As an entry-level device, the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 isn't quite as full featured as the BlackBerry Curve 8900 or the T-Mobile Dash 3G. It lacks 3G support and GPS but still delivers on the core functionalities. We'll start with the most basic and important of them all: the phone capabilities.
The Curve 8520 offers quad-band world roaming, a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and text and multimedia messaging. Bluetooth 2.0 is also onboard so you can pair the handset with a mono and stereo Bluetooth wireless headsets or hands-free kits for hassle-free communication on the go. Other supported Bluetooth profiles include dial-up networking, serial port, audio source, and audio/video remote.
The address book is limited only by the available memory (the SIM card holds an additional 250 contacts) with room in each entry for multiple phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home addresses, job title, and more. Of course, you can assign each contact a photo, a group ID, or a custom ringtone for caller ID purposes as well. For those you contact frequently, you might consider adding them to your T-Mobile's MyFaves list, which gives you unlimited calls to five contacts, regardless of carrier. Individual plans for MyFaves start at $39.99 a month and there are family plans as well.
In addition to cellular calls, you can make and receive unlimited calls over a wireless network with the Curve's integrated Wi-Fi and T-Mobile's Unlimited HotSpot Calling plan. The minutes aren't deducted from your cellular plan, but there's a catch in that you have to sign up for a HotSpot Calling plan, which starts at $9.99 per month. The Wi-Fi also comes in handy for cruising the Web, since the smartphone only supports T-Mobile's EDGE network.
Of course, another main source of communication is through e-mail. The Curve 8520 can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server, with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise, to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. With BlackBerry Internet Service, you can also access up to 10 personal/business POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts. The smartphone also comes preloaded with several instant-messaging clients, including Yahoo, AIM, Windows Live, Google Talk, and ICQ.
Got attachments? No problem. There's an attachment viewer for opening Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDF, JPEG, GIF, and more. In addition with BlackBerry OS v.188.8.131.529, the DataViz's Documents to Go Suite is included on the device but it's only the Standard Edition so if you want the ability to create new documents, you will have to upgrade to the Premium Edition. Other personal information management tools include a calendar, a task list, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, and a calculator. BlackBerry's Desktop Software (included on the package CD) can help you sync your data and media files from your PC to your BlackBerry; meanwhile Mac users have been left to get third-party apps like PocketMac for BlackBerry to do the same. However, RIM has announced that it will finally release BlackBerry for Mac desktop software this September, so relief is on the way.
There isn't much else in the way of extras. However, BlackBerry App World is preloaded so you can easily download social networking apps, such as Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, as well as all sorts of other apps, games, and utilities from the catalog. However, keep in mind that you can only save apps to the phone's main memory, which isn't much at 256MB, and not to the microSD card.
As such, you'll probably want to save all your multimedia files to the storage card. The Curve 8520's media player supports MP3, WMA9/WMA9 Pro/WMA10, AAC-LC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI music files, and MPEG4, WMV2, H.263, and H.264 video clips. The photo viewer also supports BMP, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and WBMP files. For your own photos, the smartphone offers a 2-megapixel camera with video recording capabilities and 5x digital zoom. Picture quality was pretty good. Images were clear and colors, while not the most vibrant, didn't have a weird orange or grayish tone like some other camera phones.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; GPRS/EDGE) RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 in San Francisco using T-Mobile service and call quality was quite good. We didn't notice any type of voice distortion or background noise during calls and had no problem using an airline's voice automated system. Friends also had good things to say about the call quality, and they were even more impressed when we turned on the speakerphone; they didn't notice a difference in sound. Unfortunately, we did notice a change, as speakerphone calls sounded a bit distant and hollow. We paired the smartphone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones.
The Curve 8520 is quite a snappy device, and we didn't encounter any problems during our review period. Though the smartphone only supports EDGE speeds, the Web browsing experience wasn't too painful (the Curve's HTML Web browser is another story and could use some work in the navigation department). CNET's full site loaded in 55 seconds while CNN's mobile site loaded in 7 seconds and ESPN Mobile came up in 17 seconds. Getting apps over the network required a little more patience as the 1.5MB Slacker Radio app took 3 minutes and 30 seconds to download.
The RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 features an 1150mAh lithium-ion battery with a rated talk time 4.5 hours and up to 17 days of standby time. The Curve beat the rated talk time in our battery drain tests, with a total of 8 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Curve 8520 has a digital SAR rating of 1.22 watts per kilogram.