AT&T's BlackBerry 8300 Curve wasn't exactly long in the tooth, having been on the market for mere months. Still, once T-Mobile launched the 8320 Curve, a superior version that makes calls over Wi-Fi, it was clear that AT&T had to do something to stay competitive. Enter the 8310 Curve. While this smartphone doesn't include Wi-Fi, it does feature GPS support with built-in TeleNav maps. There's also the optional ($9.99 per month) TeleNav GPS Navigator, with its excellent voice directions and location-based services. This Curve comes in two new colors, a grayish titanium hue and a brilliant red.
Measuring 4.2 by 2.4 by 0.6 inches and weighing 3.9 ounces, the 8310 is the same size and shape as the 8300. It also has a 320-by-240-pixel QVGA display and a light-sensing feature that adjusts brightness levels depending upon whether you're indoors or outdoors, just like Apple's MacBook Pro. The 8310's trackball is as easy to use as on other Curve and Pearl models, and its backlit keyboard offers nice-size buttons and a satisfying tactile response.
The Curve is a superior voice phone, too, delivering strong reception and dependable voice quality in both directions on my tests. The speakerphone is plenty loud for outdoor use, and it sounded fine—though a bit hollow—with a Sound ID SM100 Bluetooth headset. Push to talk (PTT) is available for the few AT&T subscribers who still use it.
The real news here, as mentioned earlier, is the GPS chipset. To test the TeleNav GPS Navigator, I embarked on a drive from Queens, New York, to central New Jersey and back, comparing the Curve with the Garmin nüvi 350 a dedicated GPS device. The 8310 held its own, with detailed voice prompts and reasonably fast navigation. But the device took a beat or two longer than the nüvi 350 to announce the next maneuver after any given turn. TeleNav also announces street names, but not consistently. For example, many times the BlackBerry's software said "turn right," or "continue, then turn left," whereas the nüvi 350 always pronounced the street name. Like all GSM devices, the 8310 also caused an irksome GSM buzz in my car's stereo speakers. On the plus side, I like that the 8310 asks right up front what kind of route you want: fastest, shortest, prefer streets, prefer highways, pedestrian, or traffic optimized.
Although the 8310's TeleNav implementation excels as a navigation system, its traffic reporting needs work. Five separate times, the system told me to exit a highway due to congestion on Staten Island, on the Garden State Parkway, and on the expressway back in New York. The device was wrong in every instance—each time, I took a risk and kept going, only to find no traffic jam ahead. And once the device has its mind set, there's no easy way to get it out of traffic mode. The 8310 will tell you over and over again to exit until you stop it and reprogram the route—not something you want to (or can) do while driving at highway speeds. Another time the device was accurate, however: I landed in a jam about a minute after I missed an exit it wanted me to take, but by that point I had little faith in its directions. Skip the traffic reporting and you'll be happier.
TeleNav, however, has added some new goodies this time around. The GPS Navigator now integrates restaurant reviews from yelp.com; you can search for eateries by popularity in a given range, then decide which of the search results are worth the trip. You can also rate restaurants from the phone itself, and TeleNav incorporates its own database of ratings with yelp.com's. Another useful feature: You can share your location with any friends who have a cell phone, so you can meet up. And if those persons also have TeleNav, your location will be shown on their GPS-enabled map, and they'll get real-time directions to help find you. Otherwise, the other party will receive an SMS message that opens a WAP page with a map. They can then input their location and get static directions. One drawback, though, is that the 8310 sometimes takes a while—on the order of minutes—to lock onto your location, something I noticed more often while walking the streets of New York City than while driving. Often I couldn't get a lock at all in my Queens neighborhood.
Other facets of the 8310 still impress. Its 3.5mm stereo headset jack means that you can upgrade to quality earbuds from a wide range of manufacturers. My test unit sounded passable when paired with a stereo Bluetooth set of Etymotic Ety8 earphones and absolutely stellar with wired Creative Zen Aurvana earphones. The Curve plays MP3 and (unprotected) AAC files, but not DRM-encoded tracks. Its 2-megapixel camera and built-in LED flash combine to take surprisingly usable, if somewhat soft, pictures, even indoors with low light. The 8310, like the 8300, still doesn't record video.
Like all BlackBerrys, the 8310's e-mail handling is sublime. You get lightning-fast push e-mail out of the box, with support for Web-based mail, POP/IMAP, and BlackBerry e-mail accounts, not to mention integration with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, and even Novell GroupWise. As always, its BlackBerry OS is fast, responsive, and streamlined, but third-party app support is still scarce. The built-in browser is passable, but I also loaded Opera Mini, which rendered miniature versions of full Web pages that I could zoom in on and read. You can use the 8310 Curve as a tethered laptop modem as well, though you'll quickly lose patience waiting for its glacial EDGE radio to deliver information.
The BlackBerry 8310 Curve is an excellent value at $199 with a two-year contract. The Curve may lack the Motorola Q9h's built-in document editing and high-speed data radio, but superior e-mail handling, a responsive OS, and a sleeker design make the Curve a great alternative. The 8310's 2-megapixel camera is also a good reason to skip the BlackBerry 8800, especially now that the 8310 includes GPS, the 8800's original draw. Since AT&T is iPhone country, it's worth noting that the Curve 8310 is a better messaging device and voice phone than Apple's first phone. Power users in the Microsoft camp who require 3G should look at the powerhouse AT&T Tilt or Q9h, and iTunes and video fans should naturally check out the iPhone. For just about anyone else, the BlackBerry Curve 8310 is a top-flight pick.