RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 (Sprint)
At a Glance
The Research in Motion BlackBerry Tour ($100 with a two-year Sprint service contract) fulfills the wish of Sprint BlackBerry fans who've waited a long time for a new CDMA BlackBerry device. The Tour melds the best of the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Curve 8900 into one slick package. Unfortunately, the Tour lacks Wi-Fi, a disappointing omission for a business-focused device.
In appearance, the Tour shares attributes of the BlackBerry Bold (the other 9000-series phone on AT&T) and of the BlackBerry Curve 8900 (on AT&T and T-Mobile). But it has the same dimensions as the BlackBerry Storm, measuring 4.4 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.5 inch. At 4.6 ounces, the Tour weighs an ounce less than the Storm but is slightly heavier than the feather-light Curve 8900. The Tour felt just right in my hand; the Bold was too large for my liking, and the 8900 was almost too thin. And whereas the Bold looks chintzy and the 8900 a bit dull, the Tour has a subtle elegance: The phone's body combines a muted chrome bezel with smooth black rubber and textured plastic. The texture contributes to the phone's comfortable in-hand feel.
As with most other BlackBerry handsets of the newer generation, the right spine of the Tour houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker, a dedicated camera key (which can be customized to serve as another shortcut) and a mini-USB port (for data transfers and power). The left spine accommodates the voice-dialing key (also customizable) and a speaker.
The Tour's display measures 2.4 inches--smaller than the Bold's--but it has the same 480-by-360-pixel resolution as the displays on the Storm and the Curve 8900. My only criticism of it is that I found the thin black bezel that borders the display a bit distracting. I wish that RIM had simply extended the display to the very edge as on the 8900 or the Bold. Nevertheless, the Tour's display looks gorgeous: Colors looked bright, details were crisp, and text popped off the screen.
Beneath the display reside the familiar BlackBerry navigation buttons on either side of the trackball: Talk, Menu, Back, and End/Power. Holding down the menu key lets you switch easily between open applications--a feature I also liked on the BlackBerry Storm. You can program either the dedicated camera key or the voice-dialing key (on the right and left spindles, respectively) as application switchers, if you wish.
Unlike the trackballs on other BlackBerry devices I've used, the one on this model is a bit recessed into the hardware. Though it wasn't difficult to use, it was less touch-friendly than other BlackBerry trackballs I've used.
The keyboard exemplifies BlackBerry at its best, combining the strongest aspects of the 8900 and the Bold. The keyboard is more compact than the Bold's, but it's still spacious enough to type long messages on. The individual keys were easy to press and had just enough clickiness, avoiding the rigidness of the 8900's keyboard. Like those on the Bold, the Tour's sculpted keys minimize finger slippage, which makes for a comfy and ergonomic typing experience. One drawback is that the keys on the edges of the keyboard are positioned flush against the phone's edges. On a few occasions, I caught myself tapping the case rather than the Alt or Del key.
Call quality over Sprint's 3G Network was very good, with no background static or hiss. Voices were loud enough to hear easily, and they sounded natural. Parties on the other end of the line could hear my voice clearly while I was standing on a busy street corner, and they said that they noticed little to no background noise. The Tour's speakerphone was equally impressive. I could hear parties on the other end of the line clearly while walking down a busy city street.
The Tour 9630 runs BlackBerry OS 4.7.1, which, like the hardware, is a mash-up of the operating systems used on the Bold, the Curve 8900, and the Storm. The home screen features background wallpaper and a customizable application-shortcut view known as the "ribbon."
Pushing the dedicated menu key takes you to the main application screen, which is populated with app icons identical to those you'd find on a BlackBerry Storm. Sometimes it's a bit hard to tell what a particular icon symbolizes, since many of them look pretty similar. But when you roll over an icon with the Tour's speedy trackball, a label appears in a text line beneath it, clearly identifying the icon's function.
The biggest update in the unit's software is the latest version of the BlackBerry Messenger, which comes preloaded on the Tour. This app has a spruced-up interface that's easier to use, more emoticons to choose from, and the ability to display your location via GPS.
Web pages usually loaded quickly, but I ran into a few instances where pages didn't load all the way--or at all. Oddly, on two occasions during my hands-on tests, the BlackBerry Internet Service site didn't load.
Even though the BlackBerry Tour is first and foremost a business device, it has solid multimedia features. The unit's fairly plain native music app is identical to the one on the Curve 8900 and the Bold. It lets you view your library by song, artist, or genre. During playback, a miniature album thumbnail appears. The app also has playlist and shuffle features, and a headphone equalizer. You can download music via Verizon's Rhapsody service. The Bold comes with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, boosting its potential as a media player.
Video looked great on the Tour's crisp display, but 2.4 inches feels awfully small in comparison to the dimensions of touchscreen giants such as the Storm and the iPhone 3GS. Still, playback was smooth and showed little pixelation or distortion.
The 3.2-megapixel camera is an upgrade over the Bold's 2-megapixel lens. It also has a flash, variable zoom, image stabilization, autofocus, and video recording. I was pleasantly surprised by the image quality of the photos I took. In my casual, side-by-side tests of the Tour's camera versus the iPhone 3GS's camera (a 3.3-megapixel device), I found that the Tour's snapshots captured more-accurate colors (especially indoors, thanks to the flash), but had a significantly higher amount of noise and graininess.
Video recording was distinctly better on the iPhone 3GS than on the Tour. The clips I recorded with the Tour had a noticeable amount of ghosting and color distortion.
The Tour delivers exactly what users expect from a BlackBerry: an excellent keyboard; a slick design; and a hearty, messaging-friendly operating system. But the lack of Wi-Fi is at this point seems unforgiveable in a business-class smartphone.