What's hot: Good battery life, durable, great trackpad.
What's not: Lesser features than the BlackBerry 8900 for not much less money.
Editor's note: Interested in this Curve but use Verizon or Sprint? Read our BlackBerry Curve 8530 review.
Reviewed August 8, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
The BlackBerry Curve 8520 aims to go where no 'Berry has gone before, a land with no trackball. RIM's trackball is beloved and like the BlackBerry line, addictive. It's responsive, accurate and more efficient than the much more common d-pad. So why axe it? The trackball does pick up dirt which can affect performance (and require an alcohol rub-down to get working), gets dingy and involves several moving parts (moving parts are more likely to break down). The Curve 8520 instead has a small optical trackpad in place of the trackball and miraculously it works nearly exactly like the trackball. And it moves down and clicks for the center-press action-- nice. No small engineering achievement on RIM's part, the trackpad is great. For those of you who've used the optical pads on Samsung phones such as the Omnia and some imports, this isn't the same animal: it's much more precise and controllable.
The Curve 8520's other new hardware feature is the music playback control cluster that lines the phone's top edge. All the Berry's edges are rubberized, giving it a rugged feel and the top music controls for track forward, track back and play/pause are under rubber. The controls are easy to use, as are the other under-rubber buttons for volume, camera and voice command.
The BlackBerry Curve 8520 replaces the Curve 8320 on T-Mobile and it's smaller and sleeker looking. The smartphone is available in black and "frost" which is a very dull battleship gray. In black it looks quite good, in frost it looks dull and cheap to us. The Curve 8520 joins the excellent BlackBerry Curve 8900 in T-Mobile's lineup, and that's the 8520's biggest problem. Currently priced at only $20 less, the 8520 has weaker specs in several key areas: lower display resolution, a lower resolution camera and no GPS. If and when T-Mobile drops the 8520's price relative to the 8900, it will make much more sense in their lineup.
The BlackBerry Tour (Sprint) and the BlackBerry Curve 8520.
The 8520 is a quad band GSM world phone with EDGE for data. It has WiFi 802.11b/g with support for UMA calling over WiFi and T-Mobile's @Home service. As with most UMA phones on T-Mobile, it works very well and call hand-offs are seamless. The phone has a 2.46" QVGA 320 x 240 pixel display, a 2 megapixel fixed-focus camera, Bluetooth 2.0 +EDR and an SDHC microSD card slot.
The Curve runs BlackBerry OS 4.6.1 on a 512MHz processor with 256 megs of flash memory, of which 125 megs are free to store documents and applications. It's responsive and stable.
Looking at the hardware
The BlackBerry 8520 has a few changes in the control cluster: rather than raised buttons for call send/end, menu and back, there are no buttons but rather mechanical switches under the smooth surface. Two raised ridges make it easier to find the "buttons" which would otherwise be lost to the blind finger. The switches do click nicely so you know you've hit the button. The look is modern and trendy, and we've seen the same thing on several recent Nokia S60 N series smartphones.
The QWERTY keys are raised and have a good tactile click. As BlackBerry phones get smaller, so do the keys but we found the Curve 8520's manageable and easier to type on than the Curve 8900's. The key surfaces aren't slippery and they're flat rather than the "wave" style. The keyboard's keys are backlit in white and the control cluster is also backlit in white except the call send and end buttons which are green and red, as you'd expect.
As mentioned, the sides and top and bottom caps are rubberized. A little inspiration from Nextel? But unlike the ruggedized and rubberized Nextel phones of old, the BlackBerry 8520 doesn't look like it was designed to live on a construction site-- it's subtle. Obviously the rubber makes the phone easier to hold onto, and it makes the phone look less monotonous. The front face and rear battery door are shiny plastic. There's no real or faux metal back door here, no Bold leather treatment and the battery door doesn't even get a release latch-- you pry at it to get it off. And yes, those shiny parts latch onto fingerprint grime like crazy, making the 'Berry look hazy.
The microSD card slot is under the battery door, but you need not remove the battery to access the card.
The music playback controls on the top edge.
(no rebate required)
Curve 8520, black
Curve 8520, Frost
Curve, black, AT&T
Here's our 7.5 minute video review of the BlackBerry Curve 8520:
Phone, email and Internet
The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is a GSM quad band world phone with EDGE. It will work anywhere GSM service is available. You can make calls over the GSM network or over WiFi if you subscribe to T-Mobile @Home service. The phone hands off calls to and from WiFi seamlessly and automatically uses UMA and the WiFi network if in range of a known and saved hotspot/router. Call quality is good and the volume is good as well. Both incoming and outgoing voice are clear, though call recipients could tell we were on a cell phone (it can't compete with the BlackBerry Bold's simply awesome call quality, but it ain't bad either). Reception is good, and a bit better than the 8900 we reviewed, and the speakerphone is very loud and clear. The 8520 supports T-Mobile's myFaves service and has a theme that puts MyFaves on the standby screen.
