Curve 8520 has nine unique BlackBerry features

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 hit U.S. shelves earlier this week, and though it certainly won't send hard-core CrackBerry addicts rushing to T-Mobile stores to scoop one up - it's an entry-level device, meant for new smartphone users - the handheld has more "new" BlackBerry features and hardware tweaks than any other device Research In Motion Ltd. has released in a year.

I attended RIM's Curve 8520 launch event on Tuesday in Manhattan, and I've been using the device constantly since then. Here's my list of nine Curve 8520 features you won't find on any other BlackBerry device, though some will no doubt make their way to upcoming BlackBerries.

For more specifics on the BlackBerry Curve 8520, read: "BlackBerry Curve 8520: How to Tell if New Curve's Right for You."

BlackBerry Curve 8520
The BlackBerry Curve 8520, available from T-Mobile USA, has a touch-sensitive optical trackpad and a QWERTY keyboard.

1. BlackBerry 'Trackpad'

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is the first smartphone from RIM to feature an optical "trackpad." The new trackpad replaces the traditional BlackBerry "track ball" found on the majority of RIM's devices since the Pearl 8100 was released in September 2006.

I've only had the device for a couple of days, but it didn't take me long at all to get used to the new trackpad. In fact, I really like it. I'm unsure of how durable it will prove to be, but RIM's intention in debuting the trackpad is to avoid many of the performance issues associated with the track ball. Dirty, stuck or impeded track balls are common, just ask any BlackBerry power user. So I'm hoping the trackpad will stand up to the test of time.

(Curious why RIM chose to ship the new trackpad on its cheapest BlackBerry to date? Check out both the BlackBerry maker's official explanation and my own personal take.)

2. BlackBerry Curve 8520 dedicated media keys

In another first, the BlackBerry Curve 8520 sports dedicated media keys: one button to Play/Pause music files or video clips, and two buttons for Track Forward/Previous Track.

The media keys are easily accessible atop the device. And as far as I can tell, they work well. (Note: Depressing the Play/Pause button for more than two seconds puts the device into standby mode.)

3. Display, Navigation/Call buttons all one surface

Unlike any other BlackBerry model, the Curve 8520 has navigation and calling keys that are literally part of the display. The Curve's 320 X 240 display extends downward and becomes the Call Send and End keys, as well as the BlackBerry Menu and Escape buttons; they're all one single piece of plastic. The new BlackBerry trackpad sits directly below the display area, set in between the Send/Menu keys and Escape/End Call buttons.

4. Curve 8520 A/* Key Gets Lock Icon

All modern BlackBerry devices feature a keyboard shortcut that lets users lock their keyboards via one key: the A/* button. Simply hold the A/* key for a couple of seconds and your smartphone locks up. The BlackBerry Curve 8520's no different, but it is the first BlackBerry to feature a lock icon on the A/* key.

5. Integrated Volume/Convenience keys

Like many of its BlackBerry-brethren, the new Curve has two customizable "convenience keys" that you can program to initiate a wide variety of BlackBerry actions. It also has volume up/down keys that are similar to the current crop of BlackBerry smartphones.

What sets the new Curve apart are its "integrated" volume/convenience keys, or buttons that are literally part of the device itself and not separate components. The Curve 8520's side buttons are set into the rubbery hard-plastic that surrounds the device. (Note: Leaked images of unannounced RIM devices like the BlackBerry "Storm 2" and "Onyx" suggest that future BlackBerries could also follow in the Curve 8520's footsteps and feature integrated volume/convenience keys of their own.)

6. BlackBerry Curve 8520's itty-bitty LED

One of the BlackBerry's most popular - and addictive - features is its Light Emitting Diode (LED) indicator, which can be used for a variety of purposes, including as a wireless coverage indicator, new message alert, Bluetooth connectivity signal and low-battery alert.

The Curve 8520 has the traditional BlackBerry LED, but it's significantly smaller and less bright than any other BlackBerry's LED indicator, at least that I've seen. It's also round, as opposed to the oval shaped LEDs found on most BlackBerries.

7. The 8520 gets 'Curve' logo

Every modern BlackBerry device features RIM's well-known BlackBerry name and "seven-dot" logo - sometimes in multiple places -but the Curve 8520 is the first BlackBerry device that features a model-line logo. Specifically, the new device has the word "Curve" set into the hard plastic of the device's upper-rear panel.

RIM has a handful of BlackBerry model lines including Pearl, Curve, Storm and Bold. And if the Curve 8520's any sign of things to come, we just might see RIM start to promote those brands in new and different ways, including the addition of model-line names and logos on new devices.

8. No latch on BlackBerry Curve 8520 battery door

RIM's new Curve also has a unique - actually flimsy and cheap -battery door, in that it doesn't have any sort of latch to keep it in place. Instead, small pieces of plastic on the door's underside snap into place. You remove the door by prying it up from its bottom, where there's a slightly uplifted section.

I appreciate the Curve 8520's battery door, in that it stays sturdily in place and doesn't shift at all while in use (I'm looking at you Curve 8900). But it's a real pain to remove, especially if you're a fingernail-nibbler like me.

9. Curve 8520's 2.0-megapixel camera has no flash

Finally, the Curve 8520 is the only BlackBerry that RIM has ever released with a digital camera but no flash. And that's not at all a good thing.

RIM's high-end BlackBerry Bold also has a 2.0 megapixel shooter, but it has a flash. I can tell you from lots of experience that the Bold's camera isn't great, to put it lightly. Without a flash, it would be near useless.

RIM says it skipped the camera flash on the Curve 8520 for cost-savings, and the device is notably cheaper than most of the company's latest BlackBerry devices -- Wal-Mart's got it for under $50 with a new contract and Amazon's practically giving the thing away. But I'm fairly certain the lack of a camera flash will become a pain-point for many Curve 8520 owners.

This story, "Curve 8520 has nine unique BlackBerry features" was originally published by CIO.

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