Goodbye to the Blackberry 8520

by Ben Smith on 8th October 2009

Goodbye to the Blackberry 8520

We’ve had this Blackberry for a while now and both Vikki and I have tested it.  It’s been a bit of a love/hate experience for me though.

It’s certainly a good device, but only for a very specific user.  Here’s a quick re-cap of the good and the bad…

The good:

  1. Form Factor: It has a pleasant slim form factor matched with a pocket-friendly weight of 106 grams.  It charges from micro-USB (on the side) and also has  3.5mm headphone jack. It’s pocket-friendly and nice to hold.
  2. The Price: It’s around £200 SIM-free and free with many low-cost tariffs.
  3. Clever Layout: It has 3 media playback keys along the top which are laid-out well enough and are large enough to allow in-pocket operation.
  4. The Screen: It’s excellent and clear.  It’s particularly impressive on the colourful home-screen and menu screens.
  5. The Battery: It goes on forever (well, days). An (apparently) 17 day standby time (I didn’t test it that long, but it did last well) means you can just leave it running.  It also starts-up and shuts-down much quicker than anything I’ve tested recently, which makes you more inclined to turn it off in meetings (rather than setting it to silent) which further improves battery.
  6. The touch-pad, mouse, trackball-replacement thingumy: It works well, it’s reliable, sensitive and – I expect – will extend the life of the device.
  7. Flexibility: The huge range of configuration options, including 2 specific consumer (BIS) and enterprise (BES) modes of operation.
  8. Maturity: The 8520 has lots of nice refinements in a mature platform – I particularly appreciated the ‘bedside mode’ which was enabled when charging with different clock, alarm and illumination settings… not crucial features, but useful in daily use and doubly so when travelling.

The bad:

  1. It’s Only 2G: No, I didn’t know you could still buy them either.  This isn’t all-bad thing (see the battery life mentioned above) and mail is speedy enough, but sooner or later you’re going to need to download an attachment.
  2. The UI Refinement:The home screen is beautifully-presented. However, get into the apps or menus and you’re very quickly back to plain text on a plain background. At worse some text-entry screens are just completely blank with the cursor in the top left.  The menu structures are also a maze.
  3. (Consumer) Mail Syncing: BIS, the consumer solution (enterprise BES is different) is surprisingly painful. It offers two options – an address from your network operator (which works fine) or to access your existing mailbox.  The latter is great at delivering mail, but wasn’t able to sync back deletions or read-status.
  4. Half-baked Plug-ins: Blackberry offer a number of plug-ins to sync online services such as Google Calendar.  However, these were very limited and often only copied data one-way.  I replaced the calendar one with Google’s own (excellent) sync app which, but not all services have alternatives.
  5. Build Quality: Although mostly good, the battery-cover feels cheap and plasticy. The keyboard is also a concern – keys at the edge having far less travel (some wouldn’t click, although presses were registered) than those in the middle.  The variation across the keyboard is uncomfortable causes typing errors.
  6. The Camera: It’s a 2 megapixel unit without any flash.  Picture quality is poor, but not bad for this type of device. Shutter lag is the biggest problem, even creating blurred images of static subjects.
  7. The Browser: The built-in browser struggled to present some very basic sites – layout and speed were also generally poor. I quickly replaced it with Opera.
  8. Wireless Connections: As a newcomer to Blackberry I never quite got to the bottom of how they manage their GSM and WiFi data connections, it’s cumbersome and complex and the two are configured separately.

The verdict:

For businesses that already have an investment in Blackberry (or want its enterprise features) this is a great device to kit  out the workforce with. It’s cheap, robust, familiar and the failings are mostly in the areas you don’t care about too much.  Any software failings can be addressed by the corporate IT department and the remote management features will make like easy to keep things running well.

For businesses that don’t have or need a Blackberry service and for consumers, the choice is less clear cut.  Blackberry addicts will love it for its familiarity and speed-messaging fans will love the quick operation and messaging power-features, although they may need to rely on 3rd party apps (as I did) or moving to mobile network operator-provided email.  Otherwise the similarly-priced Nokia E63 (or the soon-to-be-obsolete E71) provide slimmer and more attractive options with just as many messaging options.

Power-users and mobile geeks should look elsewhere – this won’t satisfy your cravings (it was never intended to).

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