BlackBerry Tour smartphone announced; Sprint prices it at $200 after rebates

Focus is on physical keyboard, multimedia and world phone features

Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) today unveiled the BlackBerry Tour smartphone, which Sprint Nextel Inc. separately said it will sell later this summer for $200 with a two-year service agreement and rebates.

Verizon Wireless will also sell the device, a spokeswoman confirmed, without revealing other details.

RIM and Sprint both emphasized the Tour will be a world phone that works on EV-DO Rev. A networks in North America, and can also connect to UMTS/HSPA and EDGE/GPRS/GSM networks overseas.

Both companies also both emphasized the Tour's video and other media capabilities as well as its physical keyboard. The device is seen as competitive with both the iPhone 3G S launching on Friday and the Palm Pre, which launched June 6.

Blackberry Tour smartphone
The Blackberry Tour smartphone, with its video and other media features, is seen as a competitor to the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre.

Both the Tour and iPhone 3G S will provide MMS, to allow wireless transmissions of pictures and videos easily, although AT&T will not have MMS functions activated at Friday's launch.

The Tour is the first BlackBerry with a physical keyboard to use faster CDMA Rev A networks. As such, it can also be considered a competitor to the new Palm Pre, which is carried exclusively by Sprint. Matt Thornton, an analyst at Avian Securities LLC in Boston told Bloomberg that he was thinking of buying a Pre, but might get the Tour instead.

Analysts called the Tour a modest upgrade to the BlackBerry Curve and Bold smartphones that features better video and music capabilities.

The Pre and various BlackBerry devices with physical keyboards have apparently had an impact on RIM, which is working on a new model of the BlackBerry Storm that includes a pullout keyboard, analysts said. The Storm now has only a touchscreen.

The Tour will feature a 3.2-megapixel camera with a flash, variable zoom and video recording, as well as an advanced media player for playing videos and music. The device has a 3.5-mm stereo headset jack, and video recording requires a separate microSD card.

BlackBerry MediaSync will allow synchronization from iTunes and Windows Media Player.

An expandable memory slot will support cards holding up to 16GB of data, and, eventually, 32GB cards. The Tour's removable and rechargeable battery provides five hours of talk time.

The display measures 2.44 inches diagonally, and features the highest resolution available on a BlackBerry smartphone -- 480 pixels by 360 pixels at 245 ppi, RIM said. The Tour measures 4.4 inches by 2.4 inches by half an inch thick and weighs 4.6 ounces.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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