With RIM extremely busy with their preparations for the unveiling of a new and radically different BlackBerry 10 OS on 30th of January, it might seem a little odd that the company is still churning out BlackBerry 7.1 OS devices. Case in point: the BlackBerry Curve 9320. Nonetheless, RIM has always been well-known for their squarish BlackBerry devices with their characteristic QWERTY keyboards and small screens, and the Curve 9320 pays homage to that. Can the smartphone device hold the fort in the upcoming BlackBerry 10's stead? And how does it fare against other low cost Android devices available now? Let's find out.
Key highlights of the BlackBerry Curve 9320
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 hasn't quite changed in its looks, brandishing a form factor that is very similar to its older Curve predecessors - small screen, QWERTY keyboard, optical trackpad and rounded edges. Its predominantly plastic body makes it a very light device at 103g but on the flip side, it feels and looks very much like an entry-level smartphone. To add on, RIM should have swapped out its glossy back cover for one with a matte finish that's less slip-resistant and prone to fingerprints. Because of its squarish and lightweight build, the Curve 9320 makes for easy handling and slips nicely in small pockets.
Moving on to actual usage, the standard buttons below the screen present good tactile feedback with the optical trackpad responding fluidly, making navigation on a non-touch screen a tad more bearable. At this day and age, you would expect a device with a QWERTY keypad to bring about good messaging experience, but unfortunately, we didn't find it positive. Due to the phone's cramped layout and narrow buttons, we found it relatively easy to mistype. To be fair, the keys presented very good tactile feedback but unfortunately, we found that the only way to type something coherent was to, literally, type at the tip of our fingers. However, once we got used to it, typing on the Curve 9320 became second nature to us.
Like on its previous Curve devices, the volume and camera controls on the right profile are merely small raised rubber bumps. Thankfully, these are easy to press in spite of their ugly appearance.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is unfortunately bogged down by its hardware and software limitations but for what it is worth, these aspects match the device's price point. To add on, BlackBerry devices have traditionally been less about chasing hardware specs like powerful processors, so it isn't that surprising. For starters, the 2.44-inch screen comes with a rather poor screen resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, a far cry from the average in the market today.
The single-core 800Mhz processor and 512 RAM might pale in comparison to high quad-core flyers like the Samsung Galaxy S III but it isn't an issue of contention at all on the Curve 9320. Web browsing and app transitions were smooth, given the low processing power that the device actually requires. However, if you are looking to take photos with your mobile device, the Curve 9320 is definitely not a device you would want to look at. With a measly 3-megapixel camera with fixed focus, you are unlikely to get your desired shot.
The overall software user experience was a generally positive one, if you discount stronger and visually more pleasing mobile operating systems. Unfortunately, the BlackBerry 7/7.1 OS operates on a rather dated user interface and comes with a limiting pool of BlackBerry apps. The 7.1 OS is largely similar to the 7.0 OS, with the exception of incremental improvements like the inclusion of FM Radio and Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot support.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320, like its predecessors, did quite well on the battery side of things. With casual usage (phone calls, surfing, messaging, social media), the device can last a whole day.
It's been a long while since we last reviewed a BlackBerry device in a market flooded with smartphones running on more capable operating systems like iOS and Android. With the Windows Phone 8 platform gaining more traction, the odds against RIM grows stronger with every minute. This pressing need to keep up comes in the form of the much-publicized and much-delayed touch optimized BlackBerry 10 operating system, one that will run on devices with different form factors, such as a full touchscreen device or one with a QWERTY keyboard/small touchscreen.
So where does this leave the older BlackBerry operating systems? Good news: RIM has mentioned that there will not be any changes in support for older BB 7 OS devices as RIM plans to run the two operating systems concurrently. However, aside from missing out better hardware specs, older BlackBerry devices also skimp out on, amongst other things,a user-friendlier OS and an app store that allows users to purchase videos and music.
So if you are looking for a BlackBerry device, should you get the Curve 9320? No - we would advise you to look out for the upcoming BlackBerry 10 QWERTY device before making your decision. Although not much is known about the smartphone, it will definitely come with a bigger screen, as evidenced by a screen of 720 x 720 pixels on a Dev Alpha C device. As mentioned earlier, the Curve 9320's 2.44-inch, 320 x 240 pixels screen and 3-megapixel camera with fixed focus limits the usability of an otherwise pretty functional phone and even pales in comparison with the hardware specs of many other recent entry-level smartphones.
How about if you are looking at an affordable smartphone predominantly for messaging? In that case, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 ($328) is probably one of the options to consider, especially if you need a physical keypad. Other older Android devices that could meet your needs include the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro ($458 at launch) and HTC Desire Z ($718 at launch). For most users who use a smartphone for a myriad of purposes, but require a new phone on a shoestring budget, you would want to look out for an all-round capable, affordable, touch-based smartphones like the HTC One V ($398 at launch) and Sony Xperia U ($488 at launch). These phones as well as many other options in the market (at similar price points) can serve your purpose with a much better platform and app ecosystem. Not to mention with a far more usable screen and with much better imaging capabilities.
Don't get us wrong. The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is definitely one of the most affordable smartphones around and doesn't have a lot of direct competition at its immediate price point, but for just a little more, you get a whole lot better capabilities, thus affecting the value proposition of the phone despite its low price.