If the Aug. 5 release of the BlackBerry Curve 8520 smartphone is any indication, Research In Motion has decided to devote more of its energies to the consumer market: the review device that eWEEK has looked at puts as much emphasis on music, videos and games as it does business-related tasks. Nonetheless, the smartphone's features allow it to operate effectively in both worlds.
Size and Shape:
The first thing you notice about the smartphone is its form-factor, which is certainly very slim and light. RIM decided to avoid emulating the Apple iPhone or the Palm Pre, both of which utilize touch-screens, in favor of its hard QWERTY keyboard. The spokesperson who gave me the Curve 8520 also told me that the keyboard had been engineered to fit the device's 109 x 60 x 13.90 dimensions; nonetheless, the keys felt "right-sized," and while typing e-mails or phone numbers I had relatively few incidents of hitting either the wrong keys or two keys at once.
The Curve 8520 feels a touch lighter than both the Palm Pre and the iPhone. In place of a touch-screen or track-ball, navigation comes via a small and intuitive "trackpad" located just beneath the screen.
The smartphone's status as a more consumer-oriented device becomes clear when you examine the buttons that line the outer rim of the device. Along the top, RIM has placed a "Play/Pause/Mute" key, along with a "Previous" and a "Next" key, for shuffling through media files. The volume keys, meanwhile, sit along the right side of the device, right where your thumb goes (if holding the phone in your right hand). This setup of "Dedicated Media Keys" is a little awkward at first; depending on how you're holding the device, your hand sometimes blocks the screen as you attempt to adjust the controls along the top.
The "Convenience" keys on the left and right sides of the device open the voice-dialing and camera functions, respectively, and these felt somewhat more natural.
With all the nifty functions present in the BlackBerry, it's sometimes easy to forget that the fundamental purpose of the smartphone is to actually make calls. Although I'll need a few more days of testing to fully vet the quality, my initial calls came through crystal-clear and never dropped.
As of this writing, my Curve 8520 has been on for 24 hours, with maybe 2.5 hours of constant use (e-mail, Web browsing, games) and 20 minutes of talk, and the battery indicator is down one bar. RIM's specs have the lithium-cell battery offering 4.5 hours of talk and 17 days of standby time on a full charge.
The phone's start screen offers Messages, Contacts, Calendar, Browser, Phone and MyFaves, the last of which is a T-Mobile feature that allows unlimited nationwide calling to the user's five favorite people. By touching the Menu key to the left of the trackpad, I could access a fuller menu of features, including Media, Downloads and Instant Messaging. Despite BlackBerry pushing this as a consumer smartphone, business widgets did not receive the short shrift; for example, I could access Word To Go, which allows the user access to editing .docs, in two clicks from the menu screen.
Instant Messaging and other functions worked fine, but these are all pretty much standard-issue for smartphones at this juncture. The Curve 8520 features a media player, for watching videos and listening to music; this lacked the bells and whistles of Apple's iTunes player, but from a pure-functionality standpoint it worked fine, with clear audio and crisp video. The BlackBerry Media Sync allows you to import music files from either iTunes or Windows Media Player.
The Curve 8520 features Wi-Fi that's 802.11b/g enabled, as well as a connection through T-Mobile's mobile network (the phone is a quad-band world phone, meaning it offers support for EDGE/GPRS/GSM 850/900/1,800/1,900MHz networks). Browser speed was satisfactory, with news sites such as CNN.com, and graphics-intensive social-networking sites such as Facebook, loading quickly.
The Curve 8520 camera is 2 megapixels, which is relatively standard for smartphones. This proved fine for snapshots, and produced some good photos in a variety of different lighting conditions. The user can zoom in and out via the trackpad. After taking the shot, the user has the option of renaming/saving, sending or trashing the image. It gets the job done, in other words, but won't produce any visual masterpieces.
Despite RIM's new focus on the consumer market with this edition of the BlackBerry, SMB and enterprise users should have no fear that they've been abandoned. The Curve 8520 supports the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, as well as up to 10 e-mail accounts. It offers Bluetooth support, and the interface doesn't shun business functions in favor of a media player; users also have access to BlackBerry AppWorld, for the downloading of customized business-related applications (not to mention games).
That being said, the emphasis on dedicated media keys, media player, mobile streaming for videos and music, and social networking (through Facebook for BlackBerry smartphones, Flickr Photo Uploader for BlackBerry smartphones, and MySpace for BlackBerry smartphones) may put off some procurement managers who want the smartphones in their enterprise or SMB (small and midsize businesses) to be all-business-all-the-time.
Editor's Note: A correction was made to the description of support for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.