So, the trickle of BlackBerry juice is now a flood. Just weeks after RIM launched its high-end Torch 9810, 9850 and Bold 9900 handsets, it's revealed the refreshed mid-range Curve 9360 (aka the 9350 or 9370, depending on the carrier and region). When compared to the Bold 9900, which can be seen as a richer cousin with a similar form factor, the new Curve clearly comes with key hardware sacrifices in order to meet a lower (but still to-be-confirmed) price point, including an 800MHz processor (instead of 1.2GHz), no touchscreen and a 480 x 360 HVGA+ display rather than the Bold's full VGA panel. Compared to previous Curves, however, the 9360 is a significant upgrade. It sports the new BB 7, a 5MP camera and a physical design that RIM hopes will entice the "youth demographic" as well as the millions of international users who have helped to turn the Curve into RIM's globally bestselling range. The question is, is this device enough of an upgrade, considering it's been a year since the last refresh in the Curve series? Read on for our initial hands-on impressions...
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Blackberry Curve 9300 hands-on



Hardware


You discover one of the Curve 9360's major selling points as soon as you pick it up: its thin, shapely dimensions coupled with a smooth, 'layered" design. The device weighs a mere 99g (3.49 ounces) due to the plastic build, but it doesn't feel flimsy. Neither are any of its three dimensions at all off-putting: it's 109mm long, by 60mm wide and 11mm thick, and its general sturdiness means you won't feel the urge to add to that size with a protective case.


The bottom layer of the device consists of a black, glossy battery cover, which peels off easily to reveal the usual innards. This cover fits into a matte-finished, charcoal-colored middle layer that houses various fixtures and fittings, including a very discreet volume rocker on the top right corner, an equally invisible (yet tactile) dedicated camera button on the bottom right, a micro-USB on the top left, plus the speaker, 5MP camera lens and flash on the back side. Finally, the uppermost layer is glossy black again and encompasses the entire front face of the handset, while also curving round the top and bottom edges in keeping with the whole 'curve' theme. Notably, the top edge has become the new home of the 3.5mm headphone output, which will come as a welcome change from the pocket-warping side-mounted port on previous Curves.

One downside of the over-arching top layer is the fact that the flush hardware buttons above the keypad are quite stiff -- because they're part of a relatively large chunk of plastic. The buttons on the Bold 9900 were much easier to press, but we reckon this is something we'd get used to over time. In contrast, the optical trackpad was a joy to use.


The keypad itself is very familiar -- you can either adapt to it or you can't. The individual keys don't have the steep angles of the higher-end models, but they do have a subtle ridge to aid typing. Also they're single-cell keys, with each one separated from its neighbor by a thin strip of plastic. RIM admits this design saves on cost and is aimed at people who bash out shorter strings of text. But it's a shame that the chunkier, more thumb-friendly keys of the Bold 9900 haven't trickled down to this mid-tier phone.

We didn't have a great deal of time with the camera, but it felt underwhelming and outdated due largely to a significant lag between button-press and shutter-release, even with the flash deactivated. In addition, the small screen contributed little to this device's utility as a camera phone.



Software


The Curve 9360 runs the new BlackBerry 7, which we've come to regard as prematurely aged. It just feels a bit dusty and not a sufficient upgrade compared to its predecessor -- but you should check out our review of the Bold 9900 for the full low-down on this OS.

The UI was generally fluid despite the 800MHz processor, presumably because the low-res screen prevents the chip from being taxed too hard. However, the browser seemed tardy when surfing Engadget in desktop mode. Pages took too long to render as we scrolled down, suggesting that this phone will really be limited to the mobile versions of web pages.


Blackberry's new OS doesn't support Flash, but YouTube worked a treat thanks to HTML5. Over all, we think the target audience for this phone will be using it primarily for communicative tasks that aren't graphically intensive, such as Facebook and BBM, coupled with listening to music, snapping occasional pics and watching a few videos -- all of which are handled easily by the OS and the processor. It's even possible that BB OS 7 will feel more at home in this device than it does in the higher-end models.

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