Editor's note: Portions of this review were taken from our evaluation of the RIM BlackBerry 8830 for Verizon Wireless, as the two devices share a similar design and feature set. This review has been updated with the correct SAR rating. We apologize for the previous error.
Up until now, globe-trotting Sprint customers may have felt a bit stymied by the limited world-roaming capabilities of the CDMA network. Sure, you can use CDMA in other countries, but if your itinerary includes Europe, you're out of luck. But with the new RIM BlackBerry 8830, all of that changes, as the dual-mode CDMA/GSM smart phone gives you freedom to make calls and receive e-mail around of the world. Like Verizon's BlackBerry 8830, Sprint's version offers EV-DO support, multimedia capabilities, and solid performance. However, it also adds unlocked SIM capabilities, giving you the freedom to use SIM cards from other countries, an AOL instant messaging client, and support for Sprint Navigation to be used with the device's built-in GPS chip. The RIM BlackBerry 8830 for Sprint is available now $199.99 with a two-year contract and after rebates and discounts. Sprint's Worldwide BlackBerry plan starts at $69.99 for unlimited BlackBerry e-mail and Web access.
The RIM BlackBerry 8830 shares the same body style as the Verizon variant, though it forgoes the silver chassis for all black, like the GSM-only BlackBerry 8800. At 4.4 inches high by 2.6 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep and 4.7 ounces, the 8830 is certainly slim, but it's also one of the larger BlackBerrys we've seen of late. The wider and taller body makes it tad awkward to use the 8830 as a phone, but as we noted in our BlackBerry 8800 review, this is typical of full-QWERTY BlackBerrys as well as Pocket PC phones and Treos.
The BlackBerry 8830 features a 2.5-inch (diagonal), 65,000-color display with a 320x240 pixel resolution. Below the display you'll find the trackball navigator, the Talk and End keys, and the Menu and Escape buttons. The 8830 also includes a light-sensing technology that automatically adjusts the backlighting of the screen, the keyboard and the trackball, depending on whether you're indoors or outdoors.
Unfortunately, the BlackBerry 8830 is hobbled by the same full-QWERTY keyboard that bothered us on the BlackBerry 8800. The buttons are on the slippery side, and there's no spacing in between the keys, which we missed. It's not so bad that we couldn't use the keyboard; we just much prefer the ones found the BlackBerry Curve and BlackBerry 8703e.
There are volume up and down keys on the right spine, while the left spine has a 2.5-millimeter headset jack, a mini USB port, and a user-programmable convenience key (assigned to launch voice dialing by default). There is a micro SD expansion slot behind the battery cover, as well as the SIM card slot. Finally, the power on/off and mute buttons are on the top of the unit.
Sprint packages the RIM BlackBerry 8830 with a travel charger, a USB cable, a SIM card, a belt holster, desktop software, and reference material. For additional add-ons and help, please check out our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
The big draw of the RIM BlackBerry 8830 is its dual-mode functionality. With this capability, the phone switches automatically between CDMA and GSM networks to offer seamless international roaming. (Note that the phone does not support domestic GSM bands.) In all, you get voice coverage in 170 countries and e-mail and Web browsing coverage in more than 75 countries--a slightly larger coverage area than Verizon Wireless. Just be aware that you'll still incur roaming rates, which range from 59 cents to $4.99 a minute. Sprint includes a SIM card in the box that you can use during your travels, but unlike Verizon's version, the Sprint BlackBerry 8830 is also unlocked so you can plug in an international carrier's SIM card to use their voice and data services.
Other phone features include a speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, smart dialing, conference calling, speed dial, and world roaming. The phone book is only limited by the available memory with room in each entry for eight phone numbers, e-mail addresses, work and home address, job title, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo to a contact as well as a group category--business or personal.