BlackBerry email on the other hand, is still the best game in town. If you want push email, support for multiple accounts and that sense that you'll never, ever, ever be out of touch for a moment, the Crackberry is for you. There's also the usual inter-BlackBerry Messenger, SMS, MMS and a host of IM services: AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Yahoo and Windows Live. T-Mobile's BlackBerry unlimited data plan (BIS) currently costs $25/month and is required with a new contract. Their unlimited Enterprise data plan (BES) is $30/month and there are versions with text message bundles too.
Display and Multimedia
The Curve's 2.46" QVGA display is clear and sharp, though not quite as bright and vivid as the Curve 8900 and Bold's display. It is easier on the eyes compared to the 8900, whose high resolution on a small screen makes for tiny text. The Curve 8520's speaker is very loud and clear, and we had no trouble hearing the soundtracks that accompanied video. The music player obviously works best with a stereo headset (one is included) or A2DP Bluetooth stereo headphones/headsets. The speaker sounds good but no phone's speaker can replace good audio out. The new hardware audio controls work well and certainly are handy, but the media player remains unchanged. RIM's media player is attractive and capable though, and it handles video, music, photos, ringtones and voice notes as well as podcasts. The phone had no trouble playing locally stored MPEG4 videos encoded at QVGA resolution, 650kbps.
The 2 megapixel camera, alas, takes mediocre photos. It has no flash and a fixed focus lens, and indoor noise is particularly notable. Outdoor shots lack good dynamic range and colors are somewhat muted. If photography is your thing, consider the BlackBerry Curve 8900 with its 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera.
The BlackBerry 8520 has an 1150 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery that's user replaceable. Since the 8520 lacks a GPS and 3G, two battery-killers, battery life is good. The phone easily lasted us 3 days on a charge with moderate use. UMA calling and WiFi are well optimized and the phone lasted 1.5 days with WiFi on and UMA calling active-- better than the first crop of UMA BlackBerry smartphones on T-Mobile.
The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is a solid phone and we found little to dislike. Really, it's hard to imagine a "poor" BlackBerry-- RIM's products are always solidly functional. It looks good in black (you know what we think of the "frost" color), and is sturdy and stable. In fact, it's more stable than the Curve 8900 was at release. The slim feature set might appeal to budget-minded BlackBerry buyers, but the problem is that the more full-featured and higher spec BlackBerry Curve 8900 is currently only $20 more on contract. At that differential, we have to recommend the Curve 8900 over the 8520. But if the prices start to diverge and the 8520 drops to $50 less, then we would recommend it to budget buyers who don't need a GPS or better camera. And if you want to buy a new 'Berry without a contract extension, the retail (no contract) price of the Curve 8520 is $150 less, which makes much more sense.
Price: $129 with a 2 year contract, $299 retail with no contract
Display:65K color transmissive
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.46". Resolution:
320 x 240 pixels.
Battery:1150 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. Claimed talk time: 4.5 hours on GSM. Claimed standby: 17 days.
Performance:512MHz processor. 256 megs flash memory with 125 megs available to store programs and data.
Size:2.4 x 4.3 x 0.5 inches. Weight: 3.8 ounces.
Phone:GSM quad band with EDGE 850/900/1800/1900MHz. Supports UMA calling- T-Mobile @home service.
Camera:2.0 megapixel with fixed focus lens (no flash or self-portrait mirror). Can take still photos up to 1600 x 1200 resolution and video up to QVGA 320 x 240.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder, music and video player included. Has hardware playback controls on the top edge.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR. Bluetooth profiles: hands-free, headset, serial port, DUN (dial-up networking), A2DP stereo with AVRC, SIM access and phone book access.
Software:BlackBerry OS 4.6.1. BlackBerry push email client. BlackBerry Messaging, SMS and MMS. BlackBerry Maps (free service), Documents to Go standard edition (view and edit but not create MS Office documents), MyFaves, web browser, media player for MP3 and video playback. PIM apps include address book, calendar, tasks and memo. Also Alarm, clock, voice notes, calculator, Password Keeper. Games: BrickBreaker, Texas Hold 'Em Sudoku, Klondike and Word Mole. BlackBerry Desktop software for PC included for syncing and software installation (PocketMac for BlackBerry Mac software can be downloaded for free from RIM's site).
SDHC microSD card slot.
In the box: Phone, battery, charger, USB cable, stereo earbud headset, software CD and printed material.