Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The BlackBerry Curve 8320 Smartphone – A Review

The BlackBerry Curve 8320 Smartphone and pouch
I have now been using this piece of kit for blogging whilst away on trips for nearly two years.  I reckon I’ve spent about four months of that time using it to send blog postings whilst on the move.

This won’t however be a comprehensive review, as I use the phone as a phone and blogging device.  That’s all.  It has lots of other features that I don’t use, but I do of course use its camera to remotely send ‘Postcards’.

I know that both Gayle and Jamie use a BlackBerry for blogging.  Gayle’s is the same model as mine.  Their comments on this posting would be appreciated as I’m sure they are both more technically minded than me.

The phone weighs 112gm, a spare battery is 41gm, the standard BlackBerry case is 32gm, and the charger is 123gm.  That makes a total of 308gm for a trip when you need to go 5 to 6 days between charges.  I suppose you could use a ziplock bag (or other more protective case) instead of the BlackBerry pouch if you are particularly sensitive to weight issues, and some may wish to carry a second spare battery.  The charger has European and North American adapters that slip in to replace the UK plug, so no separate adaptor is necessary.

Text messages and calls operate more or less as on any other mobile phone that I’ve used, so it’s fine for that purpose.

The camera is easy to use and produces adequate results.  I have mine set on the lowest resolution so that the images (approx 100Kb) transmit fairly easily.

I don’t use the phone for emails other than the blog postings, maintaining just one email address on the phone.  If I want to look at my emails whilst on the move I access them through webmail.  If people want to contact me they can send a text message (or use the designated email address if they know it).

The qwerty keyboard works fine.  It is firm and responsive.  It could be cumbersome for someone with fat fingers, but having said that, my hands aren’t small.  Obviously, try before you buy.

Emailing to our blog was simple and intuitive to set up.

With minimal use with the phone left on all the time, the battery keeps the phone powered for nearly a week.  If using the phone for a few calls and for blogging, I usually get about three days out of one charge, though Gayle reckons I could get more if I turned off the Wi-Fi setting, that I don’t think I’ve ever used!  Carrying a spare battery, I’ve never really had to worry about running out of power.

I haven’t linked the phone to a computer, other than to download a few images (not related to blogging) taken when I have forgotten my camera, and that was a very simple process.

There is a massive (293 page) on-line manual.  I’ve not looked at it.  There’s also a small ‘Getting Started Guide’ – a leaflet that I find useful for basic information and to remind me what the various icons mean.

I understand there are loads of ‘apps’, but I know nothing of these, or whether any of them may be of any real practical use.

I’ve encountered a few minor problems:

  • sometimes the phone tells me a posting has failed, so I send it again.  Then I discover that it has gone twice.  This can be annoying when different people have commented on each of the postings.  So if in doubt I check using webmail before re-sending, but this isn’t always convenient;
  • occasionally the posting takes an interminable length of time before failing to transmit, often, but not always, in an area of poor reception.  Taking the battery out for a few seconds and replacing it seems to resolve this problem, so long as there is a viable signal;
  • the top of the casing of my phone has recently cracked at each side, though this has not affected the performance of the phone.  These hairline cracks don’t show on the low-res image above;
  • I first used the phone in anger on the 2008 TGO Challenge, and tried to send postings headed by an image, in my usual ‘postcard’ style.  This resulted in me spending a fair amount of time standing on windy trig points with my arm in the air transmitting postings - effective but time consuming and battery draining.  I’ve learnt that it is better to send text only postings at such times, when the signal is weak or intermittent, and send the images separately when the signal strengthens.

I’m sure there’s more to add to all this, which seems rather superficial, but in truth I’ve found the phone basically works fine for mobile postings.  If you want to see how we have fared with it, you could scan through our ‘Italian Border Route’ postings made in the summer of 2008.  Most of those postings have been edited only for indexing purposes and to remove the innocuous ‘BlackBerry’ footer that appears with each mobile posting.  Also some larger images with black borders have been inserted in place of the original images.  The same applies to our 2009 Alpine trip, but in this case we were staying in apartments with good mobile phone reception, so blogging was a very easy task.

