BlackBerry phone hits the hotspot with VoIP

RIM's pocket-sized, dual-mode QWERTY handset taps Wi-Fi and IP telephony for clear, unlimited T-Mobile HotSpot calling

RIM has developed a knack for pulling customers into new BlackBerry devices. That's no mean feat. BlackBerry is the most mature, most imitated, and most-targeted brand in the mobile industry. RIM keeps new handsets rolling out, and it keeps racking up new exclusives with wireless operators by finding gaps in its own product line and filling them better than its competitors can. By teaming up with T-Mobile, RIM's latest product helps to fill your budget gaps by providing flat-rate unlimited IP telephony from your home, office, airport, or any locale that hosts a T-Mobile Hotspot.

BlackBerry Curve 8900, an EDGE/Wi-Fi/UMA handset currently exclusive to T-Mobile in the US, is a pocket-sized take on RIM's traditional QWERTY recipe. Its firmware, and therefore its GUI and functionality, is a near match for BlackBerry Bold, RIM's full-sized QWERTY handset, and Curve 8900's chassis is styled after the strikingly black-clad Bold, except for a generous strip of chrome-colored plastic around its perimeter. This easily scratched trim is an unfortunate design choice for a device that's meant to mix it up with your car keys all day long. But I found it to be a fair trade given Curve 8900's fast CPU, expandable flash memory, very sharp 360x480 display (not wide aspect), respectable 3.2 megapixel camera, and best of all, seamless Wi-Fi calling.

A MicroSDHC card slot behind the battery cover provides room for up to 32GB of swappable storage for media and other files. The Curve 8900 identifies as a USB storage class device (flash drive) when the handset is connected to a PC or Mac, so files can be moved to and from the device without a driver. Now that BlackBerry's browser supports downloads and its mail client manages attachments as files, I've found that the ability to transfer documents to and from a BlackBerry eliminates much of the need for a costly tethering plan.

Mobile officery

The Curve 8900 comes with a special edition of DataViz Documents to Go that's sufficient for viewing and basic editing of the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents that you download, copy to your storage card, or receive as e-mail attachments. For a very small charge, you can activate Documents to Go's complete feature set, allowing you to create new Office documents from scratch on your BlackBerry, complete with formatting and change tracking. In my opinion, Documents to Go is the dealmaker for mobile QWERTY. I couldn't imagine typing, editing, and submitting this review on a touch display device, but it's perfectly workable on the Curve 8900.

The Curve 8900's media qualifications are pretty impressive. It leads with a 2.4-inch 360x480 LED-backlit display. This square-aspect LCD is not knock-out quality like the wide screen on the Bold. I have to dial up the backlight to get similar readability with small text. Even so, the next-gen BlackBerry GUI, with its transparency effects and sublimely smoothed text, looks marvelous on the Curve 8900's densely packed pixels. RIM always puts very loud, clear, distortion-free speakers in its devices, and even music sounds pretty decent. A 3.5mm headphone/headset jack allows you to use unmodified wired headphones for stereo listening. Like other late-model BlackBerry devices, Curve also supports high-fidelity stereo Bluetooth headphones, including models with AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Protocol) support. My Plantronics P590 Bluetooth headphones, which have AVRCP controls, work perfectly for voice memos, podcasts, music, and video. RIM uses CPU acceleration to equip the Curve 8900 with flawless full-screen video playback.

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