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BlackBerry 8800 to take on iPhone

Handset integrates consumer & business features

Research In Motion (RIM) has finally announced the BlackBerry 8800, the multimedia business handset whose details RIM leaked following Apple's iPhone announcement, apparently to offset the company's sliding stock price.

The 8800 is RIM's most developed effort to date to combine the 8100 Pearl's consumer-oriented features in a package similar to the business-oriented 8700. In practice that means features such as integrated GPS, 2.4in colour screen, full Qwerty keyboard, high-capacity battery and trackball navigation in a case wider (and slightly thinner) than the Pearl and noticeably thinner than the 8700.

The Qwerty keyboard is designed to improve upon Pearl's use of a numeric keypad with SureType, but the keys are a bit more cramped together than those of the 8700, initial reviewers said. There are said to be models available with or without a camera.

The built-in GPS can be used with included navigation software for an extra monthly fee. It has voice-activated dialling, speakerphone, Bluetooth 2.0, media player and microSD memory card slot, with quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and Wi-Fi.

So far, Orange, Vodafone and T-Mobile have all announced rollout plans for the device in Europe, while AT&T has an exclusive launch deal in the US.

The handset may be an improvement over previous BlackBerry models, but RIM now has other kinds of competition to worry about, particularly in the user-interface department. The company is rumoured to be working on a complete interface overhaul with the BlackBerry 9000 series, but in the meantime Microsoft has launched Windows Mobile 6, and touch-screen phones are on the way from Apple, Samsung (the Ultra Smart F700, announced ahead of 3GSM) and LG (the KE850 Prada phone).

There are also other handsets such as Samsung's BlackJack that fall into a similar price bracket to the 8800 but offer 3G, something lacking in RIM's models. Push email and GPS are also no longer unusual in higher-end handsets.

"This handset will be extremely appealing to mobile professionals that have demanding work and social lives," said Charmaine Eggberry, RIM EMEA vice president and managing director, in a statement.


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