Recently, RIM invited some media to check out the BlackBerry Curve 9380; the device we call the Curve Touch. This device is a lot like the Torch 9860 (what we call the Storm 3), except it’s much smaller and we believe it will be at a cheaper price point. The device is targeting APAC (Asia Pacific), which explains the size and price point. The following is not a review of the device, merely just a few things I noticed while playing with the device for a brief period.
What sticks out most about a touchscreen BlackBerry is the fact that RIM is making a device that does not have a keyboard, something that is a core advantage of BlackBerry devices. One would think that a company that specializes in keyboards would be an industry leader when it comes to virtual keyboards, but this hasn’t been the case. The first Storm had a frustrating screen that wouldn’t let you type as fast as you wanted. The Storm2 tried to improve on the device by having multiple contact points, but it didn’t really help. Now, with the Storm3 and Curve Touch, RIM has an all touch device with nothing that really differentiates it from the competition. It’s almost as though RIM has given up on the virtual keyboard experience but its simply making all touch devices because market research dictates they should. This doesn’t seem like a good way to run a company.
The virtual keyboard experience on the Curve Touch and all modern BlackBerry virtual keyboards simply isn’t good enough for anyone that is serious about being fast and efficient with their device. The experience feels much slower for someone that is used to leveraging the power of the keyboard to get things done faster. Here are some simple ways a virtual keyboard makes the BlackBerry slower:
You can’t use Universal Search without first pressing the Search icon. With a physical keyboard, you simply start typing from the homescreen. This isn’t the case with a touchscreen and searching in general is much slower with the keyboard.
When you’re inside an app, you can’t navigate as fast. To navigate 200 BBM contacts, you have to be able to just press the first letter of their name. In Twitter, you may find yourself pressing ‘t’ to get to the top of the stream. You can’t do this with a touch device without first accessing the keyboard in the menu. Even then, it’s slower.
For someone who does a lot of typing on their device, my brief experience with the Curve Touch was really disappointing. There are constant headaches such as the fact that the virtual keyboard doesn’t change based on what fields you are filling out. The keyboard should know you’re in an email field and put the @ symbol front and center; but it doesn’t. That being said, if you don’t use the keyboard then the added screen real estate is wonderful. This is probably the target market of the device but as someone who is clearly not the target market, it’s hard for my first impressions to be anything but negative. If I could somehow just look at this device from the perspective of someone who purely consumes content, I would probably be really happy with the layout and design.
The one positive thing I can say about the virtual keyboard software is that RIM gives you the option to enter text in either full keyboard, reduced keyboard (think Pearl) or T9 (double tap). This is helpful as a reduced keyboard is pretty good for entering common text. The problem is when you try and type something like “Narnia” in reduced text, it’s nearly impossible and you have to switch to full keyboard. This shouldn’t happen.
We’ll have a full review eventually, but until then, my first impressions of the device have less to do with the Curve Touch itself, but more to do with a beef with RIM’s disappointing virtual keyboards. The company has been working on virtual keyboard technology since the launch of the first Storm over 3 years ago. RIM seems to have not made enough progress in the virtual keyboard software department.