Thumbs up:
Blackberry Internet Services
Blackberry Messenger
Built in Social Media Apps
Media Functions
QWERTY Keyboard

Thumbs Down:
Build Quality
Simplicity of the OS
Lack of built in themes

The Blackberry Curve was the best-selling Blackberry of all time, and now with the release of the 8520 Curve Blackberry is trying to repeat this success. The new 8520 Curve is a full featured media centric phone, at the lowest price for a Blackberry device yet. Its light smooth and the same size as the older Curve, we give a solid run through and see what it’s made of, apart from plastic.

The Curve is a well sized cellphone, not too big or too small. It fits easily in the pocket but won’t get lost in your handbag. While it is size is cool, the actual build quality itself is pretty average. The phone made entirely out of plastic, the battery cover feels a bit lightweight and while it does have some nice grippy plastic on the sides, this doesn’t improve the aesthetic feel. It only makes it harder to get out of your pocket. Overall a nice silicon cover will help make the 8520 feel complete. For the price, it is not bad at all, and looks like it will last well. True to the Blackberry tradition the keyboard is easy to use and has a good feel, and this makes fast typing easy. The 8520 has a good screen, not as high a resolution as the 9000 Bold or the 8900 Javelin. It is great though, for pictures and other media.

User interface:
The 8520 is classic Blackberry, the user interface is generally fast intuitive and easy to use, helped along by the full QWERTY keyboard. Shortcuts using the keyboard make everyday tasks a breeze, for example holding down anyone of the keys take you directly to a assigned shortcut, like voicemail or a contact, that’s right up to 26 direct contact shortcuts.

What really makes the Blackberry special is the whole BIS (Blackberry Internet Services) thing. All data sent to and from the Blackberry is covered for a fixed fee of R60 per month. Blackberry Messenger, email, Facebook, Live Messenger, Browsing the web etc are all covered in the R60 per month. BIS also allows for push email, as soon as an email arrives on the email server, it appears on the Blackberry. Once you get into the groove of it, BIS is very useful.

The desktop software application syncs you phone and all media with your phone, including your iTunes playlists, both Mac and PC versions are available. This is impressive as there are a surprising amount of smart phones that will not sync with Mac. [“Cough! Nokia N97”] The 8520 comes standard with a 2 Gig Micro SD card; this however is upgradeable to 16 Gig.

Blackberry also offers BES (Blackberry Enterprise Services) this is designed for big companies and costs R89 per month. In conjunction with Exchange server and the proprietary Blackberry enterprise server software, it has the extra functionality of allowing, not only email sync, but full sync with your desktop, laptop whatever and you phone for your calendars, contacts and tasks, in both directions from your phone or any computer in real time.

Now this is all hunky dory, but would be completely useless if it takes a cum-laude qualification in IT to set up. Thankfully it is so simple to set up its actually surprising considering the amount of functionality you get out of it.

To set up BIS on the Curve is this simple (on Vodacom prepaid):
1. SMS Blackberry to 100; get confirmation SMS
2. Wait a few minutes for all the settings to download onto the Blackberry
3. Enter your email address and password.

Done! We were astonished at how quick it was to set up BIS.

Ironically, the user interface itself is actually rather complex. The interface is logical and neatly set out, so navigating the menu is fast. But it took us some time to get used to hitting the Blackberry button whenever we had bring up a sub-menu. In fact come to think of it there are a lot of sub-menus. Again they are logical and pretty intuitive to navigate, but there are lots, which can become a bit irritating. It is a very powerful interface but can take some getting used to.

Messaging; this is what Blackberry is about! How the 8520 handles messaging is very slick. There is one central message center, where you can find all your SMS’s, emails and amazingly Facebook notifications. This is really smart and very convenient.

It’s not really fair to compare the 8520 to the iPhone, simply because you can buy three 8520s for the price of one iPhone 3G, and the iPhone is a high end touch screen phone, but to be honest we find the iPhones messaging system to be far more intuitive and its email rendering is far better. On the 8520, newsletters and emails with lots of pictures appear all broken up.

Onto something no one expected. The 8520 is a kick-ass media player. The sound quality from the MP3 player is really great, so long as you sacrifice the terrible ear buds. The screen quality is pretty decent, so music videos and wot-not come out great.

Blackberries are the new black. Everyone seems to be getting one, or at least wanting one, for one simple reason, BBM or Blackberry Messenger. This feature allows you send instant messages to anyone else that owns a Blackberry and is on your BBM contact list, for free. BBM fast became a much used feature of the curve; I just wish everybody had one, then no more expensive and clunky SMS’s. Looking at my last cellphone bill, having the ability to send messages for free is a real plus. Seriously that R60-00 BIS fee, which includes unlimited access to e-mail and Blackberry messaging, is a very compelling feature, there is nothing else similar on the market, and it makes a real difference to your monthly costs.

The Curve 8520 comes with useful social media applications preinstalled, such as Facebook and Live messenger, you can download more via the web browser, and our favorite is Uber Twitter. Maps are also included and work really well. Hopefully RIM will make the App Store available in South Africa soon as the range of applications; especially the free ones, on the current store are really useful.

Overall the Value and functionality of the Blackberry 8520 Curve is hard to beat, on pay as you go with month to month access at R60, or on contract at around R150 including a phone for 24 months. The Curve 8520 is a great blend of hard core business functions, and multimedia ability that should make any user really happy. Other devices like the iPhone or Android based Magic, from HTC, have a slicker interface and perhaps more features, but it is the Blackberry package, both its functionality, and the price, that make this a seriously compelling choice, get one and I promise you won’t be sorry.

Technical Specifications

Brendon Ambrose
Blackberry Curve 8520