With the new 8520, BlackBerry is targeting mainstream users rather than those who would traditionally buy a smartphone. This is reflected in it's price as the handset will be available for free on £25 a month contracts or alternatively pay as you go users will be able to get their hands on it for around £200, which is pretty cheap by smartphone standards.
The 8520 will look instantly familiar to anyone who's used one of BlackBerry's Curve handsets, except for one new addition. BlackBerry has chosen to introduce its new optical trackpad on this phone. This replaces the company's iconic, mini trackball, or 'pearl' as RIM liked to call it.
RIM's representatives have indicated to us that this new trackpad is likely to be used across all new Curve devices mainly because it has no moving parts and so is less prone to dust and dirt. This being so, it really needs to deliver the goods. We've been fairly unimpressed with optical touchpads on devices like the HP iPAQ Voice Messenger, but thankfully the one on the 8520 is in a totally different league. It's a pleasure to use as it's both accurate and responsive and really we didn't miss the old style track ball at all. You can also adjust its horizontal and vertical sensitivity to customise the speed at which it zips around icons on the screen.
As the new trackpad doesn't stick out from the case like the old trackball, RIM has now made the four main buttons under the display sit completely flush with the screen giving the handset a much sleeker look than previous Curve models. It has also changed around some of the other controls. For example, gone are the lock and mute buttons at the top of the screen to be replaced by a row of three rubberised media transport controls - two track skip keys and a play/pause button. The traditional side mounted buttons have also now been 'weatherised', so they're not as exposed to the elements as they used to be.
RIM has also sensibly added a standard 3.5mm headphone/headset jack so if you don't like the supplied headset you can swap it for your own cans, although you'll lose the hands-free functionality. The addition of a standard headset jack is welcome, but RIM has annoyingly placed it on the left edge of the phone rather than at the top with the result that lead tends to snag when you're taking the handset in and out of your pocket.
On the plus side the 35-key backlit QWERTY keyboard is excellent as ever. The keys may be small, but as they're slightly raised they're easy to hit with your fingers and thumbs so tapping out emails is not a problem. The transmissive screen is also nice and bright making videos and pictures look surprisingly vivid. However, at 2.46in it's relatively small by today's smartphone standards and only has a resolution 320 x 240 pixels so it feels a tad cramped when you're using the web browser. The handset itself measures 109mm in height, 60mm in width and 13.9mm in depth, and weighs in at 106g.