Price: depends on contract
Company: RIM (BlackBerry)
We were intrigued to try out the BlackBerry's new touchpad navigation feature, but it's not as radical a change as it sounds. The touchpad is simply a square hardware button that's highly sensitive and that rapidly responds so you can quickly zip about. RIM has given the Curve 8520 a 512MHz processor which adds to the nippy feeling in use. Other physical design changes include dedicated media playback buttons on the top of the handset and a curved Qwerty keypad with raised keys that's reminiscent of a Palm Treo.
RIM says that multimedia functions are assuming an increasing importance for its consumer devices and has boosted the internal memory to 256MB RAM and allowed for microSDHC memory cards of up to 16GB to be accepted. Once they become available, 32GB microSDHC cards will be usable with the device. A microUSB port allows media content to be synchronised using BlackBerry Media Sync.
Windows Media Player and Apple iTunes libraries can also be imported and there's an effective on-device search function that makes it fast to find a track, album, video clip or image you want. The ability to rename media items as you save them or on the device, as well as to add captions to media files you send as MMS messages is another boon.
The Curve 8520's internal camera is a 2Mp version and 5x zoom. The touchpad controls work very well with this - rather than pressing down on a navigation orb, which you did with the camera feature on previous BlackBerry handsets, you now pass your thumb over the touchpad to zoom in and out. Zooming is now noticeably faster and smoother.
Curiously, RIM hasn't taken advantage of this to allow the zoom to be used while recording video. You must choose a zoom setting and stick with it for the duration of the recording. We liked the fact you can pause and resume video recording, though, and we impressed with the effectiveness of the device's internal microphone. Footage came out rather dark, however, and the resolution is no match for that of the best video phones such as the LG Viewty or the Toshiba TG01.
The stills camera, on the other hand, remains a strong feature of the BlackBerry, despite the limitations of the 2Mp resolution. Press the touchpad button to take the shot and you get options to save it, send it as email or MMS or to Send To Facebook, MySpace or Flickr.
RIM says it won't preload these applications on the device but that some mobile operators that offer the Curve 8520 are likely to do so.