The classic QWERTY keyboard-packing BlackBerry has been getting a subtle but important makeover recently, slowly moving out of the boardroom ghetto to become all things for everyone.

The Bold and Storm marked the new line in the sand with their stylish form factors and eye-catching on-screen graphics, and so it is with the new BlackBerry Curve 8900.

Its gently curving lines and black-on-chrome appearance certainly owe more to the Bold than its immediate Curve series predecessor, the 8300, which still had the look of the dull corporate drone about it.

Cramped keyboard

The 65,000-colour screen measures 50x38mm and looks great, as does BlackBerry's latest 4.6 operating system, which the 8900 shares with the Bold.

Its icons look funky and detailed without being kitsch and while just six key functions live on the home display, there are 25 waiting for you once you press the menu button. BlackBerry's excellent trackball is here, of course, as is the same four-line QWERTY keyboard that we saw on the Bold.

Actually, it's not quite the same since it's a wee bit smaller. Not that you'd really notice to look at it, but our thumbs took a little bit of time to get used to the slightly more cramped layout. It didn't take long, though.

On the sides there's a voice dialling button, camera shutter button, mini USB socket, volume buttons and a 3.5 headphone jack. Up top is a keyboard lock button which, although hidden beneath the plastic cover, still seemed just a little too easy to press accidentally.

Top for email

BlackBerry's hard-won victory in the email wars is still in evidence and this is clearly a communication tool first and foremost. Text input is easy (once we'd got used to the smaller keyboard) and you can add apps for Facebook, MySpace, IM, Flickr and more – everything you need to keep in touch.

In fact, the only thing it's seriously lacking is a 3G connection, which would certainly help with web browsing and downloads, though there is Wi-Fi for connecting to a home/business network or hotspot.

The browser gave us no problems: the screen's natural resolution proves fine for viewing web pages and its automatic zoom function is always at hand, accessed with a click of the trackball.

Decent camera

The 3.2 megapixel camera is a step up from the 2 megpixel unit we saw on the Bold and puts the device up there with the fancy touchscreen Storm. It's hardly state of the art compared with the best from Sony Ericsson or Nokia, but it's not bad, featuring an LED flash, autofocus and 2x digital zoom.

It's quick to start up, too, although actually taking a pic takes about three seconds from shutter press to final snap because of the autofocus. Colours are less than vibrant, but there's more detail evident than we've seen on some similarly specced snappers.

Maximum resolution is 2048x1536 pixels, but video doesn't fare so well, offering just 240x180 pixels. Even so, your videos should be okay in decent light and have less of a tendency to blur with movement than some. There's also the option to geotag your pics thanks to the onboard GPS.

Impressive file support

The onboard media player handles a broad range of formats, including DivX and XviD video files, but it's best to get yourself a broadband connection via Wi-Fi if you're planning to download any music or video.

Sound through the supplied headphones is okay if a little bass-light, but the 3.5mm headphone jack socket allows you to add your own instant upgrade.

There's not much memory on board for your files at 256MB, but you can add up to 16GB more via microSD card.

Unreliable GPS

We were just a little disappointed with the GPS, since it wasn't so quick to find a satellite connection as some handsets we've tried and BlackBerry Maps proved to be a bit of an unreliable pain, offering the occasional wrong location. We found that Google Maps worked better on just about every level, though it still wouldn't be ideal for use an in-car sat-nav, due to the smallish screen.

However, there's always the option to download voice-directed sat-nav apps from the main operators.

Battery life stood up well, giving us a good two days or more with Wi-Fi switched on throughout, which all adds up to the Curve 8900 being a great little do-everything BlackBerry for everyone, let down only by the lack of 3G.

Network availability: Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, O2

Looks: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Features: 3.5/5
Call quality: 4/5
Value for money: 3.5/5