I think Gayle bought her phone second hand and is on a PAYG tariff.  Mine is on an Orange ‘Dolphin 20’ contract.  This costs £17 for 75 minutes talk and 200 text messages, plus a BlackBerry charge of £6 a month for internet usage of 6Mb.  (Gayle pays £5 a month for this.)  I have rarely exceeded the 6Mb.  My normal UK bill is £25 to £30 a month.  This obviously increases when abroad, not least because of the ‘text’ charge for each posting, but it isn’t a huge cost.  For example, the additional cost I incurred during our two month Alpine trip in 2008, covering daily blog postings, regular viewing of webmail, and almost daily viewing of weather forecasting sites, was about £60 – say £1 a day.  Well worth it, I think.

Obviously there are many other phone options, and I can’t make comparisons, but I for one have found the BlackBerry Curve 8320 Smartphone a most acceptable piece of kit for posting blog entries whilst on the move.  Mine is now out of its 18 month contract, so I could have a free replacement, but I’m holding off doing that for the time being whilst everything is working fine (for my admittedly limited demands).

I hope this helps.  Feel free to comment, add your own pros and cons, or raise queries.


afootinthehills said...

Many thanks for this post. It's particularly useful for me since I envisage using the phone in much the same way as you do.

The Odyssee said...

I thought your review was excellent so i went into town today and had a closer look. One thing that surprised me, and you commented on it, was that even though the keys look tiny they are usable. That is correct, i could use them easily.

As far as i could make out it isn't symbian compatible. I do want to download viewranger and this needs a symbian phone. So that was a minus point. I also thought the screen was a little too small for my liking.

I think i will need more time to decide. If only their were fewer choices although the symbian requirement has thinned the options out a bit.

Thanks again for the review.

Phreerunner said...

Haha - I had to Google 'symbian' and 'viewranger' to find out what they are!
I don't tend to look at many web sites when on the move, but most seem ok to navigate around with the BlackBerry.
I'm well schooled in map and compass techniques, so don't have much use for a GPS, apart from in 'where am I now?' situations and for entertainment value, for both of which my old Garmin model is fine. You may need to look carefully at battery issues if using a GPS enabled phone, but I suppose you could turn that function off if you are not also using the phone to store your maps - that could be really demanding on batteries!

The Odyssee said...

I am absolutely, 100% with you on the map reading and use of compass. Any digital mapping is completely secondary.

My train of thought is that if i am getting a new phone and the capability is there for digital mapping, i might as well go for it if the price is reasonable.

I won't be using it to follow a set path like with a dedicated mapping GPS (Garmin etc), but i see myself using it occasionally as you would to pin point your position.
The benefit here is that your position is shown on a map rather than having to transfer the grid ref. to a paper map. As i currently do with my Etrex H.

I am hoping it will be good enough that i can stop taking the Etrex with me. And a couple of spare phone batteries weigh very little in comparison.

It's also rare these days that i walk alone. Sheila is usually with me and therefore her phone can be used purely for that purpose.

Gayle said...

(Warning: Unreasonably long comment coming – but since you asked for my thoughts:)

Things I like about the Blackberry:
- Ease of typing (I spent quite a while testing out the various makes and models in phone shops before concluding that the Curve 8310/8320 had the keyboard that I found easiest to type on at a reasonable speed with minimal typos);

- Ability to cut/paste and do other things that weren’t possible on my previous cheap and cheerful QWERTY phone;

- Ease of moving around the screen;

- General ease of use (with a couple of exceptions with obscure menu options)

- It does everything I need in a phone (not necessarily a good recommendation, because it’s such a subjective thing and my requirements in a phone are pretty simple)

- As Martin mentions, you have to subscribe to the Blackberry Internet Service (BIS). On my previous QWERTY phone I simply paid for usage as and when, which seemed to cost only a few pence a go. Being on a Pay As You Go, I suppose I could cancel and resubscribe to BIS when I need it.

