily, the Curve 9350 has a much better display with its 2.5-inch 480x360-pixel-resolution display. BlackBerry 7 OS brings Liquid Graphics technology to the handset, which boosts the vibrancy of the display. Graphics and text look crisp and vibrant, though we did notice that the font on the home screen seems to be on the small side. This particular version of the Curve does not have a touch screen, but we're not too disappointed with that, especially since we can still use the intuitive and responsive optical touch pad for navigation.
The Curve 9360 has the same navigation array we saw on previous Curves. It has the Send, Menu, Back, and End/Power keys with the aforementioned optical touch pad in the middle. The array is quite flat, but the buttons themselves are not touch-sensitive (except for the touch pad, of course). They do require a bit of pressure to push. We found the touch pad to be responsive and precise.
Beneath the array is the famous Curve keyboard, but slightly tweaked. The keys are a hair bigger and rounder than on previous models, but the overall keyboard is still quite small compared with the one on the Bold. Yet, because the keys are separated and raised, we had no problem typing out messages.
On the left spine is the Micro-USB port, while the right spine is home to a very skinny volume rocker along with a similarly slim customizable shortcut key. In fact, we think the right spine buttons are a little too skinny. Gone are the media keys at the top--now there is a 3.5mm headset jack and a screen lock key, which is very similar to the Bold. The camera lens and LED flash are on the back.
Another nice feature addition courtesy of BlackBerry 7 OS is that NFC (near-field communication) is now supported on the Curve. Theoretically, NFC allows you to purchase goods or services by swiping your phone over a compatible payment system, or to transfer files by touching phones thanks to apps like BlackBerry Tag. We weren't able to fully test NFC with our Curve, but we're happy to see RIM embrace newer technology like this. For more about BlackBerry 7 OS, read our review of the BlackBerry Torch 9810. The Curve 9350 also supports GPS and Bluetooth.
BlackBerry continues to beat the corporate e-mail drum with support for all sorts of systems and services, including BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, and Novell GroupWise. You can also use a free but limited version of BES with which you can sync your Exchange calendar, contacts, and tasks. For consumers not tied to the corporate network, you can sync up to 10 different POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts via BlackBerry Internet Service. Popular Web services like Gmail and Yahoo should already have those settings preloaded. However, the default setting for Gmail and Yahoo is not IMAP, so deleted e-mails are not synced, and you'll have to do it manually.
E-mail alone just doesn't cut it these days with smartphones, so we're happy to see the Curve is preloaded with social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry's own Social Feeds app that acts as a hub for RSS feeds, BBM, Facebook, Twitter, and a variety of other social media outlets. BBM itself has been upgraded to BBM 6, which features better integration with third-party apps.