After the productivity disaster that was the touchscreen-enableddisabled Storm, it's pleasing to report that the latest model from BlackBerry, the Curve 8900, is a much more useful tool for frequent travellers.
The big difference between this and earlier Curve models is the size: BlackBerry is touting it as its "thinnest and lightest full QWERTY model", falling between the Bold and the less typing-friendly Pearl. Shrinking means some sacrifices: the marginally smaller keyboard didn't cause me any concern, but the device is 2G-only, which is a mild nuisance when accessing standard web sites.
BlackBerry also claim that the 8900 boasts superior battery performance. In practice, I found that it was pretty much indistinguishable from the Bold -- each model tends to use between a third and half of its charge in a typical day for me. That, of course, is still a much better outcome than many iPhone owners experience.
The screen might look small-ish, but its 480 by 360 display is the highest-resolution offering currently in the BlackBerry family. That makes for nice Web page rendering (especially if you use Wi-Fi and eliminate the 2G speed barrier).
All the expected BlackBerry features -- seamless push email, good Outlook integration, and a good suite of onboard apps -- are present and correct. A simple but really useful enhancement is bedside mode, which stops the message light flashing when you leave your phone on overnight, making it a much more practical clock for hotel rooms. There's also lock and mute buttons on top of the 8900 for fast access (though for the former holding down the A key is still a good substitute that works on all recent BlackBerry models).
The worst news about the 8900 is that it isn't being made broadly available to consumers -- currently it's only being sold to Vodafone business account customers as a standalone phone for $929. Hopefully it (or its inevitable 3G successor) will appear on a more general plan soon. In the meantime, if your company is already using Vodafone, start nagging your superiors for one of these pronto.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman wrote this review on the BlackBerry 8900 while sitting on a plane (so what else is new?). His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.