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Blackberry Curve 9300 ‚ balance work and play

One of the great dilemmas of the smartphone market right now is the difficulty of choosing the right one for your needs‚Ķ and wants. Most phones are either geared to business use and come short in the entertainment and multimedia department, or they are perfect multimedia devices, leaving you out in the cold for business features. DO any phones strike a balance between the two? SEAN BACHER thinks so, after trying the new version of the Curve, South Africa’s phone flavour of the moment.

Last year saw a wave of new handset announcements from BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM). The new Pearl was punted in magazines and adverts throughout South Africa: the flagship, the Torch, was so heavily marketed, you could not walk into a store without being bombarded with images and information about its benefits.

Around the same time though, RIM quietly announced another new handset. Well, perhaps not new, but rather an upgrade of one of its most popular handsets ‚ the Curve. The Curve 8520 had set the market alight with its combination of low price, high tech and appeal to the youth market. Mention the 9300, and those with a vague knowledge of model numbers assume you’re referring to a version of the Bold.

So the Curve 9300 slipped into South Africa under the radar. This tickled my fancy though, as I wondered why BlackBerry would release a phone without creating an advance marketing build-up.

Why no hype about the phone? Was there something wrong with it? Did it not live up to Research in Motion’s own expectations?

We put it through the Gadget 5 Question User Test to answer these questions:

1. Is it ready to use?

If it’s only about making calls, you can get going immediately. If you’re switching from another BlackBerry, and want to keep your contacts, the process is by no means simple. It requires you to synchronising the old device with BlackBerry desktop software ‚ the latest version comes on a disk with the phone. However, this has become a lot simpler over time. Once the software is set up, you simply plug in the old Blackberry and select the Switch Device option. Your data is backed up and copied to the PC, you’re asked to plug in the new device, and wait for it all to be restored to the new Curve.

This entire process took no more than half an hour. It may sound like a lot, but that included transferring thousands of e-mails, previous applications re-installed, and contacts, calendar information and SMSs moved to the new device. I have yet to come across another phone upgrade that allows as seamless and complete a process: once it is all done, it all works.

There was one additional step: I had to access the mail setup option on the phone to make sure the new phone was registered with my Blackberry e-mail account.

All in all, really easy, and you now have your data backed up on your PC as well.

2. Is it easy to use?

I have always found the BlackBerry easy to use. Although Rim continually upgrades the operating system (OS), the changes are mainly functional and the general interface doesn’t change radically.

While it may ship with an older version, the phone is compatible with the new BlackBerry OS 6, by far their best operating system yet. To upgrade, you download the OS package from RIM’s site and install it on your phone through the desktop software ‚ again long-winded, but fairly simple. In the process, your data is once again backed up and restored with the new OS.

If you are moving from a different brand, it may take a while to get used to the layout. A tutorial on the phone quickly takes you through the essentials. Then, as with any phone, it’s about trial and error. However, with the current popularity of the Curve among teenagers and their parents, tips, tricks and advice will be almost on tap.

Among the useful aspects of the Curve are two easy-access buttons on the side of the phone. By default, one is set to launch the camera application, which comes in handy when you need to take quick snaps for Facebook or Twitter (both applications are available free from the Blackberry Application World). The other launches the phone’s voice control option, which is irritating when you accidentally push it and a disembodied voice tells you to ‚Say a command‚ in an alien accent. Thankfully, these can be customised to suit your preferences.

3. Does it operate as advertised?

A lot of phones fall short here, often claiming long battery life or amazing Internet functionality, never before seen on a phone. However, the Blackberry Curve scores full points here. Its browser works well and is seamlessly integrated with applications like Facebook and Twitter.

It’s arena of market leadership, however, has always been the way it handles e-mail. It amazes me more and more everyday. I use a Gmail account, and the BlackBerry synchronises easily with it. And sometimes, it is way ahead of the game. I can be sitting in front of my PC with my Gmail account open and hear my phone beep to alert me that I have new mail ‚ even though there is no sign of it in my Gmail inbox, despite refreshing it several times.

The Curve’s battery life is also reasonable by current smartphone standards ‚ which of course does not say terribly much. A full battery will last an entire work day of intensive use: I constantly read, reply and compose emails, and am always checking my Twitter feeds. The battery has not yet let me down when I’ve been out for the day.

Incidentally, the BlackBerry web site ‚ ‚ offers endless advice on how to get the most out of your battery. One trick I picked up along the way is to make sure my network options are set to both 2G and 3G. If it is set to 3G, the phone continually scans for a 3G network and, in some cases, this could drop your battery usage time by half.

An application that I have grown to love to the point where I can’t imagine my life without is the Blackberry Messenger or BBM. Using it on a device like the Pearl is rather frustrating due to the shrunken keyboard. But the application works wonderfully when you have a full QWERTY keyboard at your disposal, as you do with the Curve 9300. The application is responsive, is endlessly more reliable than SMSs and costs less than a fraction of the cost of a phone call ‚ or nothing at all if included in a BlackBerry Internet Service package.

4. Is it innovative?

The Blackberry Curve is much faster than its predecessors, especially in terms of boot-up speed. It operates fluidly, has a decent camera built in and comes with the typical functions you would need to use it as both a business and multimedia device. Many other brands lose the plot here ‚ with most of them scoring full marks in the multimedia department but scoring zero on the business end or vice-versa. A phone needs to be perfectly balanced and the Curve comes close.

One limitation of the Blackberry is its internal memory, in this case 256MB. But after using the phone for several weeks and installing numeorus applications from the Blackberry App World, I have yet to run into problems. The phone has not frozen on me once, as have most others, nor has there been any other type of random behaviour I’ve come to expect from phones.

If you do run out of space, the Curve supports up to 32GB of external memory via mini SD cards.

The innovation lies not in the features as such, but in the way they all combine into a superb package.

5. Is it value for money?

At a price of around R4 500, depending on your operator, the new Curve is not the cheapest smartphone available, but it is a long way away from being one of the most expensive ‚ and some of its more expensive counterparts offer only half the functionality of the 9300.

In conclusion

A reliable communications device that provides a superb balance between fun and business.

· Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @seanbacher

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