BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) has traditionally followed the strategy of offering customers a wide range of devices—ranging from top-end ones with touchscreens and bells and whistles, to cheap, low-end ones that are still great basic messaging smartphones. And in price-conscious markets like India, the strategy has paid RIM rich dividends, with Indian customers lapping up the Curve 8520 and its slightly better equipped sibling, the Curve 9300.
The Curve 9320 follows the same strategy and is the beefed up version of the Curve 9220. The basic differences between the two siblings are 3G connectivity, an improved camera and GPS, besides a slightly different look with a brushed metal tone. So, in many ways, this will seem very similar to our review of the Curve 9220, but some of these differences will play a role in aspects like battery life. So read on.
Like the 9220, the 9320 is great to hold thanks to the curved back. And if you like a brushed metal tone, you'll prefer the 9320 over the 9220, though I preferred the looks of the black 9220. Weighing in at 103 g, it has the same low-end 2.44-inch display with a resolution of 320 x 240, which seems woefully obsolete compared to modern smartphones. But do remember that this is a budget smartphone and I doubt many will use this tiny screen to watch movies or the like.
With a great trackpad and QWERTY keyboard, both BlackBerry USPs, the 9320 is a smartphone built for messaging, and typing on this device is a pleasure. RIM has certainly narrowed the gap between its high-end offerings like the Bold devices and the entry-level Curve range with this new QWERTY keyboard.
It's time for a new design
The 3.5mm earphone socket is at the top of the smartphone—a design feature that makes listening to music when the 9320 is in your pocket, an easier task, because the earphone plug no longer juts out. The micro USB slot for charging and PC connectivity is on the left, and the microSD card is under the rear panel and is hot swappable.
Features and performance
Powered by a 806MHz processor and 512MB of RAM, and running OS 7.1, the user experience is quite speedy and pleasant for a smartphone at this price point. But every once in a while, you do so see the frustrating hourglass, which just proves that adding a faster processor isn't the only answer, but optimisation is more important. However, I guess it's tough to tweak the ageing BlackBerry OS any further, and it shows. RIM's answer is BlackBerry 10, a whole new OS, scheduled for release on January 30, 2012 and that is the OS that RIM claims will take on Android and iOS. But I guess it will easily take more than a year or more from now for cheaper BB10-powered devices to come in the market. And till then, if you're in the market for a cheap BlackBerry, then the Curve 9220/9320 with its older OS is what's on offer from RIM.
For a cheap smartphone, the 9320 has excellent media capabilities; the only thing that lets it down on the media front is the poor display. It played 720p videos without a problem and in BlackBerry tradition, plays a wide range of video formats. Audio quality is also quite good with great bass. And finally, in a move that started with the 9220, the 9320 also offers FM radio. And interestingly, RIM claims the 9320 offers 30 hours of music playback as compared to the 28 hours on the 9220.
Not really deviating from the norm
With a 3G radio, the Curve 9320 can take advantage of faster browsing capabilities. The mobile hotspot feature also ensures that you can set up your BlackBerry as a Wi-Fi hotspot. However, be wary of extra costs since data used for the hotspot feature will be charged separately, and not from your unlimited BIS/BES data plan. Make sure you have a specific plan from your carrier before you merrily use the hotspot capability to connect other devices to the Internet, especially if you're on an expensive 3G network.
Still a comfy keypad
The camera is another differentiator as compared to the 9220. It's better than the horrible 2 MP one on the 9220, but nothing great in this age of 5 MP shooters. I found the pictures grainy and the camera is definitely not the USP of the 9320, or any BlackBerry for that matter. Though shooting in the dark is a possibility now with an LED flash, as compared to the 9220. Video shooting in VGA (640 x 480 pixels) is also on offer.Besides, since vast parts of India see frequent power cuts, the LED can be used as bright torchlight too, and applications like Flashlight from e-office could be of great help when there's a power cut.
Browser and applications
RIM has done some good work on the Webkits-based browser, and it shows. Web page rendering has improved vastly over recent years and multiple tabs make web browsing easier. And when you're on 3G, the only problem is the small screen.
Easy access keys
Another aspect where RIM has put lots of effort in the last year or so is in applications. While RIM's focus is on getting developer attention on BB10, the older OS has also benefited as a result. BlackBerry App World offers a host of new applications and while still nowhere close to the vast number on offer at Apple's App Store and Google Play, there are many more on offer on BlackBerry's app shelves lately. And BlackBerry also frequently offers premium applications for free during Indian festivals. Then there's BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) 7.0, which now offers voice chat over a Wi-Fi network. To get BBM 7.0, you'll have to sign up on BlackBerry Beta Zone and set your location to US to get the BBM 7.0 beta, but BBM Voice is well worth this subterfuge. You can talk as well as send a picture over BBM at the same time and BBM Voice will only strengthen the stranglehold that BBM has over many users.
Besides, with GPS on board, you can also take advantage of applications that use GPS, e.g., Google Maps.
And as with the 9220, the 9320 also comes with the Premium version of Documents To Go, which offers document editing features as well as a native PDF document viewer. This makes it great for all sorts of office use; students can make great use of this suite, too. Also pre-loaded is BlackBerry Protect, which allows you to back up and store personal data securely in the cloud; it can even help locate a misplaced BlackBerry.
A comfortable grip
Great battery life is the standout USP of this smartphone. On 2G, I got more than two days of use and on 3G, more than a day, which is actually great going for a 3G device. OS 7.1 also offers a Battery Saving Mode and you can set threshold levels, which only helps improve the already awesome battery life. The 1450 mAh battery is the best one on any BlackBerry today. While I didn't put the 9320 through the Tech2.com Video Test, it would clock the same number as the 9220, since most of the innards and features are the same—the 9220 clocked close to 7.5 hours of continuous video playback with the mobile network on and e-mails from five different accounts pouring in. In the loop test (2 hours of video, 2 hours of music, 2 hours of streaming and a 1.5-hour phone call), the 9220 almost completed one loop.
Bottom line and price in India
With an MRP of Rs 15,500, the Curve 9320 is available for around Rs 14200 in the market in a variety of colours. As you would have realised by now, the features don't really compare to an Android smartphone at a similar price point. And as with all BlackBerry smartphones today in this price range, you don't go for features alone, but for BlackBerry USPs like great e-mail capabilities, BBM and the QWERTY keyboard. But if you're comparing the 9320 to the 9220, I would urge you to consider the 9320 because of features like 3G, mobile hotspot and GPS.
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