T-Mobile is getting a bevy of smartphones this summer, and we're happy to see it (as are T-Mobile customers, we're sure). The carrier has recently launched the T-Mobile Dash 3G and the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, and the HTC Touch Pro2 is just around the corner. All three are sure to please mobile professionals and gadget heads, but what about those making their first foray into smartphones? Enter the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520.
As an entry-level smartphone, the Curve 8520 lacks some of the bells and whistles of the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8900, such as GPS and a high-resolution screen, but it delivers on the core features and offers great performance. In addition, the smartphone features a sleek design that includes a new optical trackpad and dedicated media controls. That said, T-Mobile's price of $129.99 (with a two-year contract) isn't the most compelling, especially when you consider that for $20 more you can get the extra features of the Curve 8900. However, Wal-Mart is offering the BlackBerry Curve 8520 for just $48.88 with a two-year new agreement or qualified upgrade, which makes it quite a steal. Hopefully, T-Mobile will reconsider its pricing but for now, if you can get yourself to a Wal-Mart, the Curve 8520 is a great device for first-time smartphone buyers.
The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 is probably most notable for its design, since it brings a couple of new tricks to the table. The overall look of the phone, however, is similar to the Curve 8900, and the two models actually share the same measurements at 4.3 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick. The Curve 8520 is a smidge lighter at 3.7 ounces, and while lightweight, we thought the phone felt slightly plasticky. However, the black model features a soft-touch finish along the outside edges preventing the smartphone from feeling too slick. T-Mobile also offers the smartphone in a frost color.
Since the Curve 8520 is a lower-end model, it doesn't possess the same high-resolution display as the Curve 8900. Instead, the 2.46-inch TFT display shows 65,000 colors at a more lowly 320x240 pixel resolution. While obviously not as sharp--images and text aren't as smooth and show some pixelation--the screen is still clear and bright. You can adjust the screen's brightness and backlight time as well as the theme, font size, and more through the Settings menu.
Below the display, you'll find one of the new features of the BlackBerry Curve 8520: the optical trackpad. Sandwiched between the Talk and End keys, menu shortcut, and back button, the trackpad replaces the trackball navigator that has become a BlackBerry staple since the debut of the original BlackBerry Pearl, and though many fear change, we have to say the transition from the trackball to the optical trackpad was quite easy.
We were pleasantly surprised at how responsive the trackpad was, much more so than the one found on the Samsung Omnia. Aside from the difference in feel (flat versus spherical), it wasn't much of a change, and we didn't have to alter any of our habits. Scrolling through pages and menus was smooth, and you can even adjust its sensitivity via the Settings, Screen/Keyboard menu. You can also press down on the trackpad to select items.
Also new to the BlackBerry Curve 8520: the dedicated media keys on top of the device. You get buttons to advance and playback files and play/pause. The latter also doubles as a mute button while on calls. As intended, they're convenient for controlling the media player and work for both music and video, though you can't use the back/forward buttons to go through photos. The multimedia experience is made even better by the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side of the device.
Also on the left spine is a Micro-USB port and customizable convenience key, while a volume rocker and another user-programmable button are on the right. The aforementioned controls are slightly different in that they're slight bumps along the surface rather than the traditional buttons you're used to seeing on a BlackBerry. They're interesting to say the least but work just fine. On back, you'll find the camera while the microSD expansion slot is located behind the battery cover, though the latter is just a tad difficult to take off without a release switch.
Last but not least, we have the Curve 8520's full QWERTY keyboard. It's largely similar to the 8900's; the buttons are slightly smaller and packed close together, so users with larger fingers might have some problem. However, we were able to find our groove after a while and could easily type messages. The number keys share space with letters on the left side, though they're not as easy to spot at a glance since the charcoal gray buttons don't stand out against the black keyboard whereas the 8900 highlighted them in white.