(Pocket-lint) - There hasn't been a huge amount of change in the world of BlackBerry in recent years. A design tweak here and nip and tuck to the user interface there, but that's about it. While the top-level devices have seen a little more change - integration of touch operation, for example - down at the bottom end of the Curve line things are little different.
The BlackBerry Curve 9320 is very much the baby of the BlackBerry family, both physically and in terms of specs. Fortunately, that also means that entry-level Curve models can be had for very little cash, but provide you with a range of smartphone features that take you beyond your typical feature phone.
But has the BB Curve had its day? With rising choices in affordable Android smartphones, does the lure of a glossy touchscreen make the future of RIM's cheap Qwerty communicator questionable?
Design and keyboard
With diminutive dimensions, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 does little to differentiate itself from previous devices of the same family. It replaces the popular 9300, advancing the body detailing slightly to make this a more attractive device.
Of course the Curve 9320 isn't the only Curve in the 93xx family. It doesn't hit the high points of the Curve 9360, which remains the slimmer and sexier device, while walking away with better headline specs.
The Curve 9320 measures 109 x 60 x 12.7mm which makes it relatively fat in modern terms, with many devices slipping in under 10mm thick. In reality, it makes little difference, because this size of device is easily pocketable.
The curved back nestles down nicely in your hand and, at this size, using one or two thumbs to work the keyboard is possible. The keyboard is naturally smaller than the Bold family, but we didn't have a problem rampantly bashing out BBM messages, even with man-sized hands.
And that says something for RIM's keyboard design. We prefer the Bold's flat keyboard with flush keys, but find that the Curve's keyboard is good enough. It is a clicky keyboard though, so hardcore messagers will have to get used to the constant clickety-click of the button presses.
One downside of this keyboard design is that debris and finger grease will collect between the keys over time, so cleaning with a cotton wool bud and a dab of alcohol might be in order to keep things clean.
The back of the Curve, unlike the 9300, is now glossy. It attracts fingerprints to some extent, although they're easily removed with a wipe on your jeans. Despite the smooth finish, we didn't find it slippery like some phones: the size makes it easy to grip.
In terms of controls the waistband across the middle of the phone sees a central navi-key, as you'll find on all other BlackBerry models. This is flanked by the common arrangement of calling keys, menu and back. Unlike other models, on the Curve 9320 these are physical buttons although in practice that makes little difference to their operation.
Down the left-hand side of the Curve 9320 is the Micro-USB port for charging, along with a convenience key. This is labelled as "BBM", so you can dive straight into RIM's instant-messaging service. There is a second convenience key on the right-hand side too which defaults to the camera; both can be reassigned to different functions if you prefer.
One change towards the conventional is the positioning of the 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the handset. This is much more convenient than previous side positioning, which always left the headphone plug sticking out awkwardly in your pocket.
There is perhaps little remarkable about the Curve 9320 when it comes to design, but if you follow the tried and tested route, then arguably there was little to modify on a device at the bottom of the pile.
Hardware and cameras
RIM isn't as forthcoming with the full hardware specs on its lesser models, but that perhaps doesn't matter, as each device fits fairly well into a hierarchy. In the Curve 9320 you get 512MB RAM and 512MB of internal memory, but the 800MHz processor isn't formally disclosed.
Numbers alone mean nothing but, naturally, as RIM's entry-level device, the performance isn't the snappiest. It does perform most tasks in isolation fast enough to feel like you are getting things done, but it is no match for better devices like the Bold.
The lack of internal memory means a microSD card is essential – essential for any content you want to carry around with you like photos or music. You might find yourself limited in terms of app space, although to be fair, most of the core apps come preinstalled and BlackBerry App World isn't as appealing as Google Play or Apple App Store when it comes to exciting new apps.
The camera sees itself settle at 3.2-megapixels, which might not sound like a lot in modern terms, but in reality the results are well suited for mobile sharing. Unfortunately the camera is fixed focus, so you can't achieve the same results as you can with autofocus models, but they're good enough.
Video tops out at 640 x 480 pixels and again this is fixed focus. It might not hit the headlines for resolution or sharpness, but for social video again, it's good enough.
Of course the hardware and software work together, but one of the more irritating things about the Curve 9320 isn't unique to this device and that's the awkward slowdown you experience when upgrading or installing apps.
