BlackBerry Curve 9320 review: Coach class
It's been quite a while since we last reviewed a BlackBerry handset. Android and iOS have dominated the market for the past couple of years and it's hard to see where exactly a business-centric QWERTY device can fit in.
That said, it's hard to ignore the fact that BlackBerrys still have a following - the Curve 9320's high daily interest at the time of writing is a testament to that. And so is RIM's own dedication to improving their operating system from the ground up with the almost complete overhaul that is BB10.
Whether or not BlackBerry 10 will be enough to bring them back into contention is a tough call at this point, but for now we have to look at what exactly the BlackBerry Curve 9320 brings to the table. There are several factors which make the 9320 a really hard sell, not only in terms of what it offers but also in regards to what else is out there.
BlackBerry phones have never been about flashy graphics or powerful processors, so the Curve 9320's mediocre specs are forgivable - to an extent. The 65K-color display measures less than 2.5 inches, and while that's not a negative in itself, it's perplexing why RIM chose to make it only 320 x 240 pixels, especially considering it has included better displays in the past. While the 800Mhz processor provides enough power to smoothly run the OS, it is pretty low for today's midrange standards, as is the 3 MP camera. Even some entry level devices on other platforms are offering better specs these days.
The operating system and price are two more things the Curve 9320 has going against it. With the upcoming BB10 being such a complete overhaul, it's unlikely that the 9320 will ever get it. And seeing as how RIM are betting the bank on BB10 and on attracting new customers, it's doubtful that there will be much support to its version 7.1 which already hasn't seen an upgrade for over half a year.
Which brings us to the Curve's price point. Currently, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 is available for around 220, which is about in tune with what RIM would price an "entry level" device at. The BlackBerry Curve 9360, released exactly one year ago, offers a 480 x 360 resolution, 16M color screen of the same size, a 5 MP camera, and is almost 2 mm thinner than the 9320. It also runs the same BBOS version 7.1, and is available for around 260.
If you don't have your heart set on a BlackBerry, there are plenty of other QWERTY messenger offerings. The Sony Ericsson Xperia pro was released late last year as one of the last models to come from the Sony Ericsson partnership, and has a spec sheet that simply blows the Curve 9320 away. It has a 3.7 inch screen of 480 x 854 pixels resolution, a 1 GHz processor, 8MP camera capable of 720p video recording, front-facing VGA camera, and a complimentary 8 GB microSD card. Best of all, it runs Android and it even received its due ICS serving. The Xperia pro can currently be found for right around 200.
HTC also have a reasonably-equipped QWERTY messenger droid. For around 180, the HTC ChaCha gives you a 2.6 inch HVGA screen covered in Gorilla Glass, a 5 MP camera alongside VGA front-facer, powered by an 800Mhz processor. Unlike the Xperia pro, though, the Gingerbread-running ChaCha is not upgradable to ICS.
Finally, the Galaxy Y Pro from Samsung has a spec sheet that is very similar to the BlackBerry Curve 9320. There's the same QVGA resolution display, an 832 Mhz processor, and 3MP camera. It only offers video recording at QVGA@24fps, however, and the measly 160 MB of inbuilt memory. There's the notable addition of Android 2.3 to keep in mind, and there's also a dual-SIM variant available. The Galaxy Y Pro can be had for around 160.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is not a bad phone in its own right. It offers an established, functional platform with a no-fuss interface alongside elegant styling. However, at the midrange price point, there are simply better-equipped devices to be had.
Even if it were priced lower, the Curve 9320 would still be a hard sell in a market obsessed with touchscreen. RIM has obviously realized that, and has invested highly into recreating their own platform along those lines. It's anyone's guess whether the company will be more successful in its second venture away from its established territory (after the Storms fiasco), and whether we're seeing the slow death of QWERTY-enabled devices as we know them.
The Curve 9320 is not the last of its species perhaps and definitely not the worst. There's plenty of people who still want a proper phone - meaning one with buttons and such. They would love a neat and to-the-point QWERTY messenger with secure email. But RIM seems to be less and less interested in that kind of users and in their game plan the Curve 9320 is probably nothing more than a stopgap, a device designed to buy more time for the development of BB10.