As that creepy guy said at the beginning of The Twilight Zone: there's a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to humanity. We like to call it 'The BlackBerry Zone'. In this parallel world of mobile phones, everything works slightly differently -- all screens are landscape displays, for example. RIM's BlackBerry Curve 8520 provides an inexpensive entry into this alternate phone reality, and we think you might just like it. You'll be burning up the social networks thanks to its Qwerty keyboard and solid apps, and a decent collection of media options means it's fun time, baby.
You can grab the 8520 from free on a £25-per-month
contract. It's also available for about £240 SIM-free.
Cheap and cheerful
The BlackBerry family is rowing a lonely boat from the island of suit-wearing business types to the sweet shores of everyday consumers, and it's making good headway. The 8520 should give its kin a boost, thanks to an entry-level price and a solid range of fun features that will tempt even the most diehard suit-hater.
The 8520 feels like a stripped-down version of the BlackBerry Curve 8900, forgoing the jazzy chrome trim for a rubbery edge. You can feel it's a less expensive phone, but it still feels solid and sturdy, and the rubber edge should help those with sweaty fingers hang on to the device.
To highlight the 8520's fun-loving attitude, the phone comes in a few different colours. We had the purple version. We recommend that -- unless you're a teenager or trying to thwart thieves -- you get the black version. We really can't stress this enough. The black version looks quite appealing. The purple model looks like baby puke.
Touch my trackpad
The biggest difference between the 8520 and other devices on the BlackBerry bush is its trackpad, which replaces the trackball you may know and love. The trackpad is a flat surface that responds to your touch like a mousepad on a laptop, but it's insanely sensitivity to make up for its tiny size.
The trackpad isn't quite as accurate as the trackball, but it's very good, and it makes the phone easier to pop into a pocket, since it doesn't stick out from the body and get gunged up with dirt and crud. It's no wonder that RIM says the trackpad will be a feature on most new BlackBerry models, and we're happy to see this innovation making its debut on a cheaper phone.
Rocking the Qwerty
The 8520's real strength lies in its Qwerty keyboard and messaging features, which make it a great phone for social networkers. You can set up as many as ten email accounts, and, because the phone supports 'push' email, you'll get messages as they arrive, rather than waiting for your inbox to update itself.
We like the solidly built applications for sites like Twitter and Facebook, as well as the instant-messaging app. They combine with a full Qwerty keyboard to make a social butterfly's fantasy phone, since long messages can be easily and accurately typed. Dialling isn't as straightforward as on other phones, however, since the number keys are mixed in with the letters. On our purple model, they were hard to read.
The lack of 3G support put the brakes on our surfing while we were out and about, but it's still possible -- especially for data-light tasks like sending tweets. Happily, the phone does have Wi-Fi connectivity, which speeds things up when you're on a wireless network.
Straight-up surfing the Web in the browser is okay. It's better than on a typical phone with a small screen and no trackpad, but worse than on a Webmeister like the iPhone. Web pages look clear and accurate, but we hated having to zoom in to click on smaller links. For some pages, that added a couple of clicks where none were necessary.