Update something like the Twitter or BBM apps and you'll find that during the install process, you're essentially locked out of the rest of the phone, followed by a restart. This isn't unique to the Curve 9320, it's something we've experienced across BlackBerry devices, and something to be aware of.
The Curve 9320 lands running BB OS 7.1, the latest version of the BlackBerry software, the biggest new addition to which is a mobile hotspot feature so you can share your connection with other devices, such as an iPod touch for example.
Elsewhere, the user interface is very much as it was on the last iteration of devices, with the next big change coming later this year in the form of BlackBerry 10. As it is, BlackBerry 7.1 works well enough, although there is obviously a profusion of menus and menu button presses to get things to happen, something that the likes of iOS or Android have for the most part streamlined away.
One of the interface issues here is that the Curve 9320 isn't touch enabled. As a result you lose some of the convenience that other models offer where you can tap an icon and be on your way, but that said, the navi-key is sensitive enough to make operation fairly slick and fast.
There's no denying that BB7 lacks some of the sex appeal of rival smartphone platforms and although this device is going to be available for very little cash, the likes of Samsung and HTC are pushing out ever cheaper Android phones with ever better performance.
As a multimedia device, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 doesn't really shine by comparison to those touchscreen rivals. It lacks the screen size and software diversity to be really exciting, but that's not the key focus of this type of device.
Communication is what BlackBerry is known for and that's what you get in the Curve 9320, by the bucket load. BB7's integrated inbox will pull your messages and alerts into one stream so you don't have to be skipping around different apps to see what's going on.
You also get your core apps preinstalled, so your Curve 9320 is ready to roll out with Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and Google Talk right out of the box. Of course, you also have BlackBerry's excellent Messenger service, BBM, which will likely be one of the most popular features of this device and can be connected in to Facebook and Twitter to keep things uber social.
And that's where the Curve 9320 really finds its feet. The design isn't much different from older devices, the user interface can be slow and cumbersome and the hardware specs won't get anyone excited, but once you're flicking out messages with scant regard for anything else, those things really don't matter so much.
Of course email remains excellent and with RIM offering quick and easy connection to your Exchange or third-party email provider, such as Google, you'll never feel out of the messaging loop.
Media and browsing, battery
As a media device, the 2.44-inch display of the Curve 9320 will never be as glorious as an equally affordable but larger Android handset. The resolution, at 320 x 240 (164ppi) is pretty low by modern standards. The size and the resolution mean that things are small and the phone can't reproduce fine detail very well.
For straight photos or video this doesn't really matter, but it's a huge problem for the browser, where you'll need to spend a lot of time zooming and scrolling to read text. If web browsing is one of your primary pastimes, then this isn't the device to do it on.
Other media is handled well enough however, and despite not offering HD capture, it would play some low-rent 720p video we'd recorded on other phones. Playback is one thing, but the notable freeze when you back out of a video returns us to the low power processor holding things up.
You can also share media via Wi-Fi, turning your device into a media server, so long as you have compatible hardware.
On the music front, the BlackBerry Curve 9320 doesn't sound too bad, with the EQ options giving you the scope to change the sound to your liking. The external speaker doesn't sound great, better for voice than music.
Sitting between the volume controls is a pause/play button, making music control a little simpler, should you need a moment of quiet. There is also an FM radio if you need a bit of Kiss FM to get you going in the morning.
Finally you have a large 1450mAh battery in the Curve 9320, which will see you through an average day relatively easily. In our tests, the battery easily made it through 24 hours, although this does depend on what you do with it, of course.
Overall, there isn't much that the BlackBerry Curve 9320 doesn't do. Apart from the lack of NFC, now a feature of high-end BB handsets, and a touch interface, you pretty much get everything that Blackberry offers. Sure, you don't get the best hardware, the device isn't the best when it comes to build and specification, but this is a very affordable smartphone.
The small display does limit some of the excitement and BlackBerry App World also lags a long way behind Android and the iPhone, not helped by the dependence on buttons and menus for interaction and a general lack of screen real estate.
But when it comes to social or business interaction, then this BlackBerry will deliver, much like any other handset in RIM's range. It might not be fashionable to praise RIM for its BlackBerry handsets at the moment, but if you are a fan of messaging, have friends using BBM and are on a budget, then you can't go far wrong.