One of RIM's most compact phones to date, the 8900 looks great, and made us keen to discover whether good things really do come in small packages.
You can get the 8900 from T-Mobile and Carphone Warehouse for free on a monthly contract.
Adopting some design characteristics of the BlackBerry Curve 8310 and BlackBerry Bold 9000, the 8900 is a compact, attractive handset that shows off RIM's aesthetic prowess. It looks and feels like a quality product, and fits comfortably in the pocket. There's something satisfying about the 8900's dimensions; it's neither too small nor too big, nor is it too heavy or too light. It looks smart without looking boring, and will appeal to both teenagers and businessmen alike.
The 8900's screen is bright and large, and its full Qwerty keypad offers a reliable and straightforward typing experience. Each key on the keypad is raised at one edge, providing enough definition to find them easily with your thumb. As with previous BlackBerry Curve handsets, the 8900 houses a trackball that lets you scroll through emails, Web sites and other areas of the interface. Once you've mastered the trackball, which doesn't take too long, you'll find it a convenient navigation tool.
Two hard keys on the right and left sides of the 8900 can be configured to activate a variety of apps, but are set by default to activate voice commands and the 8900's camera. The 3.2-megapixel camera is situated on the back of the 8900 next to an LED photo light. We were relieved to see a 3.5mm headphone jack, but were less impressed by the mute and lock keys at the top of the 8900. Due to their flat design and lack of definition, they weren't as easy to press as we had hoped.
While it doesn't bring tonnes of invitation to the design table and is essentially a mini BlackBerry Bold, the 8900 is a well-designed handset. After all: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. On looks alone, the 8900 is a winner and, most probably, will be one of RIM's best-selling devices.
At the core of the 8900 beats the same email-dedicated heart as in any other BlackBerry. Before we discuss all of its other features, it has to be pointed out that, when it comes to email, the 8900 performs well. Whether you're setting up a personal or work account, doing so using the desktop redirect software isn't difficult. You can hook the device up to a BlackBerry server at work or use the online service to set up as many as ten different accounts.
Once past its serious heart, the rest of the 8900 is much more fun. There's a music player that handles various music formats, including MP3 and AAC, and a video player that handles certain DivX and Xvid files (some you have to convert, using the provided software). The music and video player are competent enough; you can set playlists, shuffle tracks and use normal headphones. Videos look particularly good on the 8900's screen, which, although small, gives a clear and bright picture.
Less clear are the images taken by the 3.2-megapixel camera. It produces good shots for small prints and MMS messages, but you'll notice the low resolution of the camera when you blow pictures up. The camera can shoot both still shots and video. At night, you can use the LED photolight to provide some illumination, but, if your subject is standing further than a metre away in low light, then don't expect great things -- a xenon flash would have been better.
Sharing or downloading content can be done over Wi-Fi, GPRS or EDGE but, disappointingly, there's no 3G, which we think is a major fault. We did manage to download and use the 8900's Facebook app and Yahoo Messenger on the go without too many problems but, when it came to using Google Maps and getting a map to load quickly when we were on the move, that was a far less enjoyable experience.
On the subject of Google Maps, the 8900 comes with built-in GPS so, once your map is loaded, you can find out exactly where you are. You can use either BlackBerry Maps or Google Maps but, as we mentioned before, the lack of 3G prevents a smooth experience. As for the GPS performance, it was satisfactory, but we found it occasionally took longer than expected to pick up satellites, although that may be due to our review unit or the areas we tested it in.
Battery life is superb, lasting for over two days with regular use. Call quality was less impressive, with calls sounding slightly fuzzy at times. It's not that volume during calls isn't high enough, it's just that audio quality is not as crystal-clear as on certain other handsets. The loudspeaker is loud but, as expected, sounds tinny if turned up too high. The 8900's interface was fast and snappy and we felt it performed well when running apps, with no noticeable lag when going in and out of different sections of the menu.
The BlackBerry Curve 8900 is well designed, and handles both email and videos competently, but, when you pick up a phone like the 8900, you want it to do everything, and we can't ignore the fact that it doesn't have 3G. The lack of 3G affects many of the services that make the 8900 an attractive phone, but it does mean you get more battery life.
If you can overlook the lack of 3G, then you have an excellently designed phone that offers email and a pleasant media experience, and will keep going for days rather than hours.
Edited by Charles Kloet