We had some time to spend with the latest little smartphone from RIM, the BlackBerry 8900. It is very similar in shape, size and appearance to the existing Curve lineup. It is a bit thinner. It is very lightweight. You could put it in your pocket and forget that it is there.
The thinner profile and lack of heft make the 8900 feel good in your hand. It is easy to grasp and reach the controls one handed. It carries over the trackball from other 'Berries for navigation, but the function keys and keyboard have been redesigned a bit. The keys are all a bit smaller than on the Curves. This is the most cramped I've ever felt using a keyboard on a BlackBerry perhaps aside from the Pearl. The buttons on the QWERTY have sloped surfaces and are made of glossy plastic. Typing felt okay, but not great. I don't know if RIM had a pre-production unit or not, but the buttons didn't have the best travel and feedback. They were a little mushy.
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The rest of the controls and buttons, such as the camera key and voice key on the sides of the 8900, felt good and worked well, with satisfying travel and feedback. One thing to note. The trackball on the 8900 doesn't light up. It's black. The trackball on the Pearl and every other track-ball equipped BlackBerry lights up so you can see it. Not so with the 8900. RIM couldn't tell us why the 8900 was built that way.
The 8900 uses the current generation of BlackBerry OS, which includes the revised media applications, improved icons and themes. There are several applications placed at the bottom of the screen, and hitting the BlackBerry key (to the left of the trackball) opens up the full menu.
The media player has the same refreshed UI with nice icons and graphics that are seen on the Bold. Sorting through your playlists and such is a breeze. The camera software has been upgraded modestly, with better zoom functionality. The gallery app is also usable.
The browser and mapping application are both quite good. The trackball is put to very good use, with most zoom and scroll action functioning intuitively without your thumb ever leaving the trackball. In the maps, clicking the trackball toggles between panning and zoom modes.
A cursor in the browser lets you scroll around and click on any area to zoom in. The rendering comes close to a desktop version, except the text size is cranked up quite a bit to make everything easier to read. That's fine for many sites, but can cause the layout to get funky on other sites. A smart zooming causes text columns to fill the screen perfectly with one click.
Still, the basic experience you get with the 8900 is much closer to that of a feature phone, than with a business device that has some features slapped in for good measure. The multimedia functions feel like less of an afterthought. That's a good thing.
I wish the hardware didn't come off so cheap feeling, but overall, the 8900 is a solid entry into the BlackBerry family.
Here is a short video tour of the 8900:
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