BlackBerry Curve 9320 – straight to video

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RIM’s new handset is aimed at young social networkers on a budget, but can it tempt serious smartphone users away from touchscreen devices like the iPhone and the Galaxy S III?

The BlackBerry Curve 9320 appears to have it all – MP3 player, camera, video, messenger, FM radio, access to the web as well as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Phew. Impressive, eh? Such a long list, so those looking to buy their first smartphone could do a lot worse.

After all, BlackBerry is an iconic brand from Research in Motion (RIM), and RIM’s reputation has stayed largely intact for many years apart from a temporary worldwide outage of email last year and the London riots being blamed on the ease with which pond life communicated
using BlackBerry Messenger.

BlackBerry more or less invented the concept of accessing email from a pocket device long before the iPhone and other smartphones arrived from 2007.

Many manufacturers have altered their image and device style and design, while the first ever BlackBerry looks remarkably similar to the latest ones. You could say this shows RIM was convinced of the durability of the original idea of a real mini QWERTY keyboard. Or you could say its shows a lack of innovation, relying on past glories. Draw your own conclusion.

For a few new premium models, namely the Touch range, BlackBerry handsets continue to adopt the half screen, half keyboard look.
Opening the box
The 9320 has a decent 2.44-inch screen and a best-in-class QWERTY keyboard. So far so good. Along the top is the small power button next to a 3.5mm headphone jack. Halfway up the left side sits a shortcut to the BlackBerry Messenger service (BBM). Just above that is a Micro USB charging point. On the other side are four buttons covered in a rubbery substance which secure with the battery cover.

Three buttons which sit under your thumb control call and access to multimedia tools. Top and bottom buttons regulate volume. A smaller one mutes a call, or pauses an MP3.  Holding the volume buttons fast-forwards music tracks. Below these is a standalone camera button to a 3.2-megapixel camera.

Budget
The back of the device feels painfully cheap and shouts budget handset. The shiny plastic curved casing gives the Curve 9320 the quality of a container once filled with sweets. It is a world away from the materials used for the BlackBerry Bold, which has much higher-quality build and stability.

The Curve 9320’s 103g weight is also incredibly light. Some will see this as a good thing. But featherweight compromises build quality.  I doubt it will withstand too many drops.

Slow start
Any BlackBerry handset takes an age to power up, and the Curve 9320 takes a ludicrous four minutes. The BlackBerry menu is the same as older models, with the design remaining simple, clear and very distinctive.

Note that the 9320 is NOT a touchscreen device. This gives it a dated feel in the modern world of touchscreen smartphones. Much cheaper devices than the 9320 have touchscreens. BlackBerry is no stranger to these. The Bold 9900 works well with the same BlackBerry 7 operating system (OS), and navigating the 9320 with buttons and keyboard seems clunky and slow, instead relying on its now distinctive trackpad.

Menu
Six shortcut picture icons decorate the bottom of the screen. These are email (envelope), text message (speech mark), contacts (phonebook), browser (globe), media (play button) and calendar. You can switch the order around as you like. A second layer of icons can be added up to a total of eight.

The screen quality offers 320 x 240 resolution and 65,000 colours. Next to premium models, text looks blurred, particularly icons using text or bright colours. If you are switching to the 9320 from an Android-powered device it will all seem a bit backwards. First-time users will understand the layout in no time.

BlackBerry has always excelled in this area. Those who have used BlackBerry at any stage in the past five years, will find little, if anything, new to confuse them.

A horizontal bar along the top of the screen turns blue when it is highlighted using the trackpad. Swiping the trackpad sideways summons up shortcut menus based on device usage and activities.

The standard menu is ‘all’. This shows all shortcuts icons on the device. Scrolling right brings you to the ‘Favourites’ menu, for the commonly used features.

Scrolling right goes to the media section (pictures, videos, radio, and so on). Right-swipe downloads any downloads from BlackBerry World. The final option is ‘Frequent’, which takes you to the most commonly used apps and features.

Full article in Mobile News issue 519 (July 30, 2012).

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