Analyst: BlackBerry Tour's trackball issues hurt Sprint, Verizon

Trackball issues plaguing Research In Motion's BlackBerry Tour smartphone have contributed to high return rates for the device at Sprint Nextel and have angered Verizon Wireless, according to an analyst.

Gerard Hallaren, director of research at TownHall Investment Research, wrote in an investment note that Tour users need to clean the device's trackball frequently, "preferably with compressed air." He also said that "not surprisingly, most customers prefer not to." Users on several online forums have complained about the problem, especially that the trackball has a lot of trouble scrolling left and right.

The problems have caused to the Tour's return rate at Sprint to climb near 50 percent, Hallaren said.

Sprint appeared to disagree with the figure. "We experienced a small percentage of early production BlackBerry Tour smartphones with trackball issues. As soon as the issue was identified, we worked closely with our partners at RIM to resolve the problem quickly," Sprint said in a statement. "This was an isolated incident that affected a small number of devices. RIM's products remain among the highest quality devices in Sprint's product portfolio. We recommend customers experiencing issues with the trackball on their BlackBerry Tour smartphone visit a Sprint Service & Repair Center."

Verizon also is experiencing serious problems with the Tour, Hallaren wrote, a vexing issue in light of Verizon's deep and widespread support for BlackBerry. A Verizon spokesman did not immediately have a comment on the matter. A RIM spokeswoman did not return repeated requests for comment.

Both Sprint and Verizon launched the Tour July 12 for $199.99 with a two-year contract.

For more:
- see this Barron's blog post

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