I've had a little over a week to play with my new BlackBerry Curve 8520 and I have some mixed emotions at this point. There are some great features, and I think overall it is a great "intro to BlackBerry" device. I'm not going to get into a full blown review this time around, but rather just try and cover some quick points that may help make it easier to decide if the Curve 8520 is the right device for you.
Keep in mind throughout that I'm not knocking the 8520 by any means, just conveying what goes through my mind as I use the device. Just holding it I instantly flash back to college and remember the old LG VX6000 I carried around with me. I think about how limited the capabilities were, and truly wish I had something like the 8520 to make my life easier. The feel and form of the device jumps me back to being a BlackBerry newbie. I love the shape and the feel. For some reason the full black design and lack of a shiny bezel makes it feel like a "non power-user" device. It feels out of the business class and more suited for students and new users. It doesn't feel cheap, yet it feels fun, light and small. I like the feeling of carrying it around and having it fit nicely in my hand and pocket and just be there when I need it.
The solid logo-embossed battery door is a nice touch, but I think that if RIM has chosen more of a rubberized door (like the Seidio rubberized battery door I had on my 8330) the flow into the design would have been much better. I like the fact that there are no moving parts on the door (no latch) but it still fits snug and isn't loose at all (like I found to be the case on my Tour as well as some doors on my 8330). Under the hood the SIM card fits nicely under the battery, and the media card slot is well placed off to the side. You don't have to remove the battery to get at it as on some devices, so that is definitely helpful.
The trackpad is obviously the biggest new feature of the device. I wasn't sure how I felt at first, but it has grown on me quite a bit in the past week. Once I adjusted to the feel (or lack there of) of the trackpad it wasn't as bad as I first made it out to be. I do miss having the "roll" of the trackball, but I can see the longevity and ease of the trackpad and understand exactly why it was implemented. The face of the device is smooth and just looks slick. The menu buttons and the trackpad all sit together with the screen and give the device that special something. I'm still a fan of the Curve keyboard as well. The buttons aren't "popped" as much as on my 8330, but they are spaced well and just the right height to get the job done. I like the covered side buttons too. On other devices the convenience and/or volume keys were tough to find at times due to their different heights and sizes, but I think on the 8520 they are the perfect feel and are very well placed. The fact that they are covered and sit right in with the sides of the device just feels good. The addition of the top-side media buttons is a huge bonus as well for those that typically listen to music or watch movies on their device. They make it a lot easier to navigate and are super convenient. The USB charging port is well placed, and the device can still be used when plugged in. I'm still out on whether I care for the circular LED as opposed to the standard LED. I think my eyes want to see the long "bar" LED and it annoys me a bit to just see a little "dot".
When it comes to the screen I have some mixed feelings. I think mostly I'm a bit jaded now that I have been using the Tour and previously the Storm, so taking a step from the 480x360 resolution back to the 320x240 just doesn't feel right. This will only be an issue for those that have used BlackBerry before and had a higher resolution device. For new users or 320x240 converts, there should be no such feelings. The LCD is overall clean and clear and fits well with the look of the device. The stock theme looks smooth, but some newer 3rd party app notifications may get cut short in the banner (ie my SocialScope notification).
I'm impressed with the features in the device (not that there is much new to past users). The inclusion of the IM and social networking applications adds a lot to make this an "all in one" device. Everything is there for you, so if you are a student or first timer that has picked up the device, you really don't need to venture too far to get everything you need. One of the best features is the Wifi/UMA capability. This is a first for me (coming from only CDMA devices) and I can see what the hype is all about. Truly a great feature, especially for students or users on a limited budget since Wifi is readily available in so many places. College campuses are nearly all fully outfitted with Wifi, so you would really never be in need of voice minutes. UMA allows you to make calls without using your minutes, no matter if you are in your house, a coffee shop or roaming in an airport across the country. UMA automatically switches from Wifi service to cellular service, so when you leave the "hotspot" your call will be switched to your normal cell service so it can continue. For more on UMA, check out Craig's article that explains it in depth. The Wifi setup was straight-forward, and you can connect to any open network with a few clicks (secured networks take a bit longer since you have to enter an encryption key). Powering on the device and having it jump right on my home Wifi network is a good feeling. I started a few calls in my house on Wifi and then ventured out, and most times the 8520 swapped services fairly well, but there were a few drops from the loss of Wifi.
Overall I'm impressed with the Curve 8520. At this point I can't say I would use it daily due to my needs (and wants), but as I said previously I only wish it were around a few years back when I could have put it to the test. For me the deal breaker is jumping back to the lower resolution screen. The main thing to keep in mind is that the 8520 isn't necessarily an "upgrade" for current users, but designed as an entry level device for new users or those on a budget. It has nearly all the features of full powered devices like the Curve 8900, Bold and Tour, only with some slimmed-down specs. As Kevin put it a while back, the 8520 is like the BMW 3 Series. Its not the top of the line model or an upgrade for some drivers, but the need for an entry level option is always there.
Curve 8520 Highlights