The curvaceous new BlackBerry 9320 comes to the party with good old fashioned hard keys, a QWERTY keyboard and a positively bijou form factor when compared to some of the big screen flagship smart phones. But does it impress enough to forgo touch screen sassiness in favour of physical buttons and BBM? Well, probably not if you put it head-to-head with the current top echelons of the smartphone ilk. But SIM free or on contract, the Blackberry 9320 is way cheaper that its big screen peers, so makes for an excellent entry into the heady world of smartphone tech.
. Well, it’s cheap, effective with calls and messages, and pretty good with music as long as you pay for a decent sized SD card. The curvaceous new BlackBerry 9320 comes to the party with good old fashioned hard keys, a QWERTY keyboard and a positively bijou form factor when compared to some of the big screen flagship smart phones. But does it impress enough to forgo touch screen sassiness in favour of physical buttons and BBM? Well, probably not if you put it head-to-head with the current top echelons of the smartphone ilk. But SIM free or on contract, the Blackberry 9320 is way cheaper that its big screen peers, so makes for an excellent entry into the heady world of smartphone tech.Rating:6 out of 10
Overall: 6 out of 10
- 1. Style
- 2. Build
- 3. Display
- 4. Processor
- 5. Imaging
- 6. GUI
- 7. Social
- 8. Games
- 9. Music
- 10. Business
- Inexpensive entry into the world of Smartphones
- BBM, contact management, keyboard and security
- Excellent signal capture and call quality
- FM radio is retro cool
- Relatively slow, small built-in memory capacity
- Small screen and pixie-sized keyboard
- Mediocre imaging, no front camera
- Entry level games, video and navigation
From the outset BlackBerry has one of the biggest and most staunch fan bases in the mobile phone world, comprising of teens and enterprise. Corporate enterprise that is, not the star ship variety. Large companies all over the world are happy to kit their staff out with Blackberries due largely to do with the fact that it was one of the first companies to embrace an exchange server like email system, and push notification technology. These days, when pretty much all phones can do that, I suspect they’re still the corporate mobile of choice because of two key reasons; Elderly statesmen of business can still work out how to use them, and they’re more secure… probably because nobody wants to nick a phone with a screen that small.
For teens the BlackBerry messenger (BBM) service has been a huge hit over the last couple of years, taking over from texting as the short message service of choice for BlackBerry users. The key reasons being cost and security. Cost because unlike SMS messages BlackBerry offers BBM as a free service, and security because the BBM messages cannot read by the mobile operator. To underline the importance of this, the BlackBerry 9320 offers a single direct access hard key to the BBM app. Of course BBM users need friends and family to also have a BlackBerry device, which was a very, very clever move by RIM.
BlackBerry 9320 Usability
At just 2.4 inches and with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, the 9320′s screen is from a different planet to some of the full touch screen devices, and is a stoically one-way display device too. Having personally had some major issues with the touch screen on the BlackBerry Bold 9900, that might not be a bad thing. The BlackBerry 9320 trackpad is as smooth as ever, but with the Bold 9900 my savaloy sized thumb would constantly slide off the top of the trackpad and touch the screen… defeating the vertical scroll you were trying to illicit from the trackpad in the first place. No such issues with the 9320, and the full range of hard keys are wonderfully tactile and solid. Even BlackBerry’s signature control buttons, located on either side of the trackpad, are solid keys. Retro, baby!
OK as screens go this one is not exactly going to melt your eyeballs with its colours or searing brilliance. But it is sharp, clean and boasts excellent contrast for reading messages. It reminds me of my first Orange SPV, and I suspect half the readers of Gizmobird don’t even remember that particular device (even if it was technically the first TRUE smartphone). Mind you, the 9320 is way cooler in the hand than the old SPV brick and reasonably stylish in an understated way too.
What the BlackBerry Curve 9320 does well is to combine a nice mix of finishes, and it feels pretty sleek and weighty in the hand. The plastic rear panel lets the side down a bit, but the in-hand feel is no worse than the Samsung Galaxy S3. And of course the Blackberry Curve 9320 boasts a feature that none of its big screen competition can even get close too – a proper hard-key QWERTY keyboard. I say proper loosely because while there is a traditional layout of hard keys the keyboard on the Blackberry 9320 is made for pixies – midget pixies at that. As noted in our review of the Bold, if you are a well-proportioned gentleman with fingers more at one with power tools, than say a piano, then using the BlackBerry keyboard is a feat of accurate fingertip stabs. The chances of you hitting more than one key (probably five) at a time are pretty high, and to be honest I just can’t get the hang of it. I have to weigh my lack of digital dexterity, and my fingers the size of Shropshire, against my good friend Mark. He has hands about the same size as mine, yet can rap out messages on his BlackBerry like a pool typist. I suspect this has a lot to do with practise, and not wanting to appear a gimp in front of his teenage kids. Hmmm.
