Superb universal inbox, increasingly integrated BlackBerry Messenger app, great all-round social integration, high-end QWERTY keyboard, well over a day of continuous use
Occasionally sluggish processor can’t handle heavy duty multitasking, mediocre camera is less and less forgiveable, increasingly pedestrian design and capabilities compared to other smartphones on rival OSes
Here’s proof that BlackBerry is following through on it promise to go back to basics – the Curve 9320 is not only the lowest-priced of the ‘entry-level’ Curve line, it’s actually got a dedicated BlackBerry Messenger button. The Curve 9320 is basically the pairing of the two factors that pushed the ‘Berry mainstream – making it cheaper and BBM – but is that a convincing enough argument against its similarly-priced equivalents?
Unsurprisingly, the Curve 9320 doesn’t hold many surprises in the looks department, carrying the age-old candybar form with rounded corners and the squat BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. Its shiny plastic body is lightweight but pleasingly sturdy, while the wee 2.44-inch QVGA screen is relatively low-res but brighter than you’d expect. The single concession to these modern touch-screen times is the optical trackpad, used like a mini mouse.
Along the sides are some buttons to help you use your phone faster – volume up/down, a ‘convenience key’ that can be remapped to anything you want and the new entrant, a dedicated BlackBerry Messenger button to instantaneously connect yourself to the free instant messaging service. A 3.2-megapixel camera sits on the back with an LED flash.
The Curve 9320 runs on the latest BlackBerry 7.1 software, which is based on up to five home screen panels filled with all apps, media apps, favourite apps, downloads and an auto-populated frequently used apps. On startup, you’re prompted to set up your webmail accounts, including linking a BlackBerry ID to be able to download apps from the BlackBerry App World. Here’s what will polarise the Android-BlackBerry choice – Android still offers far more customisability in terms of apps available as well as how you manage them.
Social networking is a big deal in BlackBerry 7, with the Social Feeds app running your Facebook and Twitter feeds together. Along with a dedicated BBM button, RIM’s free IM app also links to a stable of BBM-connected apps, including Facebook and Twitter, allowing you to post updates from these apps to BBM too. In several of these apps, the BBM connection also lets you share the app with BBM buddies and in the case of games, invite them to join in.
Like the higher-end Berrys, Curve 9320 has a comprehensive universal inbox displaying all messages including emails and social alerts. All this is easy to set up, and if you don’t do it at startup, you can fire up the Setup app any time.
The full HTML browser comes with bookmark support and tabbed browsing, but the screen won’t do image-heavy sites any favours. Naturally, at 2.44 inches, the screen won’t display any full screen sites in any legible detail but you can zoom in and the browser resizes sites automatically.
As for BlackBerry Maps, you’ll probably want to replace it with Google's offering. Though the GPS is generally accurate and its location search is powered by Google, there’s no pedestrian option for directions, only driving. The only downside with Google Maps is that you have to download it from the Maps website rather than BlackBerry App World (anti-competition at work).
Since voice control is all the rage, what with the Galaxy S III the new kid on the block bigging up its voice recognition chops, we’ll note that the Curve 9320 is indeed kitted out with a voice activated universal search. It’s powered by Bing Auto-Suggest, so the default result is some web address rather than finding a contact. It’ll also search the apps you’re in – but it’s a fairly rudimentary execution that ends up being more difficult than using the keyboard.
As you'd expect, there are some sluggish features to write home about. You don’t generally notice that it’s packing a 600MHz processor (compare that mentally to the quad-core 1.5GHz chips of the latest flagships) except when trying to run a heavy duty process, such as downloading an app in the background. When you do that, the phone does shudder to a halt, recovering only when it’s done with the task. Nor is the camera much to shout about, though you don’t expect that of a BlackBerry phone. By comparison, the iPhone 3GS has a three-or-so megapixel count and its images beat the slightly blurry, colour-faded efforts of the Curve 9320.
However, you can forgive all this for the impressive 27 hours (and counting! We’ll update this when we can) battery life, which has so far lasted through a 40 minute YouTube loop, light sat nav enquiries, and lots of web activities.
The Curve 9320 neatly does everything it’s supposed to do and falls short at exactly the areas you’d expect of an entry-level smartphone. It’s excellent for social networking with great Facebook and Twitter apps plus an ever-improving offering in BlackBerry Messenger, and its general messaging skills are on par with much more expensive phones. Its camera and general performance could be zippier but that’s easily overlooked for this price – and the excellence of the other features.