BlackBerry Curve 9220: New Bottle, Old Wine

One of the key reasons why BlackBerry rules the smartphone roost in India has been the entry-level Curve 8520, released way back in August 2009. A basic smartphone without 3G and specs like a 2 MP camera, the 8520 was a mega-success primarily because it was affordable and provided access to BBM, social media feeds and e-mail—different facets of the BlackBerry service. So, despite the smartphone’s low-end features, the price-sensitive Indian customer (and especially the youth) purchased the 8520 for BBM and the BlackBerry service.

Fast forward to circa 2012 and RIM is launching the Curve 9220, the successor to the 8520 with some incremental changes, and seems to be relying on the same business philosophy that made the 8520 a success, and the jury is now out on whether the same mantra will work almost three years later.

To say it in a line, the 9220 is a thinner, slightly sleeker 8520 with the new BlackBerry OS 7.1; it is the first BlackBerry to boast of FM radio and in what few will focus on but is perhaps the most important aspect in my opinion—has the best battery on any BlackBerry smartphone available today.

Form Factor

If you’re familiar with the 8520, the 9220 won’t take you by surprise. Like car makers who announce a ‘new’ edition of an old car by tweaking the headlamps or adding a dash of chrome, RIM has made the 9220 sleeker, which is primarily because it is 1.2 mm thinner than the 8520. It’s the same low-end 2.44-inch display with a resolution of 320 x 240, that Shayne Rana, the Tech2 reviewer who reviewed the 8520 said was “quite mundane” way back in 2009.

Is that a dedicated BBM buton or just the same old shortcut key?

Is that a dedicated BBM buton or just the same old shortcut key?

It’s the same trackpad too, but which performs just as well on the 9220 as on any BlackBerry, making navigation a breeze. However, frills like a lit-up border for the trackpad are missing, and that’s understandable on a low-end smartphone. The QWERTY keypad is quite good and there have been some minor changes from the 8520, including slightly larger keys and minor changes in design, which make typing on the Curve 9220 a pleasure—surely music to the ears of BBM addicts and e-mail warriors.

What’s missing is the 8520’s USP of media keys on the top. While a tiny pause button has been added to the volume/zoom keys on the right side, the media keys are sorely missed. The 3.5mm earphone socket has moved to the top, with the usual lock key. The micro USB slot for charging and PC connectivity stays on the left, while the hot swap slot for the microSD card is under the rear panel and closer to the top of the device.

You might notice that I haven’t mentioned anything yet about the ‘new dedicated BBM shortcut key’ that RIM is touting. Here’s why: Terming this feature ‘new’ is at worst outright fraud and at best marketing spiel. The left convenience key has been around on older BlackBerry smartphones, including the 8520. Granted, it came set by default to voice dialling, but the Settings menu allowed a user to change its use to other features (including BBM) in a few seconds. What really is new is that RIM seems to have finally realised that getting rid of the left convenience key on the whole range of OS 7 smartphones they released last year was a terrible mistake and hence they have wisely decided to bring it back.

It's a few milimeters slimmer than the 8520

It's a few milimeters slimmer than the 8520

On the weight front the 9220 feels a few grams lighter than the 8520, but is easier to hold and slip into pockets because of the slimmer profile. The Curve 9220 will also be released in a range of cool colours aimed at the youth segment, including red, violet, blue, white and of course the standard black.

Features and Performance

Interface

This is where the 9220 races ahead of the 8520. Running the spanking new OS 7.1, the 9220 offers a fresh user experience quite far removed from the one offered on the ancient OS 5.X on the 8520. We didn’t get details on the processor used, but I suspect it’s the same 800 MHz 32-bit Marvell PXA940 that powers the far sexier Curve 9360.

Running OS 7+

Running OS 7+

The Curve 9220 comes with 512 MB of RAM, four times as much on the 8520 and 512 MB ROM, which is double that on the 8520. Performance was smooth and the 9220 was very responsive though once in a while I did see the dreaded clock that signifies a lag in performance. However, overall performance was great.

The 9220 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 and even students can make great use of this suite. Also pre-loaded is BlackBerry Protect, which allows you to back up and store personal data securely in the cloud, and can help locate a misplaced BlackBerry.

The Webkits-based browser that’s standard on OS 7 is light years ahead of the older one on the 8520. Web page rendering has improved vastly over OS 5.X and multiple tabs make Web browsing easier, though the lack of 3G means browsing is painful on creaky, choked 2G networks and is a joy only on Wi-Fi.

Click here to read the entire review on tech2.com.