Around the case you will find a few other hard keys but none of which will be a direct shutter release for the rather lowly specified 3.2MP camera. The new direct access BBM key is super-slick and the service remains a winning feature for BlackBerry. Next time the yoof proletariat are thinking of organising a riot it will be even quicker to tell everyone about it, without leaving an e-paper trail on the mobile network. How cool is that. Er…
The BlackBerry 9320′s OS
The familiar look and feel of the seventh iteration of BlackBerry’s OS is all present and correct, and the same benefits and caveats apply as with the previous outings of the interface. The screen size limits the number of icons on screen at any one time, and their varied size and shape always transpire to make the screen look like an explosion in an App-store. There is a drawer-like arrangement to organise your apps but it doesn’t make access any easier or quicker, particularly when you can’t remember which drawer you filed which App in. And like drawers of the physical variety, they soon get messy and require a regular clean out like when you can’t find two socks that match.
In an endeavour to implement some coolness into a budget device the BlackBerry Curve 9320 come packing a voice control feature, that I assume RIM thinks is a cutting edge competitor for Siri or Samsung’s S-Voice. You would have thought, given that both of the latter are still seriously flawed and dysfunctional, that developing a working voice control feature would be relatively easy. Not so. You have to do some complex finger-fangling to get the Curve into voice response mode, somewhat defeating the object. Its ability to understand anything but mono-syllable commands is limited. Given five minutes it was turning into a Monty Python sketch. I implemented my tried and tested method of speaking to people with a limited grasp of English, by speaking slowly and progressively louder. By the time I was shouting at the phone and getting Basil Fawlty style incensed with the whole fiasco, I realised this was not a feature likely to make the Curve 9320 fly off the shelves. Fly across the room in frustration? Maybe.
Still, nip back to the buttons and there are a lot of things the Curve does well, making calls for one. In an era when smartphones are more mobile computer than phone, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 does a stellar job of contacts and calling. As smartphones go, the contact management is free from frills, but the search function is great and the click to call works a treat. For those who look at a Samsung galaxy S3 with something regarding fear and loathing of technology and use the phrase ‘I just want to make a bloody call’ when being extolled the virtues of quad-core processing and touch-screen GUI’s, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is your ideal first step into the smartphone world. Call quality is spot on and signal pull is pretty darn good too. On the Gizmobird ‘village test’ (name of village removed in case they want to be paid) the BlackBerry Curve 9320 hung onto its signal even when I passed through a notorious rural mobile phone black spot near where I live. This rates slightly better than the Samsung Galaxy S3, and way better than the iPhone 4S. So not bad for those who want to use their phone as, well, a phone.
If you want it to surf the net though, look elsewhere. The Curve 9320′s single core 80MHz processor is where the likes of Apple and Samsung were three years ago, and it shows. Not only do pages take a good long while to load but when displayed are all but unreadable, unless you are prepared to scroll all over the screen or use a magnifying glass. OK – for an emergency look up of an address or to get a phone number or opening time of some business, then it passes muster on 3G or Wi-Fi. If you are looking to go through the day’s news on the train on the way to work, you are likely to arrive with a blister on your track-pad finger, and squinting like a mole in bright sunlight. As the Curve is entry level and aimed at the teen market, that probably isn’t such a problem.
David Bailey need not apply
Did you know there are now twice as many digital cameras made each year than the total number of film cameras ever made? Phones count for a great percentage of today’s global digital camera production, and they’ve become an integral and important part of pretty much every phone on the market, smart or otherwise. Unfortunately, loads of interesting scene modes are never going to make up for the Curve’s fixed-focus plastic lens and petite 3.2MP sensor. Basic camera images are OK for casually sending via MMS, but that’s about it. The fixed focus means you have no chance of anything closer than a metre or so being sharp. The colour is bland, bordering on grey and there seems to be a load of artificial edge enhancement. This software trick darkens the border pixels between contrasting parts of the picture, to give the appearance of the overall image being sharper than it really is. Push it too far, and you get a rather surreal hard outline around key objects… which is exactly what the Curve achieves. This is most noticeable if the camera is struggling with light levels, and the grey looking images then get a host of edge processing as well. The result is more impressionist vista than snapshot of reality. OK,OK, I am probably being a little harsh on the Curve 9320 as perhaps it is only designed to be a fun camera for sending MMSs of your mates mooning in Starbucks (hey, it happens…).
The BlackBerry Curve 9320′s video recording abilities are not exactly cutting edge either. VGA quality and a stoical 4:3 ratio of 640×480 pixels does the job, but it’s never going to turn you into an HD movie maker. This is perhaps because the BlackBerry 9320 has a staggeringly low 512MB of built-in memory. Yes, you read that right – half a Gig. Ok, there is a Micro SD card supplied with most off-the-shelf packs, but unless you buy a pretty chunky card you are not going to get a lot of media on this phone. And that maybe why RIM chose to implement such a low-res video – because the file sizes are handily small compared to HD resolution files.
