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The BlackBerry Curve 9220 arrived at Digit’s office about 10 days prior to its launch. As fate would have it, my own BlackBerry Curve 9360 mysteriously died a day before the Curve 9220 arrived – stuff conspiracy theories are made of. What this means is that the 9220 has actually been my primary phone for the past 10 days, and thus it’s truly been tested in “real-world” usage scenarios. For those wondering what exactly my real world is like: it’s been rattled about in my car door holder, as I pretend I’m driving a moon buggy on our pot-hole-laden roads, had my cat knock it off a table (just because she could), got suntanned when it was forgotten on the car dashboard on a proper Mumbai summer afternoon, dropped when the stupid silicone cover got stuck in the pocket of my jeans... the works.
I’m happy to report that it’s still working, so it’s certainly a tough little thing, and the aforementioned evil silicone cover that it came with is actually a boon for careless, scatterbrained, butterfingered people like me.
Look and feel
What look and feel? The thing looks just like the older BlackBerry Curve 8520 or the Curve 9300.
As someone using it after a Curve 9360, it’s certainly a step backwards – it’s irritatingly fatter, but not 7K worth of irritation, which is how much cheaper it is than the 9360. The BlackBerry Curve 9220 is a tiny bit slimmer than the 8520 and 9300, and has actual buttons for Call, Menu, Return and End Call keys, but that’s about it in the looks department.
The only immediate difference you will notice is on the top of the phone, where the media keys are now replaced with a single key to lock the phone. Now, I know many people will think, “Wow, no shortcut to media, or quick pause function, that sucks”. Believe me, as someone who comes from a family of 8520/9300 owners, those stupid rubber keys on the top just crumble and break after about a year or two of use, and then you find yourself running back and forth trying to get them replaced. This is a step up if you ask me, and if you happen to be one of the 6 people on Earth who bought a BlackBerry solely for music and media, just change what the side keys do through the OS, under the Convenience Keys setting.
The convenience key on the left actually proclaims “BBM”, but don’t worry you can change it to something else. You won’t, of course, because that’s exactly what you’d buy this phone for, but it’s good to know that it can be done.
Only when you open the battery cover do you realise the differences from the 8520 and 9300. To start with, just when you’ve gotten used to one way of prying a Curve open (just lift the cover at the notch provided), RIM goes and changes it to a slide downwards to open motion – a very minor irritant that disappears as soon as you see that big beautiful battery underneath. The battery takes up the whole space in the back, and thus the memory card slot is moved from beside the battery (all previous Curves) to above it near the camera. It’s angled slightly outwards as well, so as to aid in easy removal. More about that beautiful battery to come...
Pop open the back, and the memory card slot and the battery are the first things you notice
More about the BlackBerry Curve 9220's Features, Performance, and Our Verdict in the pages that follow
Battery power or ratings don’t really mean much, because how fast a battery gets drained depends solely on the power requirements of a phone and the way you use it. Thus, there’s no real sense in running a “battery test” because what lasts me 10 hours might not last you more than 6 hours, or perhaps even last you two full days... it’s all subjective.
Tip: Batteries drain a lot faster if you have set a phone to vibrate mode. Use soft sounds as event indicators, without vibration, if you want the battery to last longer.
The 9220’s big battery (1,450 mAh) is perhaps the best thing about the phone. Based on my own usage pattern, this is the first BlackBerry Curve I’ve used that actually gets through a whole day on a single charge. Even the hottest selling Curve 8520 had just a 1150 mAh battery, and struggled to get through a day with me.
You’re obviously interested in this phone, which is why you’re reading this, and one of the features hyped about it is the FM functionality. Now that’s something everyone has been enjoying for years, on phones that cost six times less. All I can say is, it’s about bloody time, and certainly not a big deal!
It’s pretty much the same for the rest of the phone’s features – you can call, you can text, you can click pictures (but with a below average 2 megapixel camera). As any other long terms BlackBerry user usually does, I too found myself justifying the very basic nature of this phone, “Of course the features don’t even compare to phones available for half the price, but can those phones do BBM and give you the seamless email experience that RIM provides?”
Somehow, I find myself sounding less convincing with every new BB model released... WhatsApp makes sure of that... also, BB OS 7.1 isn’t very visually different from version 6.X, so the end-user experience isn’t really a big step up, from, say, the 9300.
One feature that’s sorely missed is GPS, and with all those location-based apps out there, AGPS (assisted GPS, or using cell tower signals to approximate location) just doesn’t cut it anymore.
New vs old – Curve 9220 vs. Curve 8520, not much different in the looks department, except the menu buttons
With 512 MB of RAM and another 512 MB of ROM, this phone has the same memory specs on paper as the much more expensive Curve 9360. It shows too when using it.
