Following up on the BlackBerry Bold 9790 hands-on time, I got to try out the new Curve 9380. Of course, it doesn’t look anything like what I would consider a BlackBerry Curve to be (a light, entry-level candybar smartphone with a physical QWERTY keypad), but then again, the last all-touchscreen device from RIM was the Torch 9860 / 9850, which wasn’t a slider as the namesake implied. As you’ll see in the video below, RIM explains that their branding strategy is more based on pricing tiers and specs than it is on form factors now, which I see as an easy recipe for confusion, but we’ll see how that pans out.
The BlackBerry Curve 9380 has a 480 x 360 3.2-inch touchscreen like the Torch 9800 of yesteryear, along with having a similar 5 megapixel camera, but at least the processing speed has been bumped up from 624 MHz to 806 MHz (similar to the Curve 9360). There’s a batch of tricks introduced over the summer that continue to be standard with the 9380, including a magnetic compass for augmented reality apps, near-field communications, and support for 3D graphics. Since the 9860 didn’t have NFC, the 9380 does have a slight leg up on its predecessor, but still no mobile Wi-Fi hotspot function; I gather that RIM is still working on it.
The difference in processing speed compared to the Bold 9900 is most readily apparent when downloading and installing apps but when running through the usual day-to-day stuff, like checking e-mail and casual browsing, the 806 MHz processor isn’t particularly slow. The screen quality is a bit rough if you’re accustomed to anything sharper, but for an entry-level phone, the image quality is good enough. The 5 megapixel camera seems like it’s “enhanced depth of field” like the Bold 9900, which is code for “no auto-focus and therefor crap at taking close-ups”, but I’ll have to double-check that in our full review later on. I didn’t have a chance to test out the Bold 9780, but seeing as the spec sheet uses nearly identical verbiage for the camera, I’m going to guess it’s in the same boat. One of my biggest nitpicks about the 9860 was the bar at the top of the virtual keyboard which was easy to accidentally press and hide your keyboard, but the RIM guys showed me where the option was to disable that.
While I doubt the BlackBerry Curve 9380 will pose any serious threat to top-end Android hardware, I think it may get existing BlackBerry fans who are tempted by the big screens out there to give RIM one more shot, especially if the the 9380 can maintain a reasonable price point. TELUS is selling it for $49.99 on a three-year contract, which one could easily see dropping off to $0 after two months or so. I’ll be getting a full review for this one out shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a video and some pictures to tide you over.