I’m in my 30s and was an adult when mobile telephony was introduced in India in the mid-90s. One abiding memory of the time – besides the ridiculously high tariffs – was the size of the mobile phones. You could carry a brick in one hand and a phone in another and unless you looked, you wouldn’t know the difference. I also remember some of RIM’s early, clunky BlackBerry smartphones and when I first opened the box that RIM’s new 9360 Curve came in, I was struck by how far the BlackBerry range had come—something similar to how far mobile phones have come from the quite-literal bricks of mid-90s.
In a line, the new BlackBerry Curve 9360 is the first BlackBerry that lives up to the Curve brand. Truly curvy, if there’s one USP of this smartphone, it’s brilliant design that makes it perhaps the sexiest BlackBerry on the market.
First word: Wow! Every marketing team uses words like sleek and lightweight (am sure they did this back in the 90s too), but the BlackBerry Curve 9360 being described as sleek and lightweight isn’t marketing spiel but quite close to Gospel truth. RIM says the BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the thinnest BlackBerry, clocking in at 10.5 mm, but smart design makes this 11 mm smartphone seem even thinner. And it weighs under 100 gms, so it’s definitely the lightest BlackBerry out there. Dimensions are 109 mm x 60 mm x 11 mm.
It’s the way the back curves and fuses seamlessly into the face of the smartphone—it’s an optical illusion, but it certainly looks like the 9360 is razor thin and the lack of weight completes the illusion. An elegant, grey metal rim is at the back and despite the smooth rear battery cover (Near Field Communication antenna on the underside), grip is excellent because of a thin rubberised strip between the cover and the metal rim. Gone are the clunky side buttons of earlier BlackBerry smartphones too. Okay, they were really not clunky but when you compare the earlier buttons to the contoured rubberised fins that are part of the rubber casing, which now act as buttons, the older stuff seems clunky in comparison.
Familiar BlackBerry Curve rear
On the right side of the 9360 there are now four buttons, as opposed to the usual three—a practice that started with the Bold 9900. The two media buttons are great, but the Pause button isn’t a complete fin and I think it’s too tiny. The bottom one is a convenience key you can customise as per your liking. Unfortunately, there's no convenience key on the left, a bad omission that also began with the 9900. There's a micro USB port for charging and sync while the standard 3.5mm audio out slot is on top with a lock button. I like the fact that the audio out is on top—the smartphone fits easier in the pocket.
Speaking of which, this was one BlackBerry I wouldn’t want a holster for—no more ugly bulges in trouser front pockets. And unlike other BlackBerry rear covers, which usually open from the bottom or sometimes the top, this one opens from one side and fits back in so snug without a lock, I’m once again left drooling over the design. Seriously, RIM, couldn’t you have got this team to also design the Bold 9900? I love the Bold but when I see what they’ve done with the Curve 9360, I wish the Bold used similar design cues.
The keypad is better than older Curve series and despite being no match to RIM’s best keypads on the Bold series, can hold their own against keypads built by any other smartphone maker. And in another welcome change, the microSD card is hot swappable. A feature that’s missing in RIM’s high-end Bold 9900.
Features & Performance
The 9360 Curve comes with a 2.44-inch, 480 x 360 pixel transmissible TFT LCD that is quite sharp thanks to BlackBerry 7 OS' Liquid Graphics technology. Pretty good for a mid-range smartphone. At the heart of the 9360 is a new processor and while it doesn’t cross the Gigahertz barrier with a Qualcomm Scorpion, the 800 MHz 32-bit Marvell PXA940 is powerful enough to ensure a smooth user experience. To put things in perspective, remember that the Bold 9780, which was released less than a year ago, was powered by a 624 MHz Marvell processor.
A nice side profile
The Curve comes with 512 MB of RAM and 512 MB ROM—the lack of onboard memory I didn’t like one bit, especially when all the recent BlackBerry smartphones have featured fairly generous amounts of onboard memory. The microSD/SDHC slot supports up to 32 GB memory cards for additional media storage. I used the 9360 with BES enabled on a 3G network and found it quite quick and responsive. Though I’m spoiled by the top-end Bold 9900 and its speedier processor, I didn’t find a noticeable performance lag. GPS and Wi-Fi support are included in the 9360.
I’m not going to dwell on OS 7 and you can read up on my take on OS 7 here. Suffice it to say that despite a slower processor as compared to other BlackBerry smartphones running OS 7, the Curve 9360 holds its own. OS 7 app problems are still a painful reality though and many of my older OS 6 apps still don’t work on OS 7. And for those who think you can upgrade an older BlackBerry to OS 7, you can’t. So, even if you got the Bold 9780 a few months ago, you’re stuck with OS 6.
