BlackBerry Curve 8350i offers push-to-talk in a smart phone

Users can browse and get e-mail over Wi-Fi while also talking over iDEN network

Sprint Nextel Inc. and Research in Motion Ltd. announced the availability of the new BlackBerry Curve 8350i smart phone with push-to-talk connections at a price of $150 with a $100 rebate.

The device will function over Wi-Fi as well as the Nextel Direct Connect network, meaning customers will have push-to-talk connections with millions of others in the network, officials said yesterday. Nextel Direct Connect is based on iDEN technology, which supports walkie-talkie connections.

Push-to-talk capability has grown popular among service workers of all types. Sprint Nextel says it has the largest number of users of push-to-talk service, but the company has recently faced competition from Verizon Wireless, which is offering of instant-connect wireless communications.

Sprint officials said that while the new smart phone will certainly appeal to workers in construction, field services, transportation and manufacturing, it will also appeal to consumers who seek instant connections with friends and family.

Because the 8350i is the first push-to-talk smart phone with built-in Wi-Fi, customers will be able to browse the Internet or send and receive e-mail through a Wi-Fi connection while also talking on the phone.

The BlackBerry 8350i
The BlackBerry 8350i from Sprint Nextel supports push-to-talk service.

The smart phone also includes GPS functionality and access to third-party mobile applications for tasks such as job dispatches and fleet management. The Direct Connect international network allows instant connections between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru.

Sprint said its new device will appeal to consumers, but Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney said the 8350i will mainly appeal to the strong base of iDEN users in fields such as construction, and to IT workers who need instant connections. Dulaney said RIM is eager to hold on to its IT worker market, which is one reason it developed the device as a replacement for older iDEN handsets. "It's a replacement market, not a growth market," Dulaney said via e-mail.

The 8350i is 4.4 by 2.4 by 0.7 inches in size and weighs 4.7 ounces. It comes in black with a full QWERTY keyboard and runs BlackBerry Device Software Version 4.6. An advanced media player is included, as is a 2-megapixel digital camera for still and video recording. However, people who want to use the video recording feature must purchase a microSD card separately.

Storage capacity is expandable to 16GB. The device also comes with a removable and rechargeable battery.

The 8350i is available at the Sprint Web site for $150 after an $80 instant credit and a $100 mail-in rebate. It goes on sale in Sprint retail stores nationwide Jan. 11.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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