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Review: BlackBerry's User-Friendly Curve Hits Sweet Spot

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BlackBerry's Curve, its latest smartphone.Research In Motion

This is the story of Goldie the mobile malcontent and the three BlackBerries.

The first BlackBerry, the 8800, though slender by most standards, was too big.

The next BlackBerry, the Pearl, with its odd little keyboard, was too small.

For these hard-to-please types, the company behind BlackBerry is hoping the Curve will be just right.

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The name itself is one sorry reach, as there's nothing particularly curvy about the Curve. But this third new BlackBerry model in less than a year from Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM) strikes an elegant compromise between its larger and smaller siblings.

The Curve, due to debut with service by AT&T Inc. (T) by June, sports numerous advances for a BlackBerry, most targeting leisure-time features rather than business functions.

These include a 2-megapixel camera, a 3.5-millimeter stereo headset jack and an enhanced interface for the media player.

But the first order of business is size.

This device measures 2.4 inches from side to side — merely a fifth of an inch narrower than the high-end 8800.

Depending on your hand, the smaller width can make a surprising difference sitting in your palm.

I found the Curve far more comfortable to hold to my ear during a phone call, which remains the most important function despite all the things people do with a BlackBerry.

Weighing 3.9 ounces, the Curve is also nearly an ounce lighter than the 8800, making it more pocket-worthy.

On the other end of the BlackBerry spectrum, the Pearl is nearly half an inch narrower from side to side than the Curve.

While the additional real estate on the front of the device enables a wider screen on the Curve, the more significant gain is the full keyboard with one letter per key.

The keyboard on the Pearl, which has blazed a triumphant path into the consumer market for RIM, is narrower because it has fewer buttons, with two letters on each, relying on predictive software to choose the right one.

Despite the impressive accuracy of RIM's SureType software, many users are simply unsettled by the whole idea of pressing a button and trusting the device to pick the right letter.

For these nonbelievers in SureType, the Curve may be the way to go.

While the 8800's keyboard is slightly bigger, I found the Curve's buttons easier to type with because there's spacing between each one.

The 8800's slightly larger keys are packed right next to one another with small ridges on each to guide the thumbs, a design that RIM maintains will prove superior once users grow accustomed to it.

Surprisingly, even though the 8800 is a tad wider, RIM managed to engineer the Curve with the same size screen, measuring 2.5 inches diagonally.

Unfortunately, as with the 8800, that screen can't be put to good use with AT&T's video content, such as downloads of popular HBO programs.

That's because none of the BlackBerry devices offered by AT&T are equipped for speedier wireless downloads using the next-generation technology the company has deployed on its cellular network.

RIM cites the trade-off between cost, battery life and its own questionable assessment of what users need.

It's noteworthy that AT&T does offer other high-end devices with the new technology, and that RIM has engineered a version of the 8800 for Verizon Wireless that features a different next-generation technology.

With the Curve, RIM is introducing a new interface for its Roxio-based media player that enables users to organize and search for music by typing in a category, song name, artist or album.

Supposedly, with multimedia features such as these, the Curve is geared toward everyday folk who might enjoy the added bang of BlackBerry's real-time e-mail.

But intriguingly, as the first full-keyboard BlackBerry with allegedly "consumer" features like the digital camera and the stereo headset jack, the Curve may prove most popular among those corporate types who've been denied such toys on their white-collar BlackBerries.

With the exception of the camera, which RIM maintains its paranoid corporate clients do not want to equip their employees with, the company is coming around on the mobile entertainment front: RIM says the stereo headset jack and the enhanced music capabilities that are debuting with the Curve are destined for the 8800 as well.

In the meantime, there's little doubt that the Curve's Baby Bear compromise will please some finicky hands.

You may have noticed, by the way, that there's been no mention of curves here.

Sure, the device has some rounded edges. So does my body, which is why this really bad name is apt to conjure the image of a popular fitness chain more than anything about this phone.