In order to get a real feel of the phone, I used BlackBerry Desktop Manager to ‘Switch Devices’ from my 9360 to this one. What this means is that all of my mail, SMSes, BBMs, contacts, calendar events, etc., were transferred to this phone. This is a more real-world usage case, because otherwise every BlackBerry Curve is nice and fast when it’s brand new. Collect a few months of data of the aforementioned list, and it becomes about as sluggish as a dead sloth. Then you end up scouring the app world for free performance boosters, and what not, just to be able to use your phone without being frustrated enough to throw it under a bus!
Happily, I am able to report that the extra RAM has certainly helped, and previous Curve 8520 users will find the experience heavenly. It actually seems a on par (or even a tad better when installing apps) than the 9300 I have as well, and that’s probably also to do with the fact that the 9220 has double the memory specs. It doesn’t feel as snappy as the 9360, though – and why should it?
In terms of call quality, this is a pretty standard BB experience – great voice clarity until you drop to about one-third signal strength, and then things go sour pretty quick.
The pages ahead will tell you about the BlackBerry Curve 9220's Performance, and our final verdict
The keyboard is good and offers pretty decent tactile feedback, but they’ve found a way to make the keys slightly noisier than the 8520, which can be annoying when there’s very little ambient noise (late in the night, for example). Also, I much prefer the feel and feedback of the 9360’s keys, despite them being slightly smaller.
The piece I got also seemed to have sticky keys. For example, if you navigate to Messages and click [Select], very often you get the pop-up menu that should come when you hold down the select button. Also, when typing, very often the letters get capitalised at random, or if you press [Space] once, sometimes you randomly get a full stop and three or four spaces. A terrible experience to try and type fast on, and made me look like an idiot if I typed out something quickly and didn’t bother to check the message before pressing [Enter]. “SOrRy. Amin a MEEtiNg, will cALl you bAck.” makes it look like I have the thumbs and brain of a 10 year old girl, or worse, someone who doesn’t know how to use a phone keypad! Of course, this is probably just a problem with the particular device RIM sent to Digit, but it wouldn’t hurt to get hands-on with one to check it before you buy it.
The display is pretty average. It’s crisp, and the default font sizes will be perfect for everyone but the elderly or those with medically diagnosed visual problems. It’s a tiny bit smaller than the older 8520’s display (2.4 inches vs 2.6), but still offers the same 320x240 resolution, and perhaps the very slight increase in pixel density makes the 9220’s screen look a tad crisper.
In terms of the camera, there really seems to be no upgrade here, and these days a 2 MP, no-flash camera is just disappointing. Image quality isn’t really significantly better than an 8520 or 9300, but then not too many people will buy it for the camera.
If all you do is click a picture with your BlackBerry camera to send over BBM to friends, you will not have too many complaints. If, however, you’re looking for something that will let you click pictures of interesting scenery or sights that you’d like to post on your social networking profiles, you might be embarrassed by some of the comments you will receive.
So what’s the bottom line? Should you buy this phone? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because if you want a new BlackBerry on a budget, you really have no choice.
This is the phone for you if you want the latest BlackBerry OS 7 experience on a budget. While the Curve 8520 should cost you between Rs. 7,500 and 7,900 (depending on your bargaining skills), it’s not worth the ~2.5K savings because of the sluggishness caused by lack of memory and the older, dated OS. If the only reason you want a BlackBerry is to get on BBM, and you don’t plan on using any apps at all, the 8520 might actually suffice for you.
However, if you’re looking at location-based apps, the lack of GPS for the 9220 kills the fun. There’s no 3G to show off with either, and although the 9300 has both 3G and GPS, it’s got only half the memory of the 9220, which means you’re going to have to be very, very picky about your apps, or else you run out of space and the experience degenerates pretty quick as well.
In order to get a RIM device that offers great features and acceptable storage, you’re going to have to look at the Curve 9360, which is about Rs 7,000 more expensive than the 9220.
Thus, like any good consumer electronic company knows to do, RIM has not really given you an option. If it’s the BlackBerry experience you want, the 9220 is the device you have to buy for a budget of around 10K – which is a very, very popular price bracket indeed, based solely on the sales of their older 8520 model that was priced similarly a couple of years ago.
When it comes to those who already own a 8520 and are looking at this as an upgrade, my advice is stay away. It only makes sense to buy this if your 8520 dies a horrible death (or, as I mentioned earlier, you threw it under a bus for hanging or displaying “Not enough memory” for the Nth time). For 9300 users, this phone would actually be like a step backwards, in many ways, to be honest.
When this phone does go back to RIM (after I’ve spent two weeks with it), I really will not be bothered by having to go back to my temporary 8520 for a few weeks while they fix my 9360. However, I would hate to spend more than a month with either the 8520 or 9220 (or even the Curve 3G - 9300) after getting used to the 9360.
The next page will give you our log sheet / test scores for the BlackBerry Curve 9220