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Old 27th November, 2007, 05:09 AM
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Review: BlackBerry Curve 8320

I've been playing with this for the last few weeks and I've grown quite attached to it. The physical specs for it are:

4.2 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches ; 3.9 ounces

Not too bad. Before this I had an LG KG800 which is the European/Asian GSM version of the LC Chocolate phone which is quite a bit thinner and lighter than Verizon's Chocolate phone. The Curve is about a half inch taller and a half inch wider, but it's almost exactly the same thickness. Since I don't carry a holster or anything, thin is good because I don't like to have unnecessary bulging in my pockets if you know what I mean. There is a smaller BlackBerry available called the Pearl which is actually RIM's best selling device of all time. I tried it and didn't like it though for 2 reasons. The screen is too small and I didn't like the truncated keyboard. I tried typing on it and it's too similar to T9 on a regular cellphone. Typing on the 8320 is not too bad once you get used to it.

Lately, RIM has been producing more consumer oriented BlackBerrys. A few years ago, BlackBerrys were wireless email machines and not much more. This particular model comes with a 2.0 MP camera with weak flash. One cool feature is that you can immediately email photos to anyone including your Flickr account. It has a speakerphone feature so you don't get a ticket while driving. It has a media player that can play MP3s and videos and also serve as a photo viewer. It also carries typical phone features. It hasfully customizable profiles and ringtones. It can do both SMS and MMS. To store media, you can insert up to a 4GB microSDHC card.

It also comes with the typical smartphone features like a browser. It can emulate IE. It also has IM clients for Windows Messenger, ICQ, AIM, Yahoo IM, and the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger. GoogleTalk is also available for download and works fine. Google has a little suite of applications that I have installed which also include a Gmail reader, Search app, Google Maps, and Google News. Being a smartphone, you can install whatever programs you find useful. In addition to the Google suite, I also have Viigo (an RSS reader), Yahoo Go!, Multi-Alarm Clock, Google Apps Email Reader, and a couple of games.

The Curve 8320 being a BlackBerry, it rules at email. I typically receive emails within 5 seconds of sending. Sometimes it's a bit longer, like a whole minute, but that's rare. You can set up 10 different email accounts.

BlackBerry currently offers two levels of service, BIS and BES. BIS is BlackBerry Internet Service which is designed for consumers. BES is short for BlackBerry Enterprise Server which as the name implies, for large groups. There are several security implementations that make BES worthwhile, but you need to either run your own MS Exchange and BES or sign up for a service that will host both for you. A friend of mine says you can host both Exchange and BES on the same machine by using VMWare if you don't have too many accounts. I just went simple and signed up with BIS.

With BIS, RIM polls your POP3 accounts every 15 minutes. If sees a new email, it pulls it and then pushes it to your BlackBerry. It offers IMAP, but from what I can see, IMAP is not ready for prime time yet on the BlackBerry. RIM has agreements with Yahoo, Godaddy, and Google so that any email accounts in those domains or hosted by them are instantly pushed to your handheld as if it were on a BES. I currently have my email hosted by Google and it works the same. I get my emails pushed to me instantly (maybe not instantly, usually about 2-10 seconds after sending if finished) instead of being polled every 15 minutes. For most 15 minutes is not a big deal, but it's cool.

If you are connected to a BES, handheld to mailbox synchronization is available for deletes and reads. It will also synchronize your calendar and contacts. BIS has yet to get this functionality. Yahoo mail on BIS is a bit different. It will synchronize deletes and reads on the handheld and vice versa instantly with a BlackBerry just like it would on a BES. With Google, there is no read synchronization and deletes on the handheld can take hours to sync back up with the mailbox. With Google, if you delete something off the mailbox, it won't delete it from your handheld. I hear Godaddy hosted accounts are something in between in that it can sync with the handheld, but the sync is not instantaneous like with Yahoo. I know this has nothing to do with the device.... just FYI.

My one major complaint is that the email reader cannot handle HTML mail. Any email with embedded HTML is a mess. HTML mail is apparently an inherent security risk and since the vast majority of users are still corp users, security is a big deal. There are however ways around this. Third party software is available to handle HTML mail. I use one called BBSmart and it works pretty good. There are rumors that RIM will enable HTML mail in the next OS upgrade.... but who knows.

There is one feature which is relatively new. The Curve 8320 offers UMA, or Unlicensed Mobile Access. UMA is similar to VOIP. What UMA does is that it connects to T-Mobile's network via the internet. The 8320 connects to the internet via WiFi. The 8320 handles most of the current WiFi security schemes including; WEP, WPA (TKIP), WPA2 (AES-CCMP), LEAP, PEAP, EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, EAP-FAST, EAP-SIM, EAP-AKA.

UMA has protocols for handoffs between WiFi and normal cell towers. What that means is that you can start a call on WiFi and then walk away and it will automatically handoff to a cell tower in the middle of the call. I've tried this out and it actually works. The reverse also works, if you start a call on the mobile network and get within range of an open wireless network or one you have access to, it switches your call to UMA.

What's the big deal about this you ask? Two things. The first is obvious. If you have poor cell reception in your home or office, this will fix it. The second is not so obvious. T-Mobile offers a service called Hotspot@Home for $20 a month. H@H allows you to make unlimited UMA initiated calls. I use my cellphone a LOT. When I'm working full time, I typically go through 3000+ minutes in a month. Previously I had a grandfathered unlimited plan with AT&T, but the stipulation was that I couldn't make any changes to it without losing my grandfathered plan. Basically no data.

So I've using UMA for the last couple of weeks. It's not perfect yet. It still has some bugs they need to fix. The biggest problem is that it's not always stable. Sometimes I can't make calls even though it says I'm connected to UMA. T-Mobile says it's probably problems with both my home and office networks. They recommend I get a special UMA QoS router from them, but i don't want to because I like my current router. Perhaps the problems can be fixed by firmware updates, but I'm not so sure. From info I've gleaned, they're on their 3rd firmware revision and I still get the same problems. Overall though, I would say UMA is a winner and I like it. When it's working, my calls have perfect clarity.

In closing, I can't say this is a perfect device. I would rate it 4 out of 5 stars. It's not perfect, but it's still pretty damn good. It's email stuff is great. The music player, still a long way to go to be an iPod, is serviceable. IM is not as bad as I thought it would be. I was debating between this and an iPhone someone was gonna give me if I took over his AT&T contract. I'm glad I picked this one.

Price: I paid $75 with two rebates, one for $75 and another for $50 for a final price of "make" $50 after rebates. I had to sign up with T-Mobile for 2 years though.

I signed up for T-Mobile's myFaves plan which offers unlimited calling to 5 domestic numbers. I set one of the numbers for Google's Grand Central service and I gave out my Grand Central number to half my contacts. When those people call, GC forwards the call to me and it registers as a myFaves call. This was my scheme for getting unlimited incalling and to get over the 5 number limit for myFaves. GC also has MUCH better voicemail features and handling than T-Mobile's voicemail service so I set the phone to forward all unanswered calls to GC.
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Last edited by mookydooky; 27th November, 2007 at 03:26 PM.
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