The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is RIM's latest consumer smartphone.

RIM (BlackBerry) is continuing its push into the consumer smartphone space with the launch of a BlackBerry Curve model that will cost markedly less on a monthly contract that previous models and that will also be available on a pay as you go basis.

The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 will cost from £25 a month on an Orange or T-Mobile contract or can be bought outright for £199.95. All the UK mobile phone operators are expected to offer the handset, while Carphone Warehouse will also carry it. The Curve 8520 will be available in the UK from 11 August.

BlackBerry has refined the design of its Curve consumer smartphone line, shrinking the handset's overall dimensions and replacing the famous glowing orb navigation device with a touchpad that makes it very fast to access onscreen items.

The front of the phone is dominated by a 2.5in QVGA screen which is brighter than an Apple iPhone 3GS's and that fades after a few seconds to preserve battery life. The result is a handset that looks smart and stylish and that's comfortable to hold.

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The BlackBerry Curve 8520 weighs 106g and is noticeably slimmer and smaller than previous Curve models. It's shorter and lighter and about 2mm less broad than the iPhone 3G - we're pleased to see a move away from the giant smartphone trend and a focus on basic phone and text entry functions.

The 8520 is partially clad in soft rubber, though the slide-off back panel is shiny plastic and matches the shiny finish of the Curve's front. This component doesn't feel as solid as it might, but is the only quibble we have in the handset's design. A large speaker above the screen ensures the caller's voice is sufficiently loud and clear, while the rubber casing on the right of the handset conceals volume switches and a hardware button to invoke the camera. The current volume is indicated by an onscreen slider, but we didn't need to turn it up in order to hold a perfectly clear conversation over the roar of the office air-conditioning and general hubbub.

Any missed calls or emails awaiting attention are indicated onscreen. Details of a missed call can be viewed or the message dismissed, but you aren't automatically shown the name or number of the caller. A single click allows you to add a caller's details to your address book however.

NEXT: touch of genius?

INDEX:

  1. Review: Opening remarks (this page)
  2. Touch of genius? Picture this...
  3. Communication station
  4. Web browsing
  5. Our expert verdict
  6. Compare the best pay monthly, pay as you go & sim only deals on the Blackberry Curve 8520

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is RIM's latest consumer smartphone.

BlackBerry Curve 8520: Touch of genius?

We were intrigued to try out the BlackBerry's new touchpad navigation feature, but it's not as radical a change as it sounds. The touchpad is simply a square hardware button that's highly sensitive and that rapidly responds so you can quickly zip about. RIM has given the Curve 8520 a 512MHz processor which adds to the nippy feeling in use. Other physical design changes include dedicated media playback buttons on the top of the handset and a curved Qwerty keypad with raised keys that's reminiscent of a Palm Treo.

RIM says that multimedia functions are assuming an increasing importance for its consumer devices and has boosted the internal memory to 256MB RAM and allowed for microSDHC memory cards of up to 16GB to be accepted. Once they become available, 32GB microSDHC cards will be usable with the device. A microUSB port allows media content to be synchronised using BlackBerry Media Sync. Windows Media Player and Apple iTunes libraries can also be imported and there's an effective on-device search function that makes it fast to find a track, album, video clip or image you want. The ability to rename media items as you save them or on the device, as well as to add captions to media files you send as MMS messages is another boon.

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BlackBerry Curve 8520: Picture this

The Curve 8520's internal camera is a 2Mp version and 5x zoom. The touchpad controls work very well with this - rather than pressing down on a navigation orb, which you did with the camera feature on previous BlackBerry handsets, you now pass your thumb over the touchpad to zoom in and out. Zooming is now noticeably faster and smoother.

Curiously, RIM hasn't taken advantage of this to allow the zoom to be used while recording video. You must choose a zoom setting and stick with it for the duration of the recording. We liked the fact you can pause and resume video recording, though, and we impressed with the effectiveness of the device's internal microphone. Footage came out rather dark, however, and the resolution is no match for that of the best video phones such as the LG Viewty or the Toshiba TG01.

The stills camera, on the other hand, remains a strong feature of the BlackBerry, despite the limitations of the 2Mp resolution. Press the touchpad button to take the shot and you get options to save it, send it as email or MMS or to Send To Facebook, MySpace or Flickr.

RIM says it won't preload these applications on the device but that some mobile operators that offer the Curve 8520 are likely to do so.

NEXT: communication station >>

INDEX:

  1. Review: Opening remarks
  2. Touch of genius? Picture this... (this page)
  3. Communication station
  4. Web browsing
  5. Our expert verdict
  6. Compare the best pay monthly, pay as you go & sim only deals on the Blackberry Curve 8520

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is RIM's latest consumer smartphone.

BlackBerry Curve 8520: Communication station

RIM has primed the Curve 8520 with Wi-Fi, GPRS and Edge as well as WAP and Bluetooth, but as a cheaper model than most smartphones it doesn't come with a 3G module. For many consumers this won't be a deal-breaker - after all, RIM is aiming the Curve 8520 at newcomers to the smartphone market and 3G isn't as prevalent as other mobile connection options.

