Curve no IPhone, but still useful

Research In Motion’s BlackBerry 8300, known as the Curve because of a slight arching of the device’s form, is an interesting new smart phone that will be a hit with many members of the corporate set, at least those who don’t have an Apple Inc. IPhone.

When purchased via AT&T Wireless, the carrier that provided a demonstration unit for this review, the 8300 is $299 before a $100 rebate. That net $199 price requires a two-year contract, but is also a net $100 less than the AT&T-branded 8525, a similar device which has a slide-up screen revealing a QWERTY keyboard.

The Curve’s QWERTY keyboard is on the front of the phone for all the world to see, in contrast. The 8525 uses AT&T“s faster 3G wireless data network, while both the 8300 Curve and Apple’s IPhone use a somewhat-slower EDGE data network.

For those who don”t want to spend the $300 net of the 8525, or the $500 or $600 net price of the IPhone (depending on memory capability), the Curve seems a reasonable choice.

Perhaps one of its greatest differences with the IPhone, which I”ve only seen in demo mode and have not yet received to review, is that its screen, while brilliantly lit and in full color, is fixed in one viewing mode. The IPhone offers portrait and landscape modes to view Internet Web pages, a significant advantage.

However, many users and the corporate information-technology managers who manage those users aren”t feeling warm and fuzzy about spending big bucks for the Apple device. For them and for those who are BlackBerry aficionados, the 8300 is a highly useful solution, albeit with some limitations.

A key difference between the Curve and its cousin, the BlackBerry 8800, is that the Curve sports a 2-megapixel digital camera. There”s no flash for the camera and it won”t shoot small video clips, but it does offer up to five-times zoom magnification, and takes a fairly decent picture. I just wish it were easier to move pictures without a cable — although the Curve supports Bluetooth connectivity, I can”t use that method to move photos to a desktop Apple IMac. And, for some odd reason, e-mailing the photos hasn”t worked after about 30 minutes of trying. Perhaps there”s a signal issue of some sort, since this is my first unsuccessful e-mail attempt.

Otherwise, e-mail seems to function quite nicely. I”ve got the 8300 (Curve) set up to receive e-mail redirected from my office desktop, and as long as the desktop machine is working, all is well. Sending e-mail, with the photo exception noted above, generally works quickly and helpfully; it’s good to be able to answer business e-mails wherever I am.

Phone call quality is very good, and the supplied wired headset is excellent. I had spotty results with a Plantronics Bluetooth headset I”ve been testing; the device connected to the Curve easily, but callers say they have a difficult time hearing me.

The BlackBerry platform isn”t yet the equal of Palm Inc.”s Treo in terms of the number of outside applications it runs and document formats it supports, but there”s big progress. I can read Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF files on the Curve, and there are numerous third-party applications available from places such as Handango.com.

It”s no IPhone — did I mention that? but the BlackBerry Curve is a very useful business tool, and with a camera to boot. Find them at AT&T stores or via www.blackberrycurve.com.

Read Mark Kellner”s Tech Blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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