BlackBerry Curve 8520 - First Look

RIM's BlackBerry Curve 8520 has been aimed at the low end of the smartphone market. Pocket-lint got a brief hands-on with the device, and here's what we thought.

Let's focus first on the headline additions to the 8520 - the media keys and the optical trackpad. The former are a welcome addition, and combined with the 3.5mm headphone jack make the device capable of substituting for your MP3 player, without diving into the somewhat fiddly media player controls proper.

Although the internal memory is only 256MB, there's an SD card slot for expansion as usual, so you'll want to whack a capacious one of those in there if you're serious about listening to music and watching movies on the go. The media buttons' location on the top makes switching tracks while the handset is in your pocket pretty easy too.

As for the optical trackpad, there's not much to be said other than that it's an adequate replacement for the trackball. The lack of moving parts means it's less likely to break, we suppose, but after 5 seconds of use, we forgot we were using it. That's a positive thing - it's never good when an input method distracts you from whatever you're inputting.

The screen is clear and bright and at 320 x 240 has taken a step down from the Curve 8900's sharp 480 x 360. Still, this is a low-end device and it makes sense to downgrade the screen to differentiate between devices, even if customers will complain. The keyboard is as excellent as ever - BlackBerry is still the king of QWERTYs after all - input felt comfortable and accurate. Keeping a great keyboard means you will still have that solid BlackBerry email experience in an entry-level device.

The camera isn't mindblowing at just 2-megapixels, but it seemed to take pretty clear pictures - more than suitable for displaying on the phone itself. We didn't get to test it in low light conditions, unfortunately, and we don't know how the images will stand up against closer scrutiny, something we'll be sure to check out in a full review.

The side buttons, as previously, mean that you can program them as shortcuts to commonly used apps such as Twitter, or as the default camera launcher. The placement of the media controls on the top means you'll probably want to assign a side button as the lock, as this has now moved from its top position on the 8900.

The hardware specs might raise an eyebrow for still lacking the 3G connection, a complaint with the Curve 8900, which many see as RIM putting outdated hardware to good use. As the BlackBerry is principally a data-loving device this might be a stumbling block for some, although generally the BlackBerry push email services don't suffer on GPRS or EDGE thanks to their data optimisation.

But for those who want to browse the internet, it’s a double whammy losing the high-res screen and having a slow connection. The lack of GPS is also likely to deter consumers, so you'd have to rely on cell zone triangulation only in mapping applications.

However the inclusion of Wi-Fi may assuage this doubt for those who spend their time languishing in a home or work wireless network as you'll still be able to access your data at fast rates.

Verdict

The naming of the handset seems to follow the trend of Curve 83xx devices, with the specs here remarkably similar to the 8320. Although the Curve 8520 isn't going to blow your mind if you're a seasoned smartphone enthusiast, someone who doesn't have any smartphone experience and upgrades to this handset will be pretty happy with its functionality.

Given that RIM has stated that those people are the target market, it seems they've produced a solid, reliable, entry-level smartphone for that demographic.

We'll be bringing you a full review of the Curve 8520 shortly, when we'll see how well this new entry-level device performs.



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