Duncan Jefferies
04/01/2012 18:03 | By Duncan Jefferies, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

BlackBerry Bold 9380 review

RIM's Curve family gets a new addition, but how does this touchscreen handset fare without its famous keyboard?

BlackBerry Curve 9380 (© RIM)

What is it?
The latest edition to RIM's mid-range Curve series, with an all-touch screen.

What's great
Excellent messaging capabilities; surprisingly loud and punchy speaker; future-proof NFC chip for mobile payments.

What's not
Unnecessary overlap between touch and physical keys; no flash support; a lack of apps; the processor is a bit slow

The bottom line
A small, well-built phone with a responsive touchscreen that is great for core functions like messaging and photography, but not so hot for movie watching or web browsing.

The BlackBerry Curve 9380 is the first of the Curve series to feature an all-touch screen. Yes, that's right - RIM has dropped the physical QWERTY keyboard from the 9380, offering up a virtual version instead. So does the 9380 have the chops to beat rival touchscreen handsets like the Orange Monte Carlo and the Samsung Wave 2? Or has getting rid of that click-tastic BlackBerry keyboard hobbled its chances?

RIM have clearly applied some of the lessons from the Torch 9860 to this dinky little handset. Although its at the lower end of the smartphone market, the Curve 9380 doesn't feel cheap. It's small, yes - perhaps a trifle too miniature for those of us who have largish hands. But it feels solid nonetheless, strong enough to survive a few tumbles, yet remains impressively thin and light.

A glossy black plastic cover and aluminum trim cover the back and sides of the 9380, with an optical trackpad sitting just underneath the 3.2-inch display. Its nicely sensitive, and makes navigating some of the menu and app screens a lot easier. All the same, the accuracy of the screen is, for the most part, better than you might expect given its size. The power, menu, send and escape buttons either side of the trackpad are a little on the stiff side though, and the volume rocker and convenience key also require a firm press to operate.

Dip into BlackBerry 7 OS and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much has been packed into the 9380. Initially, its doesn't seem quite as intuitive as rival smartphone operating systems. But once you get used to its quirks, options and the panel system you'll be able to zip between apps and settings with relative ease. And although the 9380 isn't as customisable as an Android handset, you can change fonts, wallpapers and other settings to create your own look and feel.

BlackBerry Curve 9380 (© RIM)

One area where the 9380 excels is messaging. Enter the Messages app and you're given the option to fire off an email, text, BBM, Instant Message, Social Feed update and more. It's comprehensive, as well as convenient, allowing you to easily keep conversations going across multiple forms of communication. Setting up your email and BlackBerry ID can take a while, however, with lots of Terms & Conditions to wade through. But once you're all synched up you'll soon be a messaging pro.

Thankfully the keyboard performs well, despite the diminutive size of the keys. The predictive text function is also as good as we've seen on rival devices, making it easy to post updates to your social media accounts. That said, the web browser is a little on the slow side, although text flow, pinch zooming and tabbed browsing all perform well.

However, websites suffer somewhat due to the 9380's small screen. The same issue extends to movie watching - you'd have to be a bit of a masochist to want to watch films on this handset. The screen is nice and bright though, despite being low-res, so it's fine for flitting through short YouTube clips. Music fans are covered by a solid if uninspiring player, connection to the Amazon MP3 store and BBM Music - a new social music service that allows users to share and discover music through BlackBerry Messenger.

The 5MP camera is pretty good actually, producing clear pictures and focusing relatively well. Options here include face detection, sports, macro - the usual suspects in other words. Switch over to the camcorder and you'll find you're only able to record VGA 640 x 480 video, but given the price of this phone, that's not a massive surprise. We had no issue with the call quality, and wi-fi, bluetooth and other connection methods worked just fine. As for battery life, you'll easily get a full day's use out of this little handset.

The BlackBerry Curve 9380 is neither mind-blowingly brilliant nor crushingly bad. Rather, it's another respectable addition to the Curve family, with high-quality social networking options and a decent snapper. Just don't expect miracles at this price.

3.5 stars

Essential info
Camera: 5 MP, 2592х1944 pixels, autofocus, LED flash
Video: VGA, 640x480
Display: 360 x 480 pixels, 3.2 inches
Dimensions: 09 x 60 x 11.2 mm
Weight: 98g
Internal Memory: 512 MB storage, 512 MB RAM
Card Slot: MicroSD (up to 32GB)
Colour: Black and silver
Touchscreen: Yes (TFT capacitive)
Audio Playback: 3.5mm earphone jack and speaker
Operating System: BlackBerry OS 7.0
Processor: 806 MHz
Battery Life: Up to 5h 40 min talk time (3G)