Sunday, 2 August 2009

BlackBerry Curve 8520 (aka Gemini): Ahead of the Curve

Curve 8520_Top Angle#99C8C1.jpg


Picking up the 8520, you know it's a BlackBerry Curve. Despite the visual changes and addition of the optical track-ball-pad, it maintains that user-friendly feeling and form factor of the Curve 8300s and 8900 in hand. And the whole package works well. I was scared to say goodbye to the trackball, but took to the optical sensor within a few minutes. And though I'm not sure what processor is in there, the OS experience is much improved over the Curve 83xx (if it's the same processor, the additional memory must make a world of difference?!). While I'm more of a fan of high-end specs on gadgets, I could actually see myself leaving my Bold or Curve 8900 or Storm or 9630 at home some days and carrying around the 8520 just to enjoy the experience. It also makes me excited for what we'll see from RIM in terms of their upcoming higher-end devices. If this is the look and feel of their base model device, then I'm thinking we should be wowed by their next generation of high end devices.

Form Factor:

I personally really like the design approach Research in Motion has taken with the BlackBerry Curve 8520's form factor. On the front, they've extended the LCD protector / covering / shiny stuff (don't know what the actual term for it is but I'm sure you know what I mean) both up towards the top of the device and down over the buttons and right to the keyboard. Subbing out the trackball for optical trackpad, this combined gives the 8520 a more modern and sleek look. Though the Send / End / Menu / Back keys are still clickable, they are combined into one piece (the white lines are slightly ridged up so you always find and hit the right command). The rubber coating on the volume buttons and convenience keys also makes them seem more a part of the device itself. Along with the camera flash, another BlackBerry feature notably missing from the 8520 form factor are charging contacts - I guess there won't be a BlackBerry charging pod for this one. Come to think of it, you probably won't skin this device either since it sort of comes pre-skinned with it's rubberized body (no charging pod, no need for skins... lends well to the theory of this being a prepaid play).

All in all, it's a more unified design philosophy which I have a feeling may hold up better to wear and tear than previous BlackBerry smartphone designs.

Optical Trackball:

There are a couple of other smartphones on the market that use a similar optical trackpad for navigation, and I'm happy to say that RIM's implementation of it on the Curve 8520 seems to be pretty smooth. You can watch the video above to see it in action. Just like the standard trackball, you can adjust the sensitivity of it under Options > Screen/Keyboard. With the Audible Roll setting on Mute, I was a little tripped out by the lack of noise while navigating. With no tactile/audible response, you're really forced to look at the display to see just how far you've moved. I turned the audible roll onto Click, and from there felt immediately more at home. For navigating the OS and doing things like web browsing, the optical sensor works well. I guess it is an eight-way pad, as I could scroll diagonally while web browsing. And it does "click" down, like a regular trackball, for making selections. So far, the only place where I've found myself having a bit of difficulty with the optical input is playing BrickBreaker. I think the traditional trackball is probably better for quick, accurate motions. Though practice does make perfect. I've heard sweaty fingers and being in bright, bright light can cause issue with this kind of an optical input, but I haven't experienced any issues yet. All in all, so far it's a thumbs up from me. And with no moving parts, it should prove more durable than the traditional trackball.


Media Buttons:

New to the Curve 8520 are dedicated media player buttons, located at the top of the device. While there's no dedicated lock key on the 8520, holding down the Play / Pause button for two seconds does put the device into standby mode.



The Curve 8520 features a 320 by 240 resolution display. I left all my older BlackBerry devices at home when I came out to Orlando for WES, so unfortunately while writing this don't have an older device to compare to (will follow up next week with direct comparisons). I can say that while the display shows a decent picture and video, it is definitely a step down if you've ever used the Bold, 8900, Storm or 9630. And where you really lose out is in web browsing. 320 pixels just isn't enough these days for those of us who like to browse the web on our smartphones.

Other Stuff:

Be sure to click the images above to zoom in on the photos (I've left some descriptions beneath) and get a better look. You'll see the keyboard is much like the 8900's (which is kind of like the 8700's) but with a slightly different bottom row. There are actually two notification lights. The battery door doesn't feature a latch, but is sort of gently pried off. It is easy insert and remove microSD cards into the media card slot (also underneath the battery door) and you don't need to remove the battery to access it.



Source: Smokie's Writting Pad

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