T-Mobile's update of the BlackBerry Curve, the 8900, isn't an earth-shattering revision of one of Research in Motion's most successful QWERTY keyboard models. But for those who are content to browse over T-Mobile's somewhat pokey EDGE network when Wi-Fi isn't available, the new Curve offers an improved camera, a sleeker design, and a snappier processor than the preceding version, the Curve 8320 (which is still available from T-Mobile but now for $100 less than the 8900, which is $300 with a two-year contract and before any rebates).
Like the 8320, the 8900 is a quad-band phone, meaning you can use it on pretty much any GSM network worldwide. For data, it supports EDGE, the 2.5G network technology that approximates dialup in real-world performance. That's fine for e-mail, but Web browsing is somewhat sluggish (although the desktop-style browser does a good job of rendering large pages and then letting you zoom in on sections of interest).
Black with silver accents, the 8900 is slightly skinnier, a tad more lightweight, and more sculpted-looking than earlier Curves, with some of the design motifs we've seen in the BlackBerry Bold and Storm. I'm on the fence about the use of red type for keypad numbers--it's a more subtle look but also makes the numbers slightly less legible than on the 8900's predecessors (which used black on silver). Still, when the phone screen is on, the red numbers do glow, so I had no problems dialing. RIM continues to refine its keyboards, and thumb-typing on the Curve is eminently doable. Of course, you get the terrific corporate and Internet e-mail features RIM is known for.
Voice call quality was solid in my tests. Like its predecessor, the 8900 uses UMA technology to let you make voice calls over Wi-Fi when a Wi-Fi network is present. However you must sign up for T-Mobile's Hotspot at Home service to enable seamless transition from Wi-Fi to cellular calls.
The supplied media clips looked good, given the smallish but bright high-res screen. The 8900 comes with the updated media manager that was introduced after the last Curve, a definite plus. The 3.2-megapixel camera with built in flash and autofocus is also an upgrade from the previous 2-megapixel model, and it definitely shows in the improved images; shutterbugs will appreciate the difference.
Overall performance on apps definitely seemed snappier thanks to the upgraded CPU RIM is touting. Wi-Fi setup was easy and quick. GPS location, on the other hand, wasn't so hot with my production-level unit. The device hung for quite some time on its own requests for satellite fixes, and ultimately appeared to give up. I'm trying to figure out what happened here and will update as needed.
That glitch aside, the Curve 8900 should appeal to T-Mobile BlackBerry fans who feel the original Curve is starting to get a bit tired-and who have no particular need for a handset that supports faster UMTS/DSMA data networks. The rather high $300 price tag (with a two-year T-Mobile contract) can be lowered to $200 via mail-in rebate when the device hits T-Mobile's retail outlets next week (business-to-business customers can start ordering now).