Sunday, July 24, 2011

BlackBerry 8900 Review

In a nutshell: Smaller than the Bold, but packing in nearly as many features, the BlackBerry Curve 8900 is one of our all-time favourite BlackBerries. Ideally-sized, with a brilliant QWERTY keypad and a hi-res screen, this is an almost perfect device for mobile email. Other top features include a 3 megapixel camera with autofocus, a video camera, a music player, GPS, a heavy duty battery, WiFi, and plenty of memory. The only significant thing missing is 3G.

BlackBerry 8900
The BlackBerry 8900 is the latest in the BlackBerry Curve series, and is one of the best BlackBerries ever. Its name suggests that it slots into the BlackBerry range just below the BlackBerry Bold, but although it lacks 3G, in some ways its even better than the Bold.

Like the others in the Curve series, the 8900 features a full 35-key QWERTY keypad with a trackball. It looks almost identical to the Bold, except that it's smaller and lighter, making it about the same weight as many ordinary mobiles, and compact enough to fit easily into a jacket pocket, or even into a jeans pocket. This fact alone makes it into a much more mainstream device than the old Curves or the Bold.

Before we start our review proper, let's just take a moment to admire the ergonomics and construction of the 8900. Unboxing the 8900, you can't help but admire the build quality of the device - it just feels so solid and well constructed. Unlike so many phones, taking the back off to insert the sim card and battery is so easy. The keys are admittedly small, but they move crisply and anyone with fingers in the normal size range for a Homo Sapien should have no problem with them at all. You can even use it single-handedly. The trackball is just like with previous BlackBerries - some love it, some are less keen. We aren't 100% in favour of the trackball, but it does the job.

Let's move on to the display next. It's enormous! At 2.44 inches across and a resolution of 480 x 360 pixels, this is just the kind of screen that we need when reading emails or browsing the web (not to mention viewing photos or watching videos.) This screen matches the iPhone 3G and outperforms just about anything else in existence. The menus are reasonably simple too, and once you've got used to the trackball and the overall size of the device, you'll find that the 8900 is almost the perfect phone, ergonomically speaking. For us, it's the closest that BlackBerry have ever come to perfection. Just a little more work on the menus and a smoother trackball, and it would be 100%.

Now, of course, the key selling point of a BlackBerry is email on the move, and the 8900 doesn't disappoint. There's little difference here with previous BlackBerries, so we'll just reiterate that the BlackBerry implementation of mobile email is the best in the business. It is compatible with virtually all email standards. It also supports attachments, with a viewer and editor for Microsoft Office documents. Combining this with the huge screen and the QWERTY keyboard means that you get the best mobile email experience currently available. It's also a brilliant environment for text messaging.

But the 8900 does a lot more than just mobile messaging. For one thing, it has the best camera to appear on any BlackBerry to date. With 3.2 megapixels, a LED flash and autofocus, it's the same quality as the camera on the BlackBerry Storm, and outperforms even the camera on the Bold. It may not be an 8 megapixel replacement for a digital camera, but it will produce excellent print quality images, and is a very welcome addition. It marks one more way in which the 8900 Curve is almost a mainstream handset. The phone has a media player too, of course, and with features like playlists, shuffle and organising by artist and album, it's a very usable MP3 player. It's very loud too! The 3.5mm headphone jack allows you to plug in any compatible headset, in addition to the one supplied. You can also use a stereo Bluetooth headset if you prefer. With a 1GB microSD card supplied as part of the sales package, and the potential to expand this to 16GB, you certainly won't be short of storage for music or videos. The video player works well too, with support for DivX & XviD, and flicker-free playback on the high quality LCD display. There are even 5 games included (from Sudoku to BrickBreaker), although we didn't get round to testing these (all work, no play at Mobile Phones UK!) There is also built-in GPS, so you can find your current location, and this can be used with the BlackBerry Maps application.

The 8900 has a full choice of connectivity options, including Bluetooth 2.0 with Enhanced Data Rate, USB and WiFi. The WiFi connection is very easy to set up, and lets you access email, the web, or data on your PC. This is probably the best way to make use of the built-in web browser.

The 8900 has a whopping heavy duty battery, which contributes to its weight quite significantly, but gives it plenty of power to last even with heavy use. You can recharge it from the mains or via a USB cable on your PC.

The 8900 is a quadband phone, which means that you can use it worldwide, and usefully it is provided with an international charger too, so no worries about forgetting to pack your travel socket. But the one feature that is very obviously missing is 3G. The Bold has 3G, the Storm has 3G, so why not the 8900? For some this may be a show stopper, and it certainly is a pity to have to rely on 2G data transfer with a device this powerful.

Finally, it's worth pointing out just what a polished device the Curve 8900 is. As well as the physical build quality, the usability factor is very high, with the 8900 being the latest in a mature evolution of business devices. Unlike some competitors, there's very little about the 8900 with a "beta" feeling. Nice features include the wide choice of ringtones and alerts (both audio and visual), the wealth of status indicators on the home screen (e.g. missed calls, unopened messages, connection status, and calendar alerts.)

This is definitely one of our favourite BlackBerries of all time. The 8900 really is an accomplished multimedia device and can become a one-stop shop for communication, music, media, photography, web browsing and GPS too. Oh, if only it had 3G! Apart from the missing 3G, this really is the best BlackBerry of all time.
Before buying, consider the Nokia E63 too.


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