The strength of the GPRS or Edge connection and a Wi-Fi logo for when there's an active connection are shown at the top right. Over GPRS/Edge in our offices we were able to grab the 264KB WeatherEye application from the BlackBerry App World portal, download and install it in less than 90 seconds. The BlackBerry App World link is of course preinstalled and features prominently on the uncluttered main screen. RIM says it now has more than 2,000 approved apps and these can be easily searched through by type, price, reviews rating and so on. Installed apps and their status are listed.

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Neatly arrayed beside the App World icon are the email, phone lock, media manager, web browser and instant messaging icons. Any of these can be switched for other applications if you prefer, while pressing the BlackBerry hardware button just below the screen brings up a list of installed programs and features.

You can move items, archive them in a folder, hide or delete them all using the BlackBerry button. When you are using an application this button acts as a context-sensitive menu, so whie the camera is in use it will let you switch to video camera mode, adjust camera white balance, image size or add effects.

NEXT: web browsing >>

INDEX:

  1. Review: Opening remarks
  2. Touch of genius? Picture this...
  3. Communication station (this page)
  4. Web browsing
  5. Our expert verdict
  6. Compare the best pay monthly, pay as you go & sim only deals on the Blackberry Curve 8520

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is RIM's latest consumer smartphone.

BlackBerry Curve 8520: Web browsing

An increasingly important feature for many users will be how well the BlackBerry implements web browsing capabilities. A big advantage here is that you can directly enter a web address and go straight to the site in question. This is far more straightforward than on many devices, which attempt to reroute you to their own portals.

Using a Wi-Fi connection we were able to access the full PC Advisor website (as opposed to the optimised mobile site for smartphones which omits unnecessary graphics and presents a straightforward list of articles by date) and, by clicking on the heading for a story of interest, we were able to zoom in to it. You can zoom in incrementally or jump to a super-zoomed version by pressing down firmly on the touchpad. The text 'jaggies' aren't smoothed out as quickly as on an iPhone, though.

On occasion we've found the iPhone isn't that great if you want to select an entry field on a web page. Here, however, we were able to accurately insert our cursor and enter a comment on a news story without delay - and without waiting for our smartphone to realise that a keyboard was needed. The Qwerty keyboard on the Curve 8520 earns its keep here. The iPhone definitely has the edge for web browsing though, with a larger screen and the ability to push, pinch and pull pages.

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Of course, the web isn't just about pages full of text-based information these days. For the ultimate test we browsed to YouTube.com, at which point we were prompted to switch to WAP for media streaming. The parkour (free-running) clip we viewed first wasn't the best quality and, indeed, didn't look fantastic on the phone, though the sound was more than adequate. However, we then tried watching the same Apollo 11 Sea of Tranquility clip we recently used to test the Sony Walkman X Series player and the Toshiba TG01 we were rather more impressed.

The delicate soundtrack sounded good even over a fairly poor web connection and, though we weren't surprised to find it stuttered and needed a few moments to buffer, playback was more than adequate. A 3G feed would obviously pay dividends, though, as viewing the same clip streamed straight from YouTube on an iPhone 3G proved.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

INDEX:

  1. Review: opening remarks
  2. Touch of genius? Picture this...
  3. Communication station
  4. Web browsing (this page)
  5. Our expert verdict
  6. Compare our best pay monthly, pay as you go & sim only deals on the Blackberry Curve 8520

BlackBerry Curve 8520: Specs

  • Quad-band smartphone
  • Wi-Fi
  • GPRS, Edge, Bluetooth connectivity
  • 512MHz processor
  • 256MB RAM
  • 2Mp camera with 5x zoom
  • video camera
  • iTunes and Windows Media Player sync
  • BlackBerry Media Manager
  • BlackBerry Sync
  • BlackBerry App World, BlackBerry Web Browser, BlackBerrry Email, BlackBerry IM
  • BlackBerry Maps
  • organiser, task list, calendar, 3.5mm headphone jack, dedicated media controls, 4.5 hour talk time, 17-day standby
  • 1GB microSD card supplied, accepts microSDHC memory cards up to 16GB (32GB support to come)
  • direct uploads to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace
  • 60x109x14mm
  • weight: 106g
  • Quad-band smartphone
  • Wi-Fi
  • GPRS, Edge, Bluetooth connectivity
  • 512MHz processor
  • 256MB RAM
  • 2Mp camera with 5x zoom
  • video camera
  • iTunes and Windows Media Player sync
  • BlackBerry Media Manager
  • BlackBerry Sync
  • BlackBerry App World, BlackBerry Web Browser, BlackBerrry Email, BlackBerry IM
  • BlackBerry Maps
  • organiser, task list, calendar, 3.5mm headphone jack, dedicated media controls, 4.5 hour talk time, 17-day standby
  • 1GB microSD card supplied, accepts microSDHC memory cards up to 16GB (32GB support to come)
  • direct uploads to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace
  • 60x109x14mm
  • weight: 106g

OUR VERDICT

All in all, the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone is an impressive piece of telephonic gadgetry for the money. We've yet to have a chance to test out its battery life but based on all the other BlackBerry handsets we've tried, expect it to be unfazed bv being in standby for a period of two weeks and then springing into action again. We'd love a better resolution camera and, if we're honest, will be scampering back to the iPhone for its superior web experience. The omission of 3G doesn't feel like a big deal, however. For a £200 phone or £25 on contract, though, this is a superb smartphone that we unstintingly recommend.

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