- With the size of the screen I’ve no idea how much or how little I’m typing in a blog post – but I don’t think that is specific to this phone (I had the same issue with the PocketMail, and likely most other phones would be the same);

- Unlike Martin, I’ve found web-browsing to be slightly painful (perhaps I’ve been spoilt by how good it is on my iPod Touch where you get the proper version of websites rather than the mobile version), however, I didn’t buy the phone for the web browsing, have only used it rarely, so it hasn’t put me off the phone.

So, as it stands if my handset was to break tomorrow (fingers crossed that it doesn’t), then I would likely be straight on Ebay to buy an identical replacement. However, I reserve the right to change my mind in 3 months time once I’ve spent 10 weeks mobile blogging from it!

Phreerunner said...

I thought you'd be with me on the map reading, Alan. I can't argue with your logic. I'd do the same if I hadn't already got the BlackBerry and the Vista. In fact I'm reluctant to renew my Orange contract, partly because my present set-up works fine, but also because it leaves me more options when I do upgrade. I'll be very interested in your set-up when you have it. You'll have to give us a demonstration on an evening walk.

Phreerunner said...

Thanks, Gayle - your comment arrived whilst I was replying to Alan's points. We will miss you tomorrow BTW - I may just find my first Geocache - that should entertain Bruno, anyway! And I suppose web-browsing with the BlackBerry is 'slightly painful', but at least that keeps the bills down!

The Odyssee said...

Thanks for all your info. I certainly didn't expect it to be as complicated as things have turned out.
How phone sales people and reviewers can keep up to date with it all is beyond me.
I too will be interested to see how my set up pans out.
I havn't done any geocaching but it sounds interesting.

Trekking Britain said...

I was using an 8310 until recently. The 8300 series are fantastic phones. I'm a Senior Desktop Analyst and have to deal with hundreds of them at work.

T-Mobile were offering the new Curve 8520 on a £10 a month 24 month tarrif. You only get 100 minutes and 100 texts but that is all I need as I don't use it for texting much and with a Blackberry I tend to use Facebook, Email and Messenger more to communicate. Their Blackberry Email and Data is £5 a month on top so its actually £15 but its an add on so if you ever ant to exit the contract they would work it out at £10 a month base.

The 8520 doesn't have GPS but I didn't use it anyway. The 8520 doesn't have a flash on the phone either but every picture I take is outdoors in the day. Other than those two things, every other aspect is way better than my old 8310. The main difference being the processor speed which makes the entire phone faster. The software is the later version which also makes a big difference and wifi ability. The new track pad is much better than the roller too.

The way I post to Blogger is by using email. Same with Twitter and Twitpic too. Both services have post by email ability. Its great with the Blackberry as even in poor coverage areas it just trickles the email out of your outbox by gprs. You can put an entry in your address book called Blogger and put the email address in it. Then when you go to post you simply send an email to Blogger in your address book and it posts the photo and puts the subject as the post title and content text as the post text.

Most networks are now doing the 8520 on £15 a month contracts and it is well worth upgrading for the difference in hardware. It may be designed for the lower market user but you wouldn't know as the 8520 is a brilliant piece of kit.

T-Mobile do one of Blackberry days at certain stores. Phones4U do something where you get it for £20 a month including the Blackberry data and email and you get £200 cashback in store, or something like that.

Also if you haven't got Gmail already then get it if you've got a Blackberry the Google Synch app is fantastic and completely synchs your Google Calendar with your BB calendar and synchs your address book with your Gmail one so all contacts the same in both places, chaneg on one and it changes the other.

Phreerunner said...

Very interesting Jamie. You describe very accurately the method I use to post to the blog - I think I just said it was easy and intuitive to set up.
I notice I can now get a new 8520 or 8900 phone (amongst many others) if I renew my contract with Orange. I'm dubious about changing providers, as Orange seems to give pretty good coverage, and I wouldn't want to change my number.
You'll have to explain the benefits of Gmail to me in person, sometime - I certainly wouldn't need it for email, which seems to my non-technical mind the obvious reason for getting it. I suppose calendar stuff could be useful, though.
Thanks again for your input.