In a world filled with retina display smartphones, 7" tablets, and Wi-Fi hotspots the size of half a deck of cards, BlackBerry phones are still the workhorse, reliable phones that they first were when they were introduced. Chances are you've seen someone on a flight or in an office rocking two phones: one for personal use (usually an iPhone), and one for work (always a BlackBerry). That's because of the enterprise-class ability to have work email, calendars, and more supported by a company's IT department.
Finally, those same phones have started to get the same smartphone options that make people want to wield two devices in the first place. While it can't compete with the amount of offerings in the iOS App Store or the Google Play Store (formerly Android Marketplace), Research in Motion's BlackBerry Curve 9350 is a phone that has plenty of functions for workers on the go who need an extra kick in their pocket. Especially if they pick it up for free with a contract, avoiding the exorbitant $359.99 non-contract price.
The Curve line of phones were first introduced back in 2007, and the 9350 is one of the slimmest and sexiest phones in the bunch. It's at the bottom rung of the 9350/9360/9370 ladder, but that's because it's a CDMA-only phone. The 9360 uses GSM/HSPA+, and the 9370 is a CDMA/GSM world phone. But that shouldn't matter as long as you aren't jetting to Dubai every other weekend.
It definitely looks slimmer, but feels compact and sturdy in your hand. It's a plastic casing, but tight and without much flex. You can remove the back cover with a thumbnail, giving you access to the SIM card slot, a 1000 mAhr removable battery, and an SD card slot that can take cards up to 32 GB. There's a 5 MP camera above the back cover, along with an LED flash, and the right side contains four physical buttons: volume up, mute, volume down, and a convenience key that can be customized. By default it's set to take a photo.
The front of the phone contains the standard Curve line chiclet keyboard, an 2.5-inch 480x360 screen, a small speaker grill, an LED that can be configured to flash for different reasons, and six physical buttons: the send key, the menu button, the scrollable trackpad, the escape key, and the end/power key under the screen, and a lock/unlock keyboard button that also shuts off the screen on the very top of the device next to the 3.5 mm headset jack. The left side has a lone microUSB charging port, and bottom of the phone is feature-free except for the tiny microphone pinhole.
The Curve 9350 was one of the first phones to ship with BlackBerry OS 7, which has since been upgraded to 7.1 and adds the ability to create a mobile hotspot, use Wi-Fi calling, access BlackBerry tag (tap your phone to another BlackBerry to share music, photos, etc.) and FM Radio functionality, along with some bug fixes. If you haven't used a BlackBerry in awhile, you'll be surprised at how user-friendly the software has become over the years. There are still a few deep drilldown menus that can be confusing, but it's come a long way, and this is definitely the most intuitive BlackBerry OS ever released.
When BlackBerry got rid of their somewhat iconic trackball interface while, the switch to the trackpad was a welcome change. Accessing menus, webpages, emails and more can be done by swiping up or down, left or right on the trackpad, and then clicking it to select. You'll use the multipurpose buttons most of the time for menu and app access in addition to the keyboard, which works well despite its diminutive size.
There's a very robust Setup application that you can pull up at any time, and it can access Gmail, Exchange, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and other sources to help get you started. Additionally, there are Videos in the Setup menu on the phone that will walk you through most of the functions of the phone.
Contacts and calling
The BlackBerry Curve 9350 is a phone built for calling, and when you begin the setup process you've be asked to attach an email account to the phone. Right away it imported our Gmail account, and asked if we wanted to set up Google Talk and begin using it immediately, which was a nice touch.
Calls were very clear, especially on the speakerphone, and the included earbuds with microphone sounded very good as well. It also synched easily with the Bluetooth in our car, and we didn't run into any issues with the phone feature.
Although the Curve 9350 comes with the BlackBerry Messenger and Social Feeds apps installed it also uses Facebook, Twitter, and other social media options, most of which are pre-installed, to give you a wide array of messaging options. Of course, you'll probably be using email most of the time, which is one of the Curve's stronger points.
Email loads in a spartan screen, presenting just the subject line and sender. There are no real whistles and bells here, but you can churn through email easily, even loading images and attaching files whenever you need to. It's not the world's sexiest email program, but it works like a pint-sized champ.
BlackBerry OS 7's biggest improvement over 6 was a much better browser that includes Java and full HTML 5 support as well as tabbed browsing, voice search, and more. It runs fast, and has a fairly easy to navigate tab system. Given the small size of the screen, we found it best to load mobile versions of websites, but there is enough resolution to view full sites here if you need it.
The phone comes loaded with a decent amount of internet apps, including Google Talk, Windows Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. There's also a helpful bookmark pre-loaded in the browser that aids in installing AOL Instant Messenger.
Camera and multimedia capabilities
One of the other improved features of this Curve is the 5 MP camera embedded in the back which features an LED flash, image stabilization, continuous focus, and the ability to tag your photos with a location. As with most smaller cameras, it benefits from having a lot of light available, unless you're fairly close with the flash. Using the convenience key makes it easy to snap pictures instead of having to fumble with one of the face buttons.
