| | 05-10-2007, 07:36 AM Thread Author #1
NYT review of BB Curve
They like it!
May 10, 2007
State of the Art
A BlackBerry for Collars of All Colors
By DAVID POGUE
The New York Times
As a human being, you’re pretty much stuck with the features you had on the date of manufacture. Very few adults ever become substantially taller, faster or more artistic.
In consumer electronics, though, it’s another story. By nipping, tucking and incorporating improved technologies as they come along, companies can refine a mediocre product through successive versions until it’s a success — if they know what they’re doing.
Research in Motion (R.I.M.), maker of the BlackBerry e-mail phone, definitely knows what it’s doing. If you need proof, just look at the new BlackBerry Curve, which will be available first from Cingular/AT&T in a few weeks. The price hasn’t been announced, but $250 with contract is a good guess. (R.I.M. also announced the cameraless corporate BlackBerry 8830, which, surprisingly, works on the Verizon network in this country and also on the ordinarily incompatible G.S.M. networks overseas.)
The BlackBerry, as any corporate white-collar type can tell you, is an addictive little cellphone with a Stuart Little thumb keyboard. Its best trick is delivering e-mail from any kind of account in real time, as it arrives, without your having to fetch it. In fact, if you have Yahoo Mail or a corporate e-mail account, your BlackBerry even synchronizes your actions wirelessly. Send a reply from the BlackBerry, and you’ll find it in the Sent Mail folder back on your computer.
Lately, though, R.I.M. has been on a quest to hook the rest of us: the hordes who place just as much emphasis on making phone calls and playing music. The tiny BlackBerry Pearl, released last year in chrome and black, may be the most gorgeous smartphone ever designed, and it won legions of new noncorporate fans.
As the torn-out hair tufts from a smartphone designer’s head can attest, however, you can’t have it all; a phone can either be sleek or have a full alphabet keyboard, but not both.
The Pearl has only 14 keys to represent the entire alphabet, most labeled with two letters. Built-in software guesses at which word you want.
That system is generally successful, but it can occasionally drive you nuts. Typing in a word that’s not in its dictionary can take minutes, as I discovered the day I tried to address a message to my friend Jennifer Bowtruczyk.
The point of the new BlackBerry Curve, then, is very simple: it’s a BlackBerry Pearl with a full QWERTY keyboard. On this new model (also called the BlackBerry 8300), every letter gets its own key.
Of course, this new phone is wider than the Pearl, but it’s the smallest full-keyboard BlackBerry ever: 4.2 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches, which is shorter and thinner (but slightly wider) than the Palm Treo 700.
It’s nice that R.I.M. chose a cool name like the Curve, instead of calling its new machine the DCR-5700C or whatever. Still, Curve is a baffling name for this phone, which is no curvier than other BlackBerrys. Nor is R.I.M. throwing you a curve, as in “something totally unexpected”; the Curve is a pleasant and logical descendant of the Pearl. It even has the Pearl’s translucent central clickable trackball, which is so efficient a navigation tool that you forget all about the lack of a Treo-like touch screen.
Actually, several of the Curve’s components are improvements on its predecessor’s. The camera’s flash is much more powerful, and the photo resolution is now two megapixels (although the photos still look as if they came from a phone). You can run a new spelling checker before firing off an important message, although it doesn’t flag errors as you type them, as Word does. The volume increases automatically when you’re calling in a noisy place — an extremely obvious feature that ought to be on all phones.
The Curve’s biggest overhaul, however, has been in its multimedia features. New, attractive, graceful software is in place for playing music and showing photos and videos. You can install a microSD memory card, too — a good thing, since the built-in 64 megabytes of storage hold precious few tunes. Weirdly, you have to remove the battery to get at it.
A new piece of Windows software lets you set up a “watched” folder on your PC desktop; any videos or photos dumped into it are converted into a format that the BlackBerry likes — and are copied over to it.
Better yet, the Curve is one of the first cellphones to offer Bluetooth stereo music playback. That is, it can transmit music from your pocket, wirelessly, to a pair of lightweight Bluetooth headphones; the sound is fantastic. Some of these headsets even have microphones for making calls; when a call comes in, the music pauses automatically until you hang up.
If that all sounds a little bit too 2012 for your tastes, here’s a less radical feature: this phone has a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. That’s the same audio jack that’s on the iPod and every other music player in existence. On the BlackBerry, it means that you can listen to music with any headphones you like.
This, too, may sound like an obvious feature, until you realize that the earphone jack on 99.99 percent of cellphones is a 2.5-millimeter jack, too small for standard headphones. (The Curve comes with wired stereo earbuds that have a microphone on the cord.)
That’s really the whole Curve story: smaller, lighter, masterly at multimedia.
The rest is pure, traditional, delightful BlackBerry. Efficiency nuts in particular will lap up the ingenious keyboard shortcuts. For example, you can press the I and O keys for “zoom in” and “zoom out” (when viewing photos); N and P stand for “next” and “previous,” T and B for “top” and “bottom,” and so on. In e-mail addresses, you can tap the Space bar to produce the @ sign instead of hunting for a special symbol. The BlackBerry puts in apostrophes automatically in “wont,” “dont,” “Im” and so on, and auto-capitalizes sentences.
There’s also a simple Ringer Off switch on the top, a screamingly obvious feature that is, bizarrely, a rarity on cellphones.
You can charge the phone with a U.S.B. cable attached to your laptop. And the e-mail program can open Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG and GIF attachments, which is very cool indeed.
This is a G.S.M. phone, meaning that it works in most other countries (for an additional fee, of course). It works as a speakerphone; you can dial by voice; you can assign speed-dial numbers to any key; and the ring tones are rich and polyphonic.
Unfortunately, the Curve also inherits some of the Pearl’s downsides. It can’t capture video at all. And despite the full keyboard, AT&T’s Curve can’t get onto any of the popular chat networks like AIM, MSN or Yahoo — only Google Talk and BlackBerry’s own proprietary network.
More appalling to the techie set is that while the BlackBerry’s Web browser is nicely designed (and saves you from having to type “http://www” each time), it’s slow; you wait about 10 seconds for the text of a Web page to appear, and 15 more for the graphics. That’s because this phone can connect only to Cingular/AT&T’s sleepy old Edge network, and not to the much faster one that’s already available in several big cities. There’s no Wi-Fi wireless, either.
Finally, of course, there’s the little matter of the network itself; Cingular/AT&T’s cellular coverage is not what you’d call universal. The Curve’s audio quality is fine — but only when a decent signal is available.
Still, only a curmudgeon would focus on those nits. This BlackBerry is a great phone (four hours of talk time, 17 days of standby); a fast, comfortable, responsive e-mail terminal; and a surprisingly full-fledged multimedia machine. With its super-intelligent software design, it blows away all those awkward Windows Mobile phones, like the Motorola Q and the Samsung BlackJack, and presents a tantalizing alternative to the Treo. (The choice of smartphone won’t become any easier in June, when Apple’s even slimmer iPhone is introduced with gigabytes of storage, a complete iPod system and a huge full-length screen — but no physical typing keys.)
All of this is good news. Because even if you can’t upgrade the components you were born with, it’s easy enough to improve upon the ones you buy.