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RIM BlackBerry Curve 8520 Rounds Out Lineup

BlackBerry Curve 8520
BlackBerry Curve 8520
Source: Research In Motion
Research In Motion is expanding its lineup with the new BlackBerry Curve 8520, adding a new Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone to its roster as the smartphone sector sees major rollouts by a number of heavy-hitters.

Available Aug. 5 from T-Mobile, the Curve 8520 boasts a full keyboard and touch-sensitive optical trackpad, voice-activated dialing, Bluetooth 2.0 and a 2-megapixel camera.

In addition to Wi-Fi, the model also has quad-band GSM support, EDGE connectivity and includes 256MB of flash memory. It runs on a 512Mhz processor and includes BlackBerry Enterprise Server support.

Rounding out the features are e-mail, messaging including IM, SMS and MMS, and Facebook and MySpace applications. The Curve 8520 is also the first BlackBerry smartphone to feature dedicated media keys, integrated along the top of the handset, designed to make music and video access easier.

The news comes at a time when rivals have already introduced flagship smartphones in the hotly contested smartphone sector, namely the Palm's Pre (NASDAQ: PALM), which went on sale June 6, and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 3GS, which went on sale June 19.

Brisk competition

RIM, Palm and Apple are joined by Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, HTC and even computer-maker Acer in the race to capitalize on the lucrative smartphone market, which is showing strength in spite of the economic downturn.

Forty-one percent of consumers are likely to buy a smartphone as their next mobile device, and smartphones, will comprise 38 percent of all handset by 2013, according to a recent report by research firm Yankee Group.

Given the promise of increased sales in the tepid tech sector, it's no surprise the mobile market is experiencing unprecedented competition.

Throwing a Curve

Still, despite the tight race for mobile market share, RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) had been criticized for launching the recent BlackBerry Tour without Wi-Fi -- a key feature offered by rivals their models -- though the Tour received positive reviews.

Avi Greengart, research director for mobile devices at Current Analysis, said RIM is wisely filling out its portfolio with the latest Curve as it continues to expand in the non-enterprise market.

The Tour did not have Wi-Fi, but has 3G support, while the Curve family has always included Wi-Fi, but does not have 3G. While a number of the leading mobile phones offer both 3G and Wi-Fi, some industry watchers believe that, given the choice, 3G is more broadly useful.

"RIM is revamping its Curve line with the 8520 at the low end, and the 8900 (with a higher resolution screen and slightly higher resolution camera) as the premium offering," Greengart told InternetNews.com.. "Both have Wi-Fi; neither has 3G. The 8520 replaces the mechanical trackball with an optical tracking pad, which should be more reliable over time."

He added that RIM has done exceptionally well in the consumer smartphone market -- 80 percent of all of its devices last quarter were sold to people for use with personal e-mail, not corporate servers.

Meanwhile, industry observers are watching for a widely expected update to the BlackBerry Storm. The new model of RIM's first touchscreen smartphone, viewed as the company's answer to the iPhone 3G, is thought to debut later this year. But consumers aren't likely holding off any Curve purchases to wait for the next Storm, Greengart said.

"The rumored Storm 2, assuming that it exists, would presumably be a replacement for the Storm, which is a Verizon Wireless exclusive," he said. "The Curve 8520 is a GSM device at T-Mobile. They aren't targeting the same carrier or the same customer."

"More and more cell phone users are choosing to upgrade to a smartphone and the new BlackBerry Curve 8520 will undoubtedly convince many more people to make the switch," Carlo Chiarello, vice president for product management at RIM, said in a statement. "It delivers all the great messaging, social networking and multimedia features that have made BlackBerry the top-selling smartphone brand in the United States. T-Mobile customers are going to love how easy it is to keep in touch on Facebook and MySpace and the full-QWERTY keyboard is amazingly fast and comfortable for typing on the go."

In addition to T-Mobile outlets, the Curve 8520 will be sold at Wal-Mart and is priced at $129.99 with a two-year carrier contract. Competing smartphones -- Palm's Pre and the Apple iPhone 3GS -- are priced at $199.99, though Apple recently cut the price of the older iPhone 3G to $99.