You can zoom in by rolling your thumb up and down the trackpad, and there are a variety of screen modes, including automatic face detection, night, sport, and others to fool around with. Shutter speeds are a bit slow, and the camera won't take a photo immediately after you hit the button, so patience is a virtue here.
Switching to video, the camera takes fairly decent video at 640x480, which of course is not HD. But it looks smooth and crisp, captures terrific colors, and you'll be glad the image stabilization works here as well. It's a bit disappointing not to have 720 HD here, but you probably won't be shooting a feature film on your BlackBerry, and it's perfectly fine for everyday video.
With the built-in microSD card slot, the Curve has the ability to handle a lot of media. You can load that card up with audio (.3g2, .m4v, .avi, .wmv, .wma, .mp3, .flac, .ogg, .aac, .amr, .qcp, .wav, and .mid, video (.mp4, .m4a, .3gp, .avi,, .asf) and photos (.bmp, .jpg, .gif, .png, .tif, .wbmp), making it a pocket-sized powerhouse of entertainment. The built-in speaker won't do your video and audio much justice, but it sounds fine when connected to a standard headset or over Bluetooth. Again, the screen size isn't ideal for watching video on, but it will do in a pinch.
Battery life, connectivity, maps and apps
Given the small size, the Curve 9350 turns in nearly six hours of talk time from the 1000 mAhr battery. If you're just surfing the web, watching videos, and listening to music, then you should get much more. It's rated to supply 45 hours of music playback through headphones, and nine hours of video as well as 14 days of standby time. Of course, if you need more battery life, simply pick up a couple of extra batteries and keep them charged.
Connection-wise, the Curve 9350 only offers 3G and Wi-Fi, with no option for 4G. We found Sprint's 3G network to be adequate in our neck of the woods, but your mileage may vary. Wi-Fi was our connection speed of choice, although we would often have a full signal while information would seem to trickle over. There were never any real connection issues, but it did lag from time to time.
The optional BlackBerry Desktop Software that you can install on your Mac or PC is definitely worth getting (it's free) as it syncs immediately with iTunes, your contacts and calendars, provides upgrades, and more. It's a nice piece of software offering a high level of access to your phone and surpasses offerings from other phone makers, even Apple.
Maps and apps
The Curve 9350 comes with a fair amount of pre-installed software, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a lot more. There are also a lot of useful business apps, including Documents To Go, a voice recorder, a password keeper, and others. You can also add a slew of new apps via the BlackBerry App World, although don't look for anything even close to the Android or iOS marketplaces.
The included Maps app is more powerful than you would expect, and while it doesn't provide voice navigation, it will give you turn-by-turn instructions, and you can adjust your route to avoid freeways, traffic, and more. Plus there are plenty of options that allow you to send directions to someone else, find nearby deals, and search for locations.
The BlackBerry continues to feel like the Little Cellphone That Could. In a world once dominated by the device, it has been battled onto the ropes many times, but still manages to keep holding on and churning out new versions. While it skirts the very definition of the word "smartphone" with a mere mini-QWERTY keyboard, users who love their Berrys and need one to work with their company IT departments will appreciate the sexy and the savvy that the Curve 9350 brings.
The Curve 9350 is sleek, sexy, and compact. More than once people stopped us to ask what model the phone was, remarking on the exterior design. While it won't stop traffic, it does pack a lot of horsepower (an 800 MHz processor, to be exact) under the hood, and the fact that it's able to do that in such a small, svelte package is impressive.
RIM has gone a long way to make sure that this doesn't just feel like an enterprise/exchange phone, and the built-in Social Feeds app, along with pre-installed Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms make it easy to start sharing the personal parts of your life, as well as the business portions, right out of the box.
In fact, the Curve 9350 has so much going for it out of the box, that the only thing we added to it was a free screenshot app. BlackBerry Desktop Software that was an optional download was one of the best phone/computer pieces of interface software that we've ever seen.
When you introduce a phone today without a touchscreen, 4G connectivity, a sizeable HD display or a double-digit megapixel camera, it had better blow you away elsewhere. While the Curve 9350 does perform as expected, it never exceeded what we wanted or provided us with a single "wow!" moment. For a phone that retails off-contract for $359.99, it really needs something extra to add a slap in the face from the palm of your hand that will make you want to buy it.
While the BlackBerry OS 7.1 is definitely the best version of the BlackBerry OS that we've used, it still feels like there is room for improvement. You still have to dial deep into several menus on the BlackBerry to perform easy tasks, and it is beginning to feel downright antiquated here in 2012.
RIM proves that you don't have to have an Android or iOS phone in your pocket to go the smart route, but you'll definitely be on the lower end of the coolness scale among your hipster friends. But if your work requires that you be on a BlackBerry, or you need an inexpensive but robust little phone to get the job done, the Curve 9350 is worth investigating. While the camera and connection options don't put it on the cutting edge, it should serve you very well as a business and personal device.