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BlackBerry Curve 8320 Review


BlackBerry Curve 8320 Review

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The Curve proved to be a very popular and strong smartphone, and T-Mobile users lamented AT&T's several month exclusive. Now T-Mobile goes one better with the Curve 8320 which adds not only WiFi but UMA for phone calling over WiFi networks. That's what we call a killer application in tech lingo: something new, cool and downright useful that might just start a new technology trend. We'll cover UMA in detail, along with features unique to the 8320. Since the 8320 is in most respects identical to the recently released Curve 8300, we won't repeat common feature coverage when possible.

It's a technology that allows you to make voice calls over WiFi and switch fairly seamlessly between GSM and WiFi calls. No need for a separate VoIP account and application on the phone (i.e.: Skype). Simply use your phone number and your phone as if it were a normal cell phone. This isn't quite free: T-Mobile offers their $10/month Hotspot@Home service. You must add this to your account to use the BlackBerry 8320 and the handful of other UMA phones offered by T-Mobile over WiFi. Yes, even if you want to use the service on your home WiFi network and not a T-Mobile hotspot, you'll have to pay the $10/month, because T-Mobile provides the backend services that handle tunneling GSM calls though IP networks and they provide the transition between WiFi and GSM calls. But for $10/month (that's the introductory price, it may go up if you sign up after the promo period ends, and family plans for up to 5 lines cost $20/month), we call it a bargain: you can make unlimited domestic WiFi calls. No charges beyond the $10/month fee. Calls that originate on UMA (WiFi) are billed as unlimited Hotspot@Home accounts, even if you walk away from the access point or hotspot and the phone switches to GSM. Likewise if you make or receive a call while on GSM, you'll be billed for the entire duration of that call using your regular plan minutes, even if you get in range of a hotspot and the phone switches to UMA. If you have weak cell phone service at home, make a lot of calls when in range of a home/work WiFi access points, the service makes a great deal of sense.

For those who are technically minded, UMA works only with GSM and it's technically not VoIP as are SIP services. UMA provides a pipeline or tunnel for pure GSM to travel through via IP. The somewhat more common SIP phones turn calls into multimedia streams and send them over the Net (this is a simplified explanation). Seamless call hand-off between mobile networks and UMA is a real possibility, whereas it isn't with SIP.

T-Mobile's Hotspot@Home UMA service includes the option to buy a modified Linksys WRT54G-TM (we assume the TM stands for T-Mobile). The router is $50 and there's a $50 rebate, so it's free in the end. This is an 802.11b/g WiFi access point that can function as your home/work's sole access point or it can be hooked up to your existing network as a repeater. Or, you need not use it at all: we used the BlackBerry 8320 with our existing D-Link DIR-655 802.11n router with no problems whatsoever.

Call quality over UMA was excellent on the Curve 8320. And we didn't have a single dropped call when the phone transitioned back and forth between UMA and GSM. We tested the BlackBerry with our office D-Link draft N router and at T-Mobile hotspots. With our office router there was a blip of silence (shorter than a syllable) when the phone switched to or from UMA, at the T-Mobile Starbucks hotspot there was no blip and we couldn't even tell it had switched. The BlackBerry home screen shows you the carrier name (T-Mobile) near the top as per normal for a RIM device, and there's a dash followed by the current access point name when the phone is connected to a WiFi network. An icon at the upper right corner indicates that phone is currently on UMA and shows access point signal strength. When not in range of an access point, the phone displays the usual EDGE signal information. Connecting to a WiFi network is quite easy using the wizard, and (with the required T-Mobile data plan that includes T-Mobile hotspots) you need to do nothing to connect to a T-Mobile hotspot, the BlackBerry does it automatically.

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