February 04, 2009, 3:32 PM — The scoop: BlackBerry Curve 8900, with T-Mobile service, about US$200 (after $100 rebate, with two-year contract, plus at least $15 monthly service plan).
What it is: The newest BlackBerry device from Research in Motion is active on T-Mobile's EDGE network (quad-band EDGE, which provides worldwide coverage) and is the "thinnest and lightest" BlackBerry device. Along with the regular push e-mail features seen on every other BlackBerry, the 8900 includes a 2.4-inch display (480 by 360 pixels), built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, an expandable memory slot (up to 16GB supported via microSD/SDHC), an advanced multimedia player with streaming video support, and a 3.2 megapixel digital camera (plus video recording features). (Watch a slideshow of the iPhone vs. the BlackBerry Storm.)
Why it's cool: The 8900 is UMA-enabled, which allows users to make phone calls over a Wi-Fi connection. That makes sense, because some users may feel that the EDGE network coverage and speeds are not as comprehensive as those from other carriers (such as the HSDPA network from AT&T or EV-DO networks from Sprint and Verizon). Using Wi-Fi for voice calls for users at home is part of T-Mobile's strategy, so it makes sense to see UMA on this device.
The "thin and light" part of the 8900 is noticeable -- the device feels a lot less bulky than other BlackBerry devices that feature the full QWERTY-style keypad. It doesn't feel like anything was compromised in order to make the device lighter -- the screen is still big enough and the trackball navigation is the same as other devices.
The system also comes with a new Charging Pod, which lets users place their device on their desktop in order to recharge via the power cable (it will also recharge via the regular USB cable). The battery life on the device was pretty good -- I was able to run for about three days of moderate data usage before I noticed that the device needed a recharge.
The testing unit came with some very cool applications for the BlackBerry as well, including SlingPlayer Mobile (connect to a Slingbox to watch TV over the network), and FlyCast (listen to streaming audio and Internet radio stations over the network). Those apps worked best when connected via Wi-Fi, however.
Some caveats: The biggest issue for most users will be the EDGE network access from T-Mobile. The carrier has attempted to alleviate this by including the UMA option for connecting via Wi-Fi, but if users don't have access to a Wi-Fi network a majority of the time (for example, I could only access Wi-Fi via my home, at work I would have to rely on EDGE), the benefits become a non-issue. But for users with good Wi-Fi coverage, this is a solid BlackBerry (and lighter, too!).
Grade: 4 stars (out of five).
Shaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.