BlackBerry OS 7 also includes the Premium version of Documents To Go free of charge, which offers document editing features as well as a native PDF document viewer. BlackBerry Protect is also pre-loaded, offering users the capability to back up and store personal data securely in the cloud, besides helping you locate a misplaced BlackBerry using GPS or remotely turning up the ringer for an audible notification if your misplaced handset is nearby. BlackBerry Balance is also integrated in BlackBerry 7, which ensures your work and personal BlackBerry usage is kept separate, thus helping CIOs in their constant quest for improved security and IT controls.
NFC antenna on the rear panel
Yes, a good browser on a mid-range BlackBerry is a long awaited dream. Web page rendering has improved thanks to Liquid Graphics. But Flash support is still something I’m waiting for on my BlackBerry. Would have been nice to get it on OS 7, but well… Once again we see a BlackBerry device ripe with GPS goodness but devoid of any acual software to use it with. It's been unduly long since BlackBerry Maps were announced and still all we see is a blank space where Mumbai, Maharashtra should be. All it ever seems to say is 'Indian Ocean. which is far from accurate.
Like any and all Blackberrys of today, the Curve 9360 is loaded up with video codecs to support most formats that include MPEG4, DivX, XviD, 3GP, WMV and MOV. It even managed to play 720p HD files with just a little bit of framing though. 1080p was pushing it as the 800MHz processor was unable to handle it, but that was too much to ask anyhow. RIM has been able to incorporate superb audio technology into their devices and the 9360 is no exception to this rule at all. The new earphones that RIM is shipping with their devices, although a tad small for some ears, will sit in just fine with a set of cushions and nevertheless provide more than satisfactory quality. Audio quality is impeccable. The Audio Boost engine and presets will enhance your listening experience to a great level and peaking the volume is not recommended, unless hearing loss is what you’re aiming at. The lack of an FM radio can still be a put off and it’s about time BlackBerry started looking into this more seriously.
The Curve 9360 also features NFC capabilities. NFC or Near Field Communication makes possible transactions, data exchange, and connections with a mere touch.
Turning on NFC on the device
So, you can purchase products and transfer secure information by simply touching devices. For instance, once our transportation agencies implement it, you could simply take your BlackBerry close to a reader to pay for a ticket from your mobile wallet. Besides electronic money, other possibilities include file sharing, mobile gaming and more. It’s nice to see RIM go the whole hog on NFC and not just restrict it to high-end smartphones.
The 5MP fixed-focus camera strapped onto the rear comes coupled with an LED flash and features that include Geotagging, face detection amongst other scene modes and Image Stabilization. Unfortunately, the 9360 is not capable of 720p video recording which, taking into account the price and fact that it’s not of an autofocus variety, is quite a disappointment.
Image quality is not too bad
Image quality is not bad at all however, close ups tend to be a bit unfocused in certain areas. Normal pics even in slightly low lit conditions are quite sharp in contrast.
In tune with recent offerings, the battery on the 1000 mAh battery that powers the 9360 has 100 mAh lesser capacity as compared to the battery on the older Curve 8520 and Curve 9300. Despite using the 9360 with BES enabled on a 3G network, I got most of my work day covered, with the battery going dead around the time I was leaving for home. If you’re not on 3G and on BIS, you should get a full-day’s worth of juice. OUr stand alone video darin test showed the 9360 clocking in at a decent 5 hours and 20 minutes almost to the second.
Curvy enough for you?
In the end, it all comes down to the price. At Rs. 19,990, the Curve 9360 is actually cheaper than the Bold 9780, which many are still buying and which is not even a year old. Come to think of it, the Curve 9360 has a better processor and OS 7, while all the Bold 9780 has is a bit more of onboard memory and a better keypad. The camera is the same, the display specs are the same.
Personally, I feel a price point around Rs. 18,000 would have been better, but with a compelling design, a faster processor, a new OS, an improved keyboard and a decent camera, besides awesome media capabilities, the Curve 9360 has a lot going for it. I think this is going to be the BlackBerry that a lot of the cool, hip crowd is going to want and mid-level corporate types are going to love, while CEOs stuck with the high-end Bolds look on in envy at the design. If you’re planning to move to BlackBerry or looking for a mid-range smartphone, take a good hard look at the Curve 9360. If you’re planning to upgrade your old BlackBerry, this beautiful smartphone may be right in the sweet spot.
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