RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 (T-Mobile) Smartphone
At a Glance
Mixing social networking and entertainment features with the familiar BlackBerry-brand business-centric tools, the lightweight BlackBerry Curve 8520 ($130 with a two-year contract; price as of 10/22/09) is a solid but underpowered addition to Research in Motion's lineup of thumb-friendly smartphones.
The target user is the busy worker who wants to do more with their BlackBerry than simply read and respond to corporate e-mail. In addition to a preinstalled Facebook application, the 3.8-ounce Curve 8520 provides competent video and music players; it also makes sharing photos and video clips with social networking sites easy.
What's missing, however, is 3G high-speed data support. This quad-band GSM phone (850/900/1800/1900MHz), offered by T-Mobile, hooks into that carrier's EDGE data network, which is adequate for messaging but slow for Web surfing--even with the unit's snappy Web2go browser.
Unlike other BlackBerry Curve devices, the Curve 8520 has three dedicated media buttons for controlling audio and video playback. Pressing the Play/Pause button zips you to the Media menu, where you can activate the music or video players, change your ringtone, scroll through pictures, or record a voice note. This button also serves as a ringer mute key, a handy feature.
Veteran BlackBerry users will have no problem with the responsive QWERTY keypad and its special-function keys. Notably absent is the familiar trackball, replaced in the Curve 8520 with a tiny, touch-sensitive optical trackpad. The trackpad, which requires a very light brush of a fingertip, proved both accurate and easy to control after a few minutes of practice. A firm push produces the equivalent of a mouse click. Flanking the trackpad are the standard Send and End keys, as well as the Escape and Menu keys.
The Curve 8520 is edged in rubber, which provides a comfortable gripping surface and protects the unit from minor bumps. The design also insulates the volume-control keys and the camera button on the right side, and the voice-dial button on the left, from the weather. The 8520 has a standard headset jack and a microUSB port for a data cable or charger. According to RIM, the Curve 8520 offers 4.5 hours of talk time and up to 17 days of standby time on each charge of its lithium ion battery.
The device has a 2-megapixel camera with video recording. Image quality was decent, though colors looked a bit washed out. The smartphone supports stereo Bluetooth wireless accessories, and its Wi-Fi support allows you not only to connect to the Internet but also to make calls via a T-Mobile Wi-Fi hotspot or a T-Mobile home Wi-Fi router. The Bluetooth adapter worked well when I tested it with mono and stereo wireless headsets. Audio from the unit's earpiece was clear and loud, though not as rich and bassy as the sound from some other recent smartphones. Regardless, all calls were intelligible, even in moderately noisy settings like a busy cafeteria. When playing music, the audio quality of the handset was adequate but not remarkable.
The bright, 320-by-240 pixel, 2.5-inch screen is clear and sharp, and ideal for viewing e-mail and playing video. The Web2Go browser had problems rendering some Web pages, but the "column view" feature makes it easier to read complicated pages by showing them a one column at a time.
The Curve 8520 is clearly designed for the social networker. Aside from the Facebook app, the handset's instant messaging menu includes applications for AOL Instant Messenger, BlackBerry Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger. You can also download more programs via BlackBerry App World, which is preloaded on the device.
The BlackBerry Curve 8520 has some great multimedia and social networking features that will appeal to younger audiences. But with no speedy 3G connectivity, the Curve 8520 can't keep up with other smartphones on the market.