Wireless options on the 8830 definitely trump those on the BlackBerry 8800. First, there's integrated Bluetooth 2.0 for use with wireless headsets and hands-free kits. Unfortunately, there is no A2DP support for Bluetooth stereo headphones, but you can use the BlackBerry 8830 as a wireless modem for your laptop--particularly handy since the 8830 supports Sprint's EV-DO network. This means you can enjoy data speeds of up to 2.4Mbps in bursts, but in reality they'll average more around 300Kbps to 600Kbps. The device is also equipped with a GPS radio that you can use in conjunction with a location-based service, such as the Sprint Navigation, to get real-time location tracking, turn-by-turn directions, and local search. Note that Sprint Navigation is an add-on service that costs $2.99 per day or $9.99 per month for unlimited access. Alternatively, if you simply need a map application, BlackBerry Maps comes preloaded on the device as well.
The RIM BlackBerry 8830 continues to offer the tried-and-true push technology and can sync with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise server with support for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino, or Novell GroupWise to deliver corporate e-mail in real time. All in all, the device can support up to 10 accounts, including POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail accounts, and there is an e-mail wizard on the device to guide you through the setup process. An attachment viewer is also onboard to open popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Corel WordPerfect, PDFs, JPEG, GIF, and more. Other messaging options include text, multimedia, and instant messaging. Now while we've knocked past BlackBerrys for only offering the proprietary BlackBerry Messenger IM utility, Sprint will be the first carrier to offer an AOL Instant Messenger client. Available as a free download (you will need a BlackBerry e-mail/Web data plan, however) from the Sprint Software Store, the AIM client supports emoticons, automatic sign in, and you can keep the application running in the background as you use your BlackBerry for other things.
The 8830 also is Sprint's first multimedia BlackBerry. You can use the built-in media player to listen to music (MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, AMR-NB, and MIDI formats) and watch video (MPEG4, WMV, and H.263 files). We should note that there's about 64MB of flash memory available, but we suggest using a microSD card to store such larger media files.
The music player is pretty basic. Aside from standard stop and play functions, you can create playlists as "folders" and shuffle and repeat songs within a certain folder. It also displays some track information, such as title, artist, and album art if available. There's also an option to set a song as your ringtone. What's more, you can continue to play music as you use the device's other applications, and if you happen to get an incoming call, the BlackBerry 8830 will pause the music and pick up where you left off after you hang up. At this time, the device does not support the Sprint Music Store or Sprint TV.
For videos, the player has play and stop buttons, and you can fast-forward and rewind clips by clicking the trackball and scrolling right or left. There is also a full-screen mode. In addition to moving pictures, the BlackBerry 8830 has an image viewer that lets you peruse your favorite photos. However, as a business-centric device, there is no camera on the 8830, so you'll have to get your images onto your device another way, whether it be via USB, multimedia message, or such.
Finally, the RIM BlackBerry 8830 World Edition includes a number of PIM tools for the business users, including a calendar, a tasks list, a memo pad, an alarm, and a calculator. Of course, you can always download more applications; check out Download.com for some ideas.
We tested the dual-mode (CDMA 850/1900; GSM 900/1800) RIM BlackBerry 8830 in San Francisco on Sprint's CDMA network, and call quality was good. There was a slight background hiss, but in general, we enjoyed rich and clear sound as we talked to friends, and they reported similar results. We also called our bank's automated voice response system, and it had no problems understanding our voice commands. However, the phone did drop one of our calls out of the blue. Speakerphone quality was a bit mixed. On our end, we continued to experience crisp audio, but our friends said there was a bit of distortion on their end, and at times, we sounded robotic. Still, it wasn't anything that prevented us from having a conversation. We were able to pair the 8830 with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset with no problems. Unfortunately, we were not able to test the world-roaming capabilities of this phone.
General performance on the BlackBerry 8830 was snappy. We didn't experience any noticeable delays when opening or working in various applications. We were also impressed with the multimedia performance. Music playback sounded decent over the phone's speakers, producing a richer sound than other smart phones we've tested. We do wish, however, that the 8830 was equipped with a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack like the BlackBerry Curve. Watching video clips in short, few-minute spurts is fine.
The RIM BlackBerry 8830's battery is rated for 3.6 hours of talk time and up to 9 days of standby time. In our battery tests, we were able to get 4.5 hours of talk time on a single charge. According to FCC radiation tests, the BlackBerry 8830 has a digital SAR rating of 1.46 watts per kilogram.