The new version of the T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve, now affectionately called the 8900, is an updated edition of the smartphone that shipped a year ago. While there is a lot that's new about the Curve 8900, the updates are more evolutionary than revolutionary. That's not to say the new Curve isn't a nice PDA, but unless you need GPS or a screen with higher resolution, there's no real need to replace your existing Curve.
The biggest change to the new Curve 8900, built by Research In Motion for T-Mobile, is that GPS is now included with the phone. This wasn't possible in the past because GPS and Wi-Fi couldn't coexist due to space limits. Now you get both features, along with software that can provide turn-by-turn directions, show you images of your location and provide other location-based services if you choose to download them.
The Curve 8900 also has a screen that has higher resolution than the previous screen, and it has a 3.2 megapixel camera with image stabilization. The other features, including a built-in music player, a slot for a micro-SD card, Wi-Fi capability that supports voice as well as data, and a good keyboard, are carried over from the previous Curve.
A few of the features, including the improved browser and improved e-mail handling. are new to the Curve 8900, but plans to provide updated software that includes these capabilities are in the works for previous Curves. So if you have an older Curve and like the new browser, you'll get it when T-Mobile has it sent out in the fairly near future.
The Curve 8900's most obvious differences are mainly cosmetic. While it is fractionally thinner than its predecessor, it's also slightly longer. The black face and keyboard use flatter keys for some functions, but the differences are minor. The screen features icons are white outlines on a black background, instead of little pictures as in the older version. Again, a minor detail that probably appeals to some and is said to be more trendy.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the new look is the fact that the numbers on the keypad are printed in dark red on a black background, which makes entering numbers harder in dim light. Worse, for the 10 percent of the male population with red-green color-blindness, the numbers are invisible in any light, an accessibility faux pas on RIM's part.
The other differences between the first version of the Curve and the 8900 are even more minor. The clearer screen is nice, the arrangement of the icons showing connectivity, e-mail status, alert settings and the like are different, but not noticeably better. Navigation among the application icons is identical to the previous Curve.
Beyond the device itself, there are a couple of other considerations. The new Curve 8900 uses the new "micro" standard USB connector, unlike other BlackBerrys and many other phones. This means that the car charger you bought for your other devices or the interface cable that you use to sync your device may not be interchangeable with your new BlackBerry, though there are adapters available, if you can find them. While the new connector might be required because of the slightly thinner profile (although it didn't look that way), it may also be an attempt to sell you more accessories. This theory may be related to the astonishingly chintzy protective case that comes with the Curve 8900. Fortunately, there's a keyboard lock button on top of the device, so you don't have to keep it in the case.
On the other hand, the Curve 8900 has a processor that's nearly twice as fast as the older version, which means that some Web pages seem to load a little faster and some applications run better.
However, in reality, this is a moderate upgrade to what was already a very good smartphone. Fortunately, T-Mobile is still selling the previous version of the Curve for $100 less with a two-year contract. The new Curve 8900 sells for $199 with a two-year contract after rebates. The cost is $499 without the contract and rebates.
If you don't already have a Curve and you want to get a device that will do a nearly seamless job of handling your e-mail, will connect to your company's e-mail server and has an embedded GPS, then this new Curve will prove useful to you. T-Mobile's global coverage, its voice-over-Wi-Fi capability, its location-based services and the nice collection of multimedia applications make this an excellent product.
But the previous Curve was also an excellent product-it has nearly the same set of features and functions as the 8900, it is easier to use in some cases, and it is less expensive. If you already have a Curve, there's little reason to replace it with the 8900.
The Blackberry Curve 8900 costs $199 with a two-year contract, $499 without a contract or rebates.
Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and former member of the eWEEK Labs staff, based in the Washington DC area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.