Among a few fairly hilarious video scene modes, there’s an optical image stabiliser, although don’t expect DSLR stabilising miracles. As I walked across a muddy field the image was mostly stable, but with occasional smearing as I navigated badger sets. The results are not too bad at all given the resolution. In comparison to the still pictures the video showed plenty of contrast when wound up quite high, and you get a fair bit of punch in the image if not too much detail. Motion capture is good as the resolution does not put too much stress on the processor. The automatic exposure control is on the slow side though, so if you move indoors from outside it takes a while for the image to adjust its brightness. Annoyingly, the LED light doesn’t come on automatically. This is a manual setting and I couldn’t find a way of bringing it on mid recording, although this seems such a glaring omission it might be user error. (Footnote: er, no it isn’t. I have reports from people in the know that you really can’t control the LED while recording video.)
Firmly lifting the Curve 9320 out of the Gizmobird trashcan and towards being a contender is its associated PC sync software and excellent FM radio. Taking the latter first, the sync software is a joy to use. Compare and contrast with Samsung’s Kies which is a software atrocity, and iTunes which limits you to the Apple way of doing everything. Moreover, you won’t be stuck for a tune while you are out and about because you get direct access to Amazon’s MP3 store as well as a real FM radio tuner. Now while we thought FM radio had gone the way of the dodo, catching a bit of Moyles on the way to work or some eclectic Radio 2 program on the way home late, is actually seriously entertaining fun.
We tried a 16GB Micro SD card and it worked seamlessly although we noted the BlackBerry 9320 documentation and website says maximum card size for the BlackBerry 9320 is 32Gb. So don’t go coughing up for a 64GB card or larger before trying it first. Music management takes a good cue from the contacts management suite, and it’s simple, logical and effective. Sound is pretty solid for the genre and the headphones supplied have in-line controls. Moreover, they’re way better sounding than most give-away headphones and are about a league ahead of Apple’s white ‘style over substance’ supplied ear phones. If you fancy giving your BlackBerry tunes with a bit of volume around the home, the Curve offers straightforward networking to DLNA compatible devices – which include pretty much every games machine, Blu-ray player, AV receiver or TV these days. Cool.
Getting down to business the Curve is never going to be a match for the likes of Nokia’s mighty Lumia Windows OS devices for handling Office docs. However, since almost every large corporate in the country has RIM’s server client installed on their corporate IT infrastructure, complete with military grade encryption and security, you just can’t knock the Curve, or any BlackBerry, as the corporate mobile tool of choice. No, you are never going to edit an Excel spread sheet on the 7.23am fast train into town, but at least the IT department can lock down the phone easily when you leave it on your seat, having fallen asleep into a coffee and nearly missing your stop.
Gaming is a similar story. If you want the latest all-action widescreen games that use interactive motion control, you are so out of luck. If you fancy a bit of commuting diversion, on account you can’t edit your spread sheets, then the supplied App based games are a bit of a hoot. In addition, you get a wide range of bespoke Apps such as Sky, Twitter and Facebook. But don’t forget, the global selection of BlackBerry Apps is way more limited than iOS or Android equivalents. This remains a limiting factor for all BlackBerry phones and not one that we have seen getting much better over the last couple of years.
Thankfully Google Maps is available for BlackBerry OS because the RIM version supplied is hilariously bad. It may be better in the companies native Canadian or US markets, but in the UK it is pretty much a lost cause. (‘Lost’, see what I did there…). The GPS capture is the slowest I have yet to try on any phone launched this decade, and I was half way to London before the Blackberry Curve 9320 decided via its own map App that I was still in my kitchen. It recovered quickly after this, but the whole navigation input system is clunky and you just can’t see where you are going on the small screen. A viable Sat Nav replacement, the Curve 9320 is not.
And so to battery life. A number of my reviewing colleagues have noted that the Curve sets the standard for battery life in a modern Wi-Fi enabled and 3G phone – but I beg to differ. I admit that on its first outing I got the best part of two days out of a single full charge, which is indeed epic compared to the competition. I did even face Canada and nod approval to RIM. However, having lived with the Curve for a few weeks I was beginning to realise that the key reason the battery survived so long was that I wasn’t using half the features. It wasn’t getting used as a Sat Nav for three hours a day, I wasn’t surfing the web with it because that isn’t a great experience. Also I wasn’t using it as a gaming tool because it really hasn’t got anything cutting edge gaming wise to play. (…and I don’t do games!)
So using it to make calls, receive emails and messages, and infrequently connect to Wi-Fi to search for a bit of urgent information, yes the Curve 9320 has great battery life – maybe even three days. If you are brave enough to use all the features of the 9320 with gay abandon, it’s likely to be a fair bit shorter.
Well, it’s cheap, effective with calls and messages, and pretty good with music as long as you pay for a decent sized SD card. This is a phone ideal for the younger ‘first’ smart phone user, the corporate professional or even the elder generation trying to get to grips with smart device for the first time. While far from the cutting edge in any particular way, and hence scoring a fairly low Gizmobird overall rating, you really can’t knock the Blackberry Curve 9320 for being a simple and affordable way of owning a smart phone.