IntroductionDescribed by many in the tech circle as the "BudgetBerry," the BlackBerry Curve 8520 represents a renewed push by RIM to appeal to first-time smartphone buyers. Scrappier than its BlackBerry siblings, one can immediately notice the cheap build quality, but as a result, the Curve 8520 offers a level of durability that other BlackBerry devices can't provide. Despite its shortcomings in the design department, the device is quite functional, offering OS 4.6, a full QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, a 2-megapixel camera, and RIM's new trackpad. As a new device appealing to a group not previously sought after by RIM, will the 8520 deliver and provide the ever-so-popular BlackBerry experience?
Design & Features When it comes to design, the Curve 8520 is in a class of its own. Sporting a black housing, the lack of chrome, which many recognize as a trademark feature on BlackBerry devices as of late, is immediately noticed. Minus the rubber sides and top piece, the device is all plastic. The overall design is a bit different as well, with the 8520's shape resembling a modification between a smaller Bold and a Curve 8320. The microUSB charging port has been moved back to the top left side, while each of the shortcut keys remain on the left and right side. In a new addition, the top has been replaced by media keys. Back, play/pause (which doubles as the mute button), and forward can all be found. Though the option may be nice for music junkies, we were disappointed that RIM left out the lock button.
As with any budget device, the Curve 8520 skimps on the accessories. Aside from the device and battery, the box contains a microUSB travel charger, 1GB microSD card (included in the phone) data cable, and a basic pair of earphones.
Usability & Performance RIM's most notable improvement comes in the elimination of the trackball in favor of an optical trackpad. For die-hard BlackBerry users, there will inevitably be a learning curve (no pun intended), but we think the trackpad is a smart investment on RIM's part. After using it for a day and becoming accustomed to the movements, it became incredibly easy. What's more, the elimination of the moving trackball reduces the number of problems with dirt and general failures as seen on a regular basis. If you've ever owned a BlackBerry, you've probably experienced trackball issues first-hand. We're excited about seeing the trackpad implemented going forward.
The keyboard, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Though somewhat similar to the keys found on the Curve 8300 series, they differ in terms of shape. Additionally, the 8520's keyboard is a bit firmer, making it hard to type at times and serving as a reminder of the device's "budget" status. Like BlackBerry devices as of late, the 8520 ships with OS 4.6, a marked improvement over past operating systems. Aesthetically pleasing, the OS continues on the RIM tradition, offering an extensive address book, calendar, and other PIM functions.
With a 2.0 megapixel camera, the picture quality is nothing to write home about. The lack of a flash means that, in order to obtain decent picture quality, the photo must be taken in the light. Pictures we took were, for the most part, quite grainy. Other features included a 5x zoom and the ability to change the white balance, picture size, picture quality, and color effect.
We tested reception in the Charlotte area, and it was on par with other T-Mobile devices that we have tested. Not spectacular by any means, but it gets the job done. Callers could understand us, and there were no problems on our end. When we tested it in a known fringe area, the call was quite choppy. Like other BlackBerry devices we've worked with, the speakerphone was impressive, with several callers noting that we didn't sound as if we were on speakerphone.
Battery life is one place in which the 8520 shines. Having dropped the high resolution screen, camera flash, and other battery consuming things found on other BlackBerry models, the device has fantastic battery life. With moderate use, we were able to get just over two days out of it. With light use, we hit just over five days. In short, the Curve 8520 is a battery warrior, perfect for someone who needs a smartphone with above average battery life.