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    RIM’S Blackberry Curve: a smartphone for the here and now

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver July 24-30, 2007; Issue 926
    High Tech Office column

    While Canadians joined Americans in the media frenzy over the late-June release of Apple’s iPhone, they joined the rest of the world in having to learn to be patient: it’s not available here, and even if you bought one in the U.S., you can’t unlock it for use with a Canadian mobile phone service.

    But we can get the latest from Canadian-based Research in Motion: the Blackberry 8300 Curve ($349 with a three-year Rogers plan). Blackberry devices first won market share by offering always-connected e-mail. Later models added phones, web browsing and the standard sort of PDA applications: calendar, contacts, to-do list, etc. Blackberries have become wildly popular, but carry a business-only cachet.

    Most recently, RIM has released models with less business-oriented features: music and video players, built-in cameras, even (gasp!) games. Some models have kept the QWERTY mini-keyboards of the originals, others (like the Pearl) use a more svelte phone-style keyboard combined with SureType software to ease text entry.

    The Curve sports a full keyboard, combining it with the Pearl’s multimedia and fun features and that model’s little trackball for screen navigation, packing it all into a device small enough to fit into a pocket. I prefer this model’s full keyboard to the Pearl’s phone keypad style. With this one, what you type is what you get, no artificial intelligence guesswork required.

    There’s a 2.5-inch 320x240 pixel full-colour screen, which works well for displaying photos or web pages, a USB port (also used for charging the unit), volume buttons and (hurrah!) an easily accessed mute button.

    MicroSD cards can be used for extra photo or music storage. Connected to a computer, the Curve appears as a drive, which makes it easy to copy photos, music or other media files.

    Out of the box, with no memory card plugged in, there were about 500 megabytes free for media files. The Curve supports card capacities of up to four gigabytes, a hefty amount of storage for a smartphone. This is the first Blackberry to use a standard sized audio jack, making it possible to use higher quality headphones to listen to music.

    There’s a built-in two-megapixel camera with flash and digital zoom. It’s easy to snap a photo and then e-mail or instant message it to a recipient. Quality wasn’t bad. (No video recording, however.) Windows desktop software based on Roxio’s Easy Media Creator can be used to (somewhat slowly) convert PC video clips to a size and format viewable on the Curve.

    Built-in Bluetooth allows the Curve’s music player to be used with wireless headsets. I connected Motorola’s classy MotoRokr S9 headphones and used them without problem both for listening to music and for hands-free phone operation.

    As with all Blackberries, the Curve provides always-connected e-mail access to e-mail sent to an account with a Blackberry server. Rogers plans include such accounts. As a user of Google’sg-mail webmail, I was pleased that pointing the Curve’s web browser at g-mail’s web page offered a link for Google’s Blackberry software. That installed itself onto the Curve giving my existing g-mail account the same go-anywhere ease of use. Performance over Rogers’ higher-speed Edge connection was pretty snappy, and I could view JPEG, Word, Excel and PDF e-mail attachments without a problem.

    Talk time is rated at four hours; standby time about 17 days. It includes software for both Windows and Mac computers, though the Mac software is relatively bare bones. Apple’s iPhone looks sexier with its large screen and lack of physical keys. The Blackberry Curve, with its real keyboard is probably more practical. Besides, you can get one here and now. Now if only data plans were more affordable! •

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan