The Telus Mike-branded BlackBerry 8350i Curve is a monstrous step in device technology for the Canadian giant as the only other BlackBerry in the lineup is the BlackBerry 7100i *cough*. So we'll start this off by saying goodbye to the year 2006, welcome Mike to the year 2009, and share a few thoughts -- and an enormous gallery -- about this new Direct Connect set. %Gallery-45863%
The 8350i's body is as glossy -- and as a consequence slippery -- as BlackBerry sets get, with the edges thankfully getting soft touch plastic for some traction in-hand. Like its CDMA and GSM cousins, this iDEN Curve is a smallish set, though it is a bit thicker than the other two. On the left side and outlined in bright yellow plastic is the Direct Connect key for all your push-to-talk work, the mini USB port for sync and charging, and a 2.5mm headset jack which is a hassle unless you use the included headset. On the right, the volume up and down keys and a convenience key that acts as the camera button out of the box. The display is a rather nice 2.4-inch QVGA number, and of course the keyboard area features the very useful trackball, and a 35 key keyboard.
The handset is packaged is a bright orange box in typical RIM-style with the odd purple insert used to present the handset. Packed in the box is a stereo headset, a USB charging / sync cable, 1GB memory card, charger, and the usual belt clip thing that could never hope to get anywhere near our person. Sure, it's a useful and utilitarian clip, but if you absolutely have to wear this on your hip, there are much nicer ways to get the job done.
We didn't have another BlackBerry hanging about to do any side by side screen and keyboard comparisons, but know this, the Telus Curve is most likely one of the nicest keyboards we've ever used. We aren't huge BlackBerry users around here instead favoring feature phones on the weekend and iPhone or a review set during the week. But to our surprise -- no, really -- we could see this becoming the go to device for messaging and the like. The set itself weighs almost nothing, perhaps due to material choices and lack of metal trimming but does it without coming off as cheap. Like most BlackBerry sets it fits the hand just about perfectly and we were able to use it comfortably with either one hand -- not while driving, of course -- or two handed.
The Curve ships with the glorious 4.6 OS, it is truly an eyecandy festival but further to that, it runs like a champ on the 8350i. Apps start up quickly and wandering the interface is absolutely flawless with nary a slowdown or hiccup.
Of course the BB is all about messaging so we did use that bit extensively from mail (using a push desktop client with Exchange 2003) to BlackBerry Messenger, and of course we tried SMS. Here is where things start to get a little shaky for the Mike handset, it can receive SMS, but it cannot send. Sure there are workarounds like sending emails to email@example.com for example, but that hardly cuts it. There is a WAP page that allows you to fire text messages off, but sadly your recipient won't be able to easily reply and won't know who you are without you explicitly adding that in your message. So, that's a huge red X, but we've heard whispering that this may well change -- but if you're a text messaging fan, you should definitely keep that in mind.
The 8350i is a Mike device, and as such, network speed for surfing or any data intensive app is pretty miserable. Google's Gmail client, while snappy itself, is dead slow as it trudges data to and fro when checking mail, same goes for Twitter. Thankfully, the 8350i does have WiFi and it is a boon when you're somewhere you can surf on those waves instead.
Call quality was rather odd, while crystal clear, the sound we could hear was very hollow, like it was echoing about in the plastic of the handset itself. Clarity and volume were fine, don't get us wrong, it is great, just strange. Telus saw fit to send a Motorola i776 to push-to-talk with and we've realized, Direct Connect is fun, fun, fun! We like how we can irritate people with it, and have no regret in doing so as we've had to tolerate the bleep-bleeping of iDEN sets forever. While we've no real strong baseline of experience to comment on the quality, it was fast, simple, and the clarity was pretty outstanding.
Telus' BlackBerry apparently ships with and without a camera; we of course wanted the camera-enabled version because, well, cameras add fun, right? The Curve's camera in this case is functional and fine for random snaps, short vids, and that type of thing, but isn't a contender for camera of the year -- though, nor is it intended to be. Have a peek at the quick snap and vid of Beaker found below for an idea.
In the end it really is an outstanding phone, messaging device, personal communicator or whatever you want to call it. Telus' pricing is a bit steep at $249 on a three-year contract all the way up to $599 completely contract-free. Though, this is the absolute top of the heap in Telus' portfolio of Mike devices, and as such it demands some premium dollars.
While the BlackBerry 8350i may not have the same type of cache as, say, the BlackBerry Bold or 8900, it is an excellent device in its own milieu. Overlooking the glaring lack of SMS is tough, but the neato factor of Direct connect and a weak but functional workaround helps to soothe our souls. Simply put, if you want Telus' Mike Direct Connect functionality and BlackBerry services, this is without question the best device in the lineup. We used the set a fair bit over the course of a couple weeks, and found that we grew pretty fond of it as it transitioned from being called "the BlackBerry" to "my BlackBerry".