Verizon Wireless announced that the BlackBerry Curve 9310 smartphone will be available online on Thursday, and in stores in "coming weeks," at a price of $49.99 after rebate with a two-year service plan.
The announcement came just minutes before BlackBerry maker Research In Motion was set to begin its annual shareholders meeting. About two weeks ago, the company reported $500 million in reduced first-quarter profits and a 40% decline in sales.
At that time, RIM also announced that it would ship BlackBerry 10 smartphones in early 2013, a further delay that helped send RIM's stock price plunging 19% in one day.
The Curve 9310 runs the current BlackBerry operating system, Version 7.1, and comes with a physical keyboard, which is a feature that some of RIM's most solid customers prefer. The 9310's styling looks like many previous Curve models, with a 2.44-in. screen above a central touch navigation keypad and the physical qwerty keyboard.
Many analysts and even some RIM officials have admitted that the BlackBerry hasn't kept up with successful touchscreen smartphones with large screens, like the 3.5-in. iPhone and Android phone models with screens ranging in size from 4 in. to 5.3 in.
The 9310 has a 320-x-420-pixel display, putting its screen resolution well below that of more expensive smartphones.
Verizon and RIM noted in a statement that the 9310 is intended to "help customers make the move from a basic phone to a smartphone" -- and its low price is part of that effort.
The 9310 also has a dedicated key for access to RIM's BlackBerry Messenger social network, which is most popular outside of the U.S.
Facebook and Twitter apps are easily accessible for real-time updates with RIM's Social Feeds 2.0 app. A 3.2-megapixel camera is included, as well as a microSD card slot for up to 32GB of storage. It has a 1,450 mAh battery, weighs 3.66 oz. and overall is 4.29 by 2.36 by 0.5 in. in size.
Verizon requires buyers to sign up for a Share Everything plan starting at $80 a month for unlimited text, talk and 300MB of data service that can be shared with up to nine other devices.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.