BlackBerry smartphone thumbnail pic The BlackBerry Curve 8520 goes onsale in the UK today, with most UK carriers expected to offer it.

An entry-level device meant for new smartphone users, the Curve 8520 nonetheless has more "new" BlackBerry features and hardware tweaks than any other device Research In Motion has released in a year.

RIM tends to include innovations introduced in one device in subsequent models, so the nine new features spotted in the Curve 8520 are likely to make their way to future BlackBerry models.

BlackBerry Curve 8520 review

1. BlackBerry trackpad

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is the first RIM smartphone to feature an optical 'trackpad'. This replaces the traditional BlackBerry trackball found on the majority of RIM's devices since the Pearl 8100 came out in 2006.

It doesn't take long at all to get used to the new trackpad. In fact, I really like it. I'm unsure how durable it will prove to be, but RIM's intention in debuting the trackpad is to avoid many of the performance issues associated with the track ball. Dirty, stuck or impeded track balls are common, just ask any BlackBerry power user. So I'm hoping the trackpad will stand up to the test of time.

If you're curious why RIM chose to ship the new trackpad on its cheapest BlackBerry to date, check out the official explanation and my own personal take.

2. BlackBerry Curve 8520 dedicated media keys

In another first, the BlackBerry Curve 8520 sports dedicated media keys: one button to Play/Pause music files or video clips, and two buttons for Track Forward/Previous Track.

The media keys are easily accessible atop the device. These seem to work well. What's more, depressing the Play/Pause button for more than two seconds puts the device into standby mode.

3. Display, navigation/call buttons all one surface

Unlike any other BlackBerry model, the Curve 8520 has navigation and calling keys that are literally part of the display. The Curve's 320x240 display extends downward and becomes the Call Send and End keys, as well as the BlackBerry Menu and Escape buttons; they're all one single piece of plastic. The new BlackBerry trackpad sits directly below the display area, set in between the Send/Menu keys and Escape/End Call buttons.

4. Curve 8520 A/* key gets lock icon

BlackBerry devices feature a keyboard shortcut that lets you lock the keyboard via the A/* button. Hold the A/* key for a couple of seconds and your smartphone locks up. The BlackBerry Curve 8520's no different, but it is the first BlackBerry to feature a lock icon on the A/* key.

5. Integrated volume/convenience keys

Like many of its BlackBerry-brethren, the new Curve has two customisable 'convenience keys' that you can program to initiate a wide variety of BlackBerry actions. It also has volume up/down keys that are similar to the current crop of BlackBerry smartphones.

The Curve 8520 has 'integrated' volume/convenience keys - buttons that are literally part of the device itself and not separate components. The Curve 8520's side buttons are set into the rubbery hard plastic that surrounds the device.

It's highly likely that this innovation will feature in future models too: leaked images of unannounced devices such as the BlackBerry 'Storm 2' and 'Onyx' suggest they will follow in the Curve 8520's footsteps and feature integrated volume/convenience keys of their own.

6. BlackBerry Curve 8520's itty-bitty LED

One of the BlackBerry's most popular features is its Light Emitting Diode (LED) indicator, which can be used for a variety of purposes, including as a wireless coverage indicator, new message alert, Bluetooth connectivity signal and low-battery alert.

The Curve 8520 has the traditional BlackBerry LED, but it's significantly smaller and less bright than any other BlackBerry's LED indicator, at least that I've seen. It's also round, rather than the oval shape of the LEDs on most BlackBerry handsets.

7. The 8520 gets 'Curve' logo

The seven dot BlackBerry logo adorns every smartphone RIM has launched in the past few years; the Curve 8520 is the first BlackBerry device that features a model-line logo. The word Curve set into the hard plastic of the device's upper-rear panel.

RIM has a handful of BlackBerry model lines including Pearl, Curve, Storm and Bold. And if the Curve 8520's any sign of things to come, we just might see RIM start to promote those brands in new and different ways, including the addition of model-line names and logos on new devices.

8. No latch on BlackBerry Curve 8520 battery door

RIM's new Curve also has a unique (actually flimsy and cheap) battery door with no latch to keep it in place.
Instead, small pieces of plastic on the door's underside snap into place. You remove the door by prying it up from its bottom, where there's a slightly uplifted section.

Thee Curve 8520's battery door stays sturdily in place and doesn't shift at all while in use (unlike that on the Curve 8900). But it's a real pain to remove, especially if you're a fingernail-nibbler.

9. Curve 8520's 2.0Mp camera has no flash

Finally, the Curve 8520 is the only BlackBerry that RIM has ever released with a digital camera but no flash. This isn't a good thing at all.

RIM's high-end BlackBerry Bold also has a 2Mp shooter, but it has a flash. The Bold's camera isn't great and without its flash it would be near useless.

RIM says it skipped the camera flash on the Curve 8520 to keep down cost - it's intention was to create a truly affordable, mass-market smartphone, hence the £25 on contract or £199 pay-as-you-go pricing - but I'm fairly certain the lack of a camera flash will become a pain-point for many Curve 8520 owners.

See also: BlackBerry Curve 8520 review

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