The BlackBerry Curve 8520 shows that the future of the BlackBerry is here... kind of.
By far the stand-out feature of the Curve 8520 is its new optical trackpad, which replaces the trackball for navigation -- and it rocks.
In a confusing move though, the 8520 is the third Curve available on T-Mobile, in addition to the original and the 8900, which was released early this year.
The 8250 has several elements that depart from traditional BlackBerrys, beyond just the trackpad. Features such as dedicated media keys across the top of the device, a smaller LED indicator, updated look for the call and end-call keys, and new ‘hidden' convenience keys on the side of the phone all work together to position the 8250 to expand its reach to younger market segments that other BlackBerrys have failed to capture.
Other areas such as the screen and lack of 3G (though it does have Wi-Fi) indicate that RIM and T-Mobile weren't willing to pull out all the stops for this one.
BUILD & DESIGN
The Curve 8250 sports an optical trackpad rather than the usual trackball for navigation. Immediately after unboxing the phone, I felt the trackpad was an improvement over the ball, and haven't looked back since.
The pad employs all the same gestures as the ball, and it feels similar to using a trackpad on your laptop. You can click the pad to select an option the same way you would with the trackball. The pad does not light up (it's solid, and has no backlight).
An improvement I would like to see in future generations is the ability to continue scrolling by resting my finger on an edge of the pad. For me, this would be the ultimate in accuracy, ease of use, and functionality. There is little to criticize about the trackpad other than having to get used to its speed -- otherwise this is a job well done, RIM.
Redesigned Side Keys & Other Styling
In addition to the trackpad, another departure from other BlackBerrys is the design of the convenience keys on the side. There is a rubber strip that wraps around the perimeter of the entire device, encompassing the keys on the sides. This makes the side keys of the 8250 look as if they're bulging out beneath the rubber (see here).
This is a notable departure from the chrome trim found on other newer BlackBerrys, but it seems to work for the device. The ‘bulging' keys work with the trackpad and the lack of chrome trim to somehow make the 8250 seem less delicate and more rugged than other BlackBerrys.
Across the top of the device there are three media keys: Next, Previous, and Play/Pause/Mute. These work in conjunction with the music player to help you navigate through music, a welcome addition that clearly plays to the younger market. This version of the Curve also features an expandable microSD slot with a 1 GB card preloaded.
The last key-related item to note about the 8520 is that the four keys across the bottom of the screen: Talk, Options, Return, and End/Power have received a modest facelift, making them look a little hipper. The keys are all part of the same top level that the screen is, and don't look as if they are individual keys though they act like it.
The back of the phone sports some of the same rubber band that surrounds the perimeter of the phone, with a black plastic piece across the bulk of the back. This plastic is curved a little bit, which beckons the user to spin the phone in a circle. Even after just a week of use, I'm already beginning to see the irreparable marks from all my spinning.
Screen and LED Indicator
RIM has been producing some convincing screens lately, but the 8520 doesn't have one of them. Though it is an upgrade from the original Curve, it doesn't hold a candle to competitors such as the BlackBerry Curve 8900, Tour, or Bold.
Though it functions fine, the screen doesn't offer a crisp picture, high resolution, or adequate contrast that so many of its contemporaries offer. Physically the screen is about the same size as previous Curves, and is on par with that of the Tour.
One thing that's annoyed me in the past about BlackBerrys is driving at night with Bluetooth enabled on my device. This is because I would get a blue LED indication flashing every few seconds bright enough to be a distraction. This type of problem is solved with the 8520 via a much smaller LED indicator. It is about the size of the tip of a pencil.
I suppose I should be careful for what I wish for, because the indicator does not seem nearly as bright as I'd like it. It could be that it is the same brightness in a smaller area, or it could be less bright overall -- the point is that it isn't adequate for spotting an unread message from across the room. This point might be moot however, because most smartphone users obsessively check their devices anyway.
The Curve 8250 maintains the keyboard found on the original Curve. If you thought you could escape the plastic spaced-out keys and trade up to a keyboard that's easier to type on (such as the 8900 or the Tour), you